It’s September. The trees are losing their leaves. The temperature is dropping. The season of enjoying outdoor music performances is wrapping up. And we are reluctantly stashing our beach chairs in the garage for another year.
But wait! Just when you thought it was time to make the summer-to-fall transition, along comes four fabulous days of FREE MUSIC in five Central New Jersey towns – Edison, Metuchen, New Brunswick, Perth Amboy, and Woodbridge – to delight your ears and lift your spirits.
The idea for the festival was the result of an aha moment among the organizers – Edison’s Mayor and Council, Perth Amboy Artworks, New Brunswick Jazz Project, Woodbridge Arts, Metuchen Arts Council, and Friends of Metuchen Arts.
“We had discussed doing something together,” Bill Brandenburg of Woodbridge said, “and somewhere in the conversation the idea of a jazz festival came up.”
The first-ever Middlesex County Jazz Festival will kick off at Papaianni Park in Edison on September 28, followed on September 29 by an evening concert at the Historic Perth Amboy Ferry Slip. Saturday will offer two shows – an afternoon concert on Livingston Avenue in front of the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center (NBPAC) and an evening show on Halsey Street at the Metuchen Station Lot 6. The festival will come to a close on Sunday at Parker Press Park on Rahway Avenue in Woodbridge.
With its experience in festival production, the New Brunswick Jazz Project agreed to oversee the development of the event. A grant request was submitted to the Middlesex County Board of Commissioners thanks to input from all five towns. Grant funding has been provided by the Middlesex County Board of County Commissioners through a grant award from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund. It is being shared equally among the towns.
“We all have our own audiences, and an event like this exposes our audience to other towns and them to ours. It’s a win-win,” Brandenburg said.
Councilwoman Joyce Ship-Freeman of Edison agrees. “My husband and I love jazz and had been going to the Central Jersey Jazz Festival [in Flemington and Somerville this year],” she said. “When the idea of an event at closer locations came up, of course, I wanted to be part of it.”
Victor Quezada Latin Jazz Band. Courtesy of Middlesex County Jazz Festival.
Ship-Freeman continued on to tout Edison’s line-up, which includes the John P. Stevens High School Jazz Ensemble. “We are so proud to show off some of the talent within the town,” she said. “We will also have the Delegations, a jazz and R&B group, and Victor Quezada and his Latin Jazz Band. It’s a nice variety, and they each bring their followings.”
Some of the other towns are also presenting young local performers, including the Metuchen High School Jazz Ensemble, the Woodbridge High School Jazz Choir, and the New Brunswick Jazz Project.
“It is great to tie in local schools when doing an event like this,” Brandenburg said, Michael Tublin from New Brunswick mentions that the concert there will have a bit of a twist. “We’re going to kick it off with a second line [ala New Orleans],” he said. “It will begin at the corner of George Street and Rt. 27, and the musicians will play as they walk up the street, then onto the stage.”
Another feature of the New Brunswick location is that attendees can purchase food and beverages from a variety of downtown restaurants and stop into the bar at the Performing Arts Center, which will be open that evening.
Other featured performers in New Brunswick will include the Nat Adderly Jr. Quartet and the Conrad Herwig Latin Side All-Stars. In addition to being the son of Nat Adderly and nephew of Cannonball Adderly, Nat Adderly Jr. was the long-time arranger for Luther Vandross. Herwig is the head of Jazz Studies at the Mason Gross School of Art and “one of the top jazz trombonists playing today,” Tublin said. “With his Latin Side series, he’s taking a look at jazz artists’ music and giving it a Latin touch.”
“It will be fantastic!”
In Woodbridge, along with the high school jazz choir, the Edmar Castañeda Quartet and the Alicia Olatuja Quintet will be performing.
“Olatuja is an established jazz singer who came to the spotlight as the 16-year-old who sang with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir at Barack Obama’s second inauguration.” Brandenburg said, “and in 2019 she released an album of songs written and performed by female artists.”
“I ran into Edmar Castañeda at the Montclair Jazz Festival, and I put that meeting on the back burner, and when we decided to do the festival, he came to mind,” Brandenburg said. “He is a Columbian-born musician who plays Latin jazz on the harp. He also served as one of the musical advisors for the Disney movie ‘Encanto.’” He adds that “they are both world-class artists.”
In Perth Amboy, attendees will be treated not only to great music but also to a wonderful waterfront location at the Historic Ferry Slip. And, with luck, the skies will be clear enough that night to view the Harvest Moon.
Caroline Pozycki-Torres from Perth Amboy Artworks is thrilled to be part of this event. “I am happy to work with members of my community, and to see organizations that are involved in the local art scenes come together.”
“New Jersey has exceptional jazz artists and a strong community that supports them,” Torres said. She relishes the chance to bring some of these artists to the public’s attention. “We are very proud to celebrate local artists.”
Forbidden Tropics. Courtesy of Middlesex County Jazz Festival.
The Julian Meyers Koncept plays swinging experimental jazz that features elements of rock, funk, and gospel. “Meyers lives in Jersey City and has been playing with this group for more than 20 years,” Torres said.
“Forbidden Tropics is an Afro-Peruvian jazz band,” she said, “and for some people, this may be their first exposure to Latin jazz.”
“That’s not true in Perth Amboy, though,” she added. “This is a Latin community.”
Friends of Metuchen Arts’ Lynne Mueller is very enthusiastic about some unique features her town is offering. A minivan provided by one of Metuchen’s sponsors will be available to transport festivalgoers from the performance site to the parking area and back. “The van will make a continuous loop throughout the concert,” Mueller said. The site will open at 3:00 PM to allow people to stop by, drop off their chairs, and return at 5:00 PM when seating begins. “Families come with children and seniors, and they have a lot of stuff with them. This will give them one less thing to carry.”
“We’ve got five vendors, different booths for people to visit, and a photography exhibit in the nearby Westerhoff School” Mueller adds.
Like all the towns, Metuchen is presenting a varied line-up. The Jill Justin Dance Alliance will start the show, followed by the Metuchen High School Jazz Ensemble. Next is Molly Ryan and Manhattan Premier, a singer with a swinging repertoire. And finishing out the evening will be The Cyrus Chestnut Quartet, with Chestnut playing a grand piano on the “showmobile.” Chestnut is a highly respected jazz pianist and composer. A quote from his website bio sums up his approach to playing live music: “Throughout the years as I look at history, all of my predecessors, regardless of what the environment was, shared freely their thoughts and feelings in a swinging, musical way on the bandstand. They swung hard and made the listeners feel better leaving than when they arrived. This is the tradition I intend to preserve.”
Cyrus Chestnut. Courtesy of Middlesex County Jazz Festival.
Representatives of the five towns shared what they find most exciting about participating in this first-ever Middlesex County Jazz Festival:
One person said that they loved working with like-minded people. Another said it is the joy of seeing people come together and, of course, the live music. “I am so inspired by live music,” he added. Someone mentioned the team effort and getting to know new people. While another mentioned that working together with the all-volunteer crew was great. And yet another said she is already looking forward to next year.
“We’re getting all jazzed up.”
* The festival is free and fully accessible.
* Picnics are permitted, but alcoholic beverages are not.
* Food and beverages will be available to purchase.
* Pets – aside from service animals – are not allowed.
* Seating is not provided. Guests are invited to bring their own chairs.
* Smoking is not allowed.
Middlesex County | Sep 28 - Oct 1 | Varying Times. Click here for the festival's website.