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Moore's Lounge Players Lead Spirited Jazz Jam Concert at SOPAC's Jammin' in the Loft


By Carolyn M. Brown, JerseyArts.com

originally published: 04/11/2024

Moore

Winard Harper playing the drums. Photo by AdamArtPhoto, courtesy of SOPAC.

The Moore’s Lounge Players, one of New Jersey’s longest-running jazz jam bands, will head up an unforgettable jazz performance and the ultimate jam session as part of the “Jammin’ in the Loft” series at the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC) on Wednesday, April 24, at 7 PM. Curated by Gregory Burrus Productions, “Jammin’ in the Loft” is a series that takes the local music scene by force with an energetic experience of seeing talented local musicians perform up close and personal, surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd of friends, fans, and fellow musicians.

The Moore’s Lounge Players are the house band at the Moore’s Lounge, originally known as Bill and Ruth’s Place, which has been an institution in Jersey City since opening its doors in 1968. It has become a home to both emerging and professional jazz musicians who travel from all around the world to jam with the club’s regulars. Located in the heart of Monticello Avenue, Moore’s Lounge has united music lovers from diverse backgrounds for over five decades and stands today as one of Jersey City’s true jazz clubs and oldest Black-owned businesses, according to the City.

“Moore’s is a landmark that stands as one of the last live music clubs located in a neighborhood of Jersey City that had been predominantly Black,” says local live music ambassador Gregory Burrus. “We wanted to get the word out about this venue in New Jersey that is doing great stuff for people of all ages in terms of live music. That’s why we are glad to have a band from the Moore’s Lounge perform at a place like SOPAC. Besides, the band is awesome, make no ifs, ands, or buts about it,” he adds. “I am very excited to be heading up this new series. I wanted to bring to the beautiful SOPAC Loft very talented bands from the parks and streets of the local communities.”

“Jammin’ in the Loft” at SOPAC will feature legendary jazz drummer Winard Harper. A child prodigy of the 1960s, Harper also is a virtuoso on the balafon, the West African equivalent of the marimba percussion instrument. For the past several years, the celebrated band leader has presided over a weekly jazz series at Moore’s Lounge, acting as ambassador and educator. With his help, Moore’s Lounge has become a destination for jazz musicians and jazz enthusiasts from northeast New Jersey and beyond. Even during the pandemic, Harper kept the spirit of the club going by taking musicians to the streets to jam with the public almost every week.

At the SOPAC Loft, Harper joins Moore’s Lounge house band players Damon Duewhite on drums, Charlie Sigler on guitar, Nick Masters on keys, and Anthony Perez on bass. Other jammers include bassist Motoki Bass, vocalists Frank Noviello, Laurie Vega, and Lynette Sheard, and tap dancer Megha Vadehra.

Moore



 
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“Jammin’ in the Loft” is a musical concert in the spirit of the jam session where neither the players nor the audience knows who may join in on the performance. To “jam” is to improvise music without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements, except for when the group is playing well-known jazz standards or covers of existing popular songs. Being able to jam effectively means being able to improvise and listen to what other musicians are playing.

The Moore’s Lounge Players will kick off the event with a formal performance set of music, followed by a come-one, come-all jam session. Burrus explains, “Come the second set, somebody will call out a tune and somebody will play it as different musicians start to come up on stage and play along. Supporting live music and local musicians is my passion and a top priority,” adds Burrus, who has produced hundreds of live music events. But his commitment to the arts extends beyond music. He is also deeply involved in community development, managing, promoting, and hosting events aimed at enriching the cultural fabric of the greater New Jersey and New York area.

Since its origins, Burrus says, “the jam session has taken on a life of its own throughout the industry.” According to jazz historians, jamming got its roots in the 1920s jazz era when musicians, regardless of race, would gather together late in the evening after finishing their regular paid gigs. These jam sessions were a way to explore their music more freely. During the 1940s, late-night jam sessions pioneered the bebop style of music at nightclubs such as Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, which hosted infamous musicians like Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker.

Moore

While “Jammin’ in the Loft” may lend itself to being fluid and flexible, “don’t mistake this as being amateur hour,” says James Pansullas, assistant manager at the Moore’s Lounge. “There is a kind of self-policing that goes on. The players know how to keep it at a high level, the intensity of music.”

The musicians who come through Moore’s Lounge range in age between early 20s and 80. “We have emerging players and renowned jazz artists,” Pansullas says. “Their passion for the music is impressive. Their dedication to the music and each other is incredible. This place has a reputation for having a high level of jazz.”

Both Burrus and Pansullas point out that some of the top schools in the world that are in the surrounding area now feature jazz studies programs, including the Julliard School, Manhattan School of Music, Rutgers University, and William Paterson University. “For a lot of young people coming out of college who are looking for places to exhibit their skills, Moore’s Lounge is one of the few places that they can go to in north Jersey and really see how good they are and how well they can play with their compatriots,” says Burrus. “You have young people chasing musical dreams, coming from all over the world. The jam is an extended classroom in the sense that students are learning by playing on the same stage as their elders,” adds Pansullas.

One of the original owners, Ruth More, now 86 years strong, has been a bedrock in the community, making Moore’s Lounge more than a bar but a safe space that allows jazz music lovers to interact with legendary musicians in an intimate setting. The jams at the Moore’s Lounge have become a real communal experience across the live jazz music industry. Every Sunday at the club, Harper brings together established, world-renowned, and extraordinary artists with young, emerging talents, in a “Jazz Clinic” type of setting, he notes on his website, “performing for a local audience wishful to learn and exchange knowledge about the context in which Jazz music has emerged and is played today.”



 
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General admission is $20. To purchase tickets or to learn more about “Jammin’ in the Loft,” visit https://www.sopacnow.org/series/jammin/.

SOPAC, South Orange, New Jersey | April 24, 2024 @ 7 PM.




About the author: Carolyn M. Brown is an investigative journalist, editor, author, playwright, multimedia content producer and an entrepreneur. She has produced content spanning across a portfolio of platforms, including print, digital media, broadcast, theater arts, and custom events. Her publication credits include Essence, Forbes, Inc., and Diversity Woman magazines. She is a founding board member of the Paterson Performing Arts Development Council, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing together diverse communities through the performing arts and cultural events and to creating pathways for new and established artists.

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.




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