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Today is Saturday, May 30, 2020

Asbury Jazz Scene Comes Alive Again

Ocean Township: This past week, the Township of Ocean Historical Museum held their annual speaker series at the Board of Education and old Elementary School off of Monmouth Boulevard in Ocean Township. The topic of discussion was the history of the Asbury Park Jazz Scene, 1940 through the present.   The program was hosted by local arts advocate, musician, and businessman Jon Leidersdorff. The panel consisted of Asbury Park musicians, Gladstone Trout, Clifford Johnson, and Dorian Parreott. All three men have been in the Asbury Park music scene most if not all of their lives.

Clifford Johnson, Asbury Park Class of 1943, took the audience way back. He lived during the hay day of jazz and Latin music on Asbury’s west side. He quickly rattled off twenty or more clubs, bars, and music venues that all supported local music and were all within walking distance to each other. Additionally, Mr. Johnson stressed that the west side was a destination for New York and Philadelphia musicians to visit on weekends and holidays. These clubs lined Springwood Ave and were known to be the local hot spot for up and coming musicians and big name acts.

Dorian Parreott, Asbury Park class of 1954 had a different experience. From a young age he was encouraged to play in local clubs in and around Asbury’s west side. Spending most of his time in the “A.P. Village,” Dorian began to play drums and work in the rhythm section of local jazz and Latin bands. In addition to playing drums, Dorian played alto sax, French horn, and sang. Shortly after graduating from High School, Dorian moved around the east coast only to find himself back in New Jersey teaching music and performing instrument repairs. In 1968, Dorian found his way back to Asbury Park where he has stayed ever since.

Glasdstone Trout, Asbury Park class of 1975, is a modern product of the Asbury Park music scene. His disciplines include playing piano, keyboards, organ, and clarinet. His passion for music shaped who he is today and though he is the youngest of the three panelist, his modern insights helped the audience to picture how both Jazz and Latin music shaped the west side of Asbury during and after the tumultuous sixties and seventies.

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The clubs that called Asbury Park and the west side home were “always open” and always had a drum kit and a piano available for young children to play during the day. There was always someone “jamming” 24/7; however, the real action took place at night. After dark, Springwood Ave came alive with limousines, private parties, and great music enjoyed by an integrated audience of Hispanics, Blacks, and White youth.

As Jon helped to lead Gladstone, Dorian, and Clifford through memory lane each expressed the importance of playing music in church. From a business standpoint, Jon has found that the best local musicians are young church goers. Some things never change. All three of the panelists still play at church and encourage youth to learn to sing, read music, and play music in a secular environment. The musical skills learned in the church have always led to opportunity, work, and possibly even paying gigs. In addition to work, playing in the church leads to mentorship and fellowship opportunities that are often not available on the outside.

As the discussion wound down, Jon and the panel discussed why jazz has not taken off in the United States. American jazz music has been and remains more popular overseas, especially in France. There jazz musicians are treated like royalty and less like “stage musicians.”   Additionally, it should be noted that the “big band” era slowly killed the local jazz scene. The allure of big dance music coupled with the boom of television in the 1950’s and live dance shows slowly and sadly took away from the now underground American jazz scene

Before the night was over, Mr. Trout and Mr. Parroett took to the keys and the Alto Sax to play several songs for the audience. Raw, unscripted, and live, the duo gave a quick glimpse of what the jazz scene was like in Asbury Park.

Though the interview could have lasted several more hours, time cut the program short. Nevertheless, those in attendance now had a better understanding the importance of jazz and Latin music on Asbury’s west side.

Today, Springwood Ave is part of a major revitalization project. On tap is a “JAMS” (Jazz, Arts, Music, and Science) project slated to be built on Springwood Ave in the near future. In addition to the JAMS project, local developer, Madison Marquette, is working to revitalize the west side of Asbury Park as well. Though the progress is slow, there are changes coming to the west side of Main Street.

For more information about upcoming Historical Museum Events, please visit: http://www.oceanmuseum.org/

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