June 26, 2019 | 87° F

Organist Radam Schwartz returns to New Brunswick roots at Jazz Project show

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Prolific organist Radam Schwartz has had a long, successful life in jazz, and a history with Rutgers. He’s played with jazz legends like Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and received his masters from the Jazz History and Research Program at Rutgers Newark in 2012. Schwartz, also on the music faculty at Rutgers—Newark, performed at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick on Thursday.

This is far from Schwartz’s first gig in New Brunswick, as he was a former Rutgers—New Brunswick professor and has been heavily involved in the scene in Central Jersey. His work ranges from playing in the New Brunswick Jazz Collective of the 70s to playing at the Livingston Avenue Church of Christ. A long time educator who now teaches at Jazz House Kids and directs the Mosaic Jazz Ensemble at Rutgers—Newark. Schwartz recalled all the work in jazz he’s done in New Brunswick. 

“I was involved in an educational thing, called the Jazz Institute of New Jersey but it was located here in New Brunswick, and it lasted for 20 years. It was the predecessor of all these other  groups,” he said.

Schwartz brought a unique quartet, consisting of organ, vibraphone, saxophone and drums. Mason Gross School of the Arts graduate Anthony Ware played alto sax, while seasoned veteran Bryan Carrott performed on vibes and Joe Brown Jr. on drums. Schwartz gave some insight on the instruments chosen.

“The standard trio is with guitar and drums, but the thing is, there were a lot of vibe players who played in organ groups,” he said.

Even the setup of the quartet was unique, as the organ, vibes and drums formed an arch around Ware. When they launched into their set, the unorthodox group showed their cohesion and class.

Playing a B3 Hammond, Schwartz covered bass duties with his left foot and hand. Carrott and Ware switched back and forth on playing the melody from tune to tune, with Brown Jr. dutifully keeping time.

Schwartz performed an extended solo reminiscent of gospel music, which segued right into the standard “Body and Soul,” a highlight of the set.

The various solos in the group were superb, with Ware flowing between calm riffs to exultant, shrieking long notes. Carrott’s solos were templates for countermelodies and harmony over an initial groove, and his runs were intensely musical. Schwartz had incredibly moving solos, finding rhythmic and harmonic motifs and using them to build tension. When he would release the tension at the top of a phrase, you could feel the energy in the air.

The one disappointment with the set was the sound levels. The Leslie cabinet for the organ is a powerful unit, and the vibraphone wasn’t mic’d well enough to be clearly heard at times. There were a few points when the vibes were only a factor with Schwartz playing soft or Carrott playing loud.

Overall the group sounded incredibly tight and clean. The uncommon pairing of instruments only helped to showcase their individual and collective talents. Schwartz, steeped in jazz history and wisdom, made sure to make it clear that New Jersey’s place in jazz is just as important as New York's or Philadelphia's.

“I was living in New York, and I first came to New Jersey, the cats in Newark and even in New Brunswick had their own thing. It was very unique and it was grooving. It was grooving harder, I think, than the cats in New York! The scene in New Jersey was so hip,” Schwartz said.

With organizations like the New Brunswick Jazz Project putting on shows four times a week and performers like Schwartz gracing the stage, the scene is still alive and well.

Jordan Levy

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