July 18, 2019 | 78° F

Ongoing music project aims to keep city jazz scene alive

Photo by Lianne Ng |

Nir Naaman, member of the Roy Assaf and Nir Naaman Quartet, play the saxophone Wednesday at the Hyatt Hotel in an event hosted by the New Brunswick Jazz Project.

Despite the challenges, founders of the New Brunswick Jazz Project hope to further integrate jazz into the New Brunswick’s busy culture.

The NBJP was started to bring live jazz music to Central Jersey, said Virginia DeBerry, the project’s co-founder.

“People had to go to North Jersey or New York to hear live jazz,” she said. “We’re trying to add jazz to the list of reasons people come to New Brunswick.”

DeBerry, a novelist, co-founded the project with James Lenihan, an engineer who owns a small manufacturing company, and Michael Tublin, an independent oil trader on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Because New Brunswick’s restaurant and bar scene lacked jazz music, DeBerry, Lenihan and Tublin started the project to make jazz more of a staple, DeBerry said.

“Other music scenes existed in town — just not a jazz one,” she said. “We knew there was an interest. People just didn’t know where to go.”

Today, the NBJP produces two to four live events every week, DeBerry said. Shows take place on a recurring basis at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Brunswick and Sophie’s Bistro in Somerset, she said.

“People thought we were crazy [when we started the project], but we are still here almost two years later,” she said.

Since it began, the NBJP has featured a variety of seasoned and emerging jazz artists. As a result, a lot of area restaurants are looking to feature live jazz, DeBerry said.

Lenihan said that because of the project’s success, the NBJP is figuring out how to manage the unexpected growth.

DeBerry said the program has also created an audience and community for jazz music in New Brunswick.

“We’ve made a connection with the musicians, audiences and local venues,” she said.

None of the three co-founders are musicians or involved in the entertainment business, but their appreciation for jazz and hard work have contributed to the project’s success, DeBerry said.

DeBerry, Lenihan and Tublin do not make any profits from their events, she said. “We come out and support all of the live shows. We do this for the love [of jazz music], not money,” DeBerry said.

She said that jazz, as an original American-made form of music, should stay in people’s minds everywhere — especially in New Brunswick.

“Jazz was invented in this country, and we are doing our best to keep it alive in Central Jersey,” she said. “New Brunswick considered itself cool, [but it] can’t be cool without jazz.”

Sometimes the NBJP focuses on a particular group of jazz musicians. The project featured female jazz musicians in March 2011, in honor of Women’s History Month, Tublin said.

“Women have been a part of jazz history [and] played every instrument since jazz began,” he said. “But they never got the kind of spotlight or credit the guys did.”

By presenting performances from a new generation of female musicians as leaders, the NBJP hopes it can pay tribute to the women who came before them, DeBerry said.

The NBJP will again present their “Women in Jazz” series in March, featuring performances from nine female-led groups including the Tanya Darby Quartet, the Linda Oh Quartet and the Emily Asher Quartet.

“Dedicating an entire month to showcasing performances with female leaders is a good way for us to do what we can to honor women’s contributions to jazz,” Lenihan said.

By Richard Conte

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