A swinging encyclopedia: Barbara Kukla talks Newark jazz, at Montclair Public Library
Reading and signing “The Encyclopedia of Newark Jazz”
Sunday, Oct. 15, 3 p.m.
Music by the Charlie Jones Trio, featuring Charlie Jones (guitar), G. Earl Sauls (bass), Bruce
Tyler (drums) and Denise Hamilton (vocals)
Montclair Public Library, 50 South Fullerton Ave.
Montclairlibrary.org/calendar, or 973-744-0500, ext. 2235
By GWEN OREL
The Key Club.
Six Steps Down.
Billy Moore Four.
Richard (Larue) Jordan.
Whether those names mean something to you or you’ve never heard them before, you can find out about them by rambling through Barbara Kukla’s “The Encyclopedia of Newark Jazz: A Century of Great Music.”
Kukla, for many years a writer for the Newark Star-Ledger, has put together a resource that includes capsule bios of musicians, profiles of jazz institutions, vintage photographs of jazz bands, photos of vintage flyers, essays on jazz by Kukla and others, and more, including a selection of choice quotes called “In Their Own Words.”
She will be signing her book, which came out in May, at the Montclair Public Library on Sunday, Oct. 15.
But the author’s appearance isn’t the only reason Montclairites will find the new book newsworthy: about 100 Montclair jazz musicians are included in it. Among them are vocalist Melissa Walker, bass player Christian McBride, pianist Steve Adegoke Colson, and trumpeter Isaac (Ike) Brown.
“The Encyclopedia” is Kukla’s sixth book, and her fifth about jazz.
Newark, the author said in an interview in the office of her West Orange home, is “where my heart is. It’s where I spent my entire adult life.”
After 40 years at the Star-Ledger, people recognize her.
“When I walk down the street, people say hello. I covered every church. City Hall. I wrote a political column. The Board of Education.”
As a young reporter, she sometimes covered breaking news, and had to find a phone booth to dictate her stories to the editor.
Today, Kukla is on a first-name basis with Gloria Gaynor and Savion Glover and too many famous musicians to count.
JAZZ AND MONTCLAIR
Her absorption in jazz began because of singer Miss Rhapsody (Viola Wells), whom she met at a party in Larchmont. “I was only one of a few white people,” Kukla recalled with a laugh. Miss Rhapsody introduced her to many musicians. Kukla dedicates the book to her, and said it would never have happened without her inspiration. Kukla writes, “Because of her, I am a jazz fan and jazz historian.”
Although much of the book is drawn from her earlier work, there is also a good deal of new material, including 400 pictures, and the vintage flyers. It’s an important resource in part because so many of the clubs are gone now. Kukla said
that jazz in Newark today doesn’t take place in the clubs so much. In the introduction, she lists the few venues that remain, including the Priory Club. Jazz is also heard at NJPAC, the Newark Museum Summer Series, and a few other places.
Bruce Tyler, a Montclair drummer who leads Black Lace Blues, said by telephone that the history of musicians who have played in Newark “has never been covered extensively. It’s an almost forgotten city as far as jazz goes.” Back in the day, he said, there were several hundred bars and clubs n Newark that had entertainment. Growing up in Montclair, it was somewhere he always wanted to play.
“The Montclair people in the book are important to Newark jazz,” Kukla said. “I tried to include information that no one else has.”
For singer and Montclairite Iqua Colson, this book is “an important document.” In jazz, Colson said by telephone, “people get together and just exchange information, just playing together and talking. Newark was and continues to be a great city for that kind of thing. There may not be a whole lot of venues as there was back in the day.” But Kukla, she said, has been documenting some of the great things coming out of Newark.
Iqua Colson’s husband, pianist Steve Adegoke Colson, was music director for Willie (The Lion) Smith, which was part of National Lost Jazz Shrines project at NJPAC in 1997. That project represented music of the city of Newark, she pointed out. “Newark has a huge jazz history,” Colson said.
Kukla said the book has already meant a lot to some of its subjects. Clement “Clem” Moorman, a pianist and vocalist, and “the funniest guy I ever knew,” recently died at age 101 . He was “thrilled to be in it,” she said. Moorman was also the father of singer Melba Moore.
Harry Porter, a saxophone player born in 1925, is also in the book. His daughter brought a copy to him at the senior citizens’ home where he lived, and they held a little ceremony onstage for him. Kukla said, “He cried.”