The big guy says it best, “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music. I get most joy in life out of music.”
So when the members of Einstein Alley Musicians Collaborative start talking about making music, Albert Einstein’s quotation above strikes a chord.
The music collaborative, according to organizers, is a “nurturing and cooperative” musical community located in central New Jersey. “We gather together people who share a passion for making music. Our community is a place for members and seekers to have a lot of fun, be musically engaged, make friends, feel safe to experiment musically, and ‘feel the love.’”
Area musicians in search of a home or band can take part in the music making experimentation on Sunday, November 24, when the collaborative presents its Fall Fab Collab from 2 to 6 p.m. at Princeton Public Library.
The Einstein Alley music group is an off shoot of the Einstein Alley Entrepreneurs Collaborative, launched by John Romanowich (of Automated Threat Detection or Sightlogix in Princeton) and Steven Georges (Princeton Server Group) in 2003.
Georges says the entrepreneurs group started at a conference where Congressman Rush Holt discussed a Silicon Valley-like corridor focusing on technological innovation and research in the central New Jersey. When Holt asked entrepreneurs to raise their hands, Georges raised his, saying “that I wanted to be an entrepreneur.” When he noticed that Romanowich also had his hand in the air, the two began to talk and be entrepreneurial.
“We created the Einstein Alley Entrepreneurs Collaborative. It was a support group. We started meeting on a social platform, and every six weeks or so we would have a gathering at a private room at a bar or restaurant. Members would invite others. It was a self-policing group,” says Georges, one of the several voices that also make the music group sing.
As the concept grew into the nonprofit Einstein Alley organization, one that maintains the mission of clustering like business in the area between Newark and Trenton, the entrepreneur group has also grown over the past 10 years and has 309 members.
“We were like the first Meetup,” says Georges. “We started this model, and I said, ‘let’s do it with music,’” setting the stage for the music collaborative.
The shift from business dealing to making music is no big jump for many involved with the group, as Georges’ own long and winding road suggests.
“Music was always a big thing to me. When I was growing up in New York I was in a rock bands,” says Georges. “I am also a community organizer, and as a refuge from New York I always need community and create communities around where I am.”
Georges was born in the Riverdale section of the Bronx in 1958. He comes from a Greek Orthodox family. His entrepreneurial immigrant grandfather started the lucrative Indian Walk Shoes for children and maintained his connection to the community through his prominent role in New York’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
“(My grandfather) died fairly young. My father took over the shoe business, but he wanted to be in show business instead. He never played an instrument but saw himself as a singer. He could really entertain a crowd, a real Tin Pan Alley lover. I had these influences in me: the shoe business and the show business. It created this tension in me. When I was growing up, I would think that music was my only friend,” says Georges.
While his other friends were drawn to athletics, Georges says that he had a calling to music. “I was classically trained originally (on piano), but I think my life changed when I first saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was very young, and I always thought that was my calling. I taught myself how to play to guitar. I formed my first band in the seventh grade. A few members stayed together; we became best friends and formed “Dusty Ryder,” a country rock band playing things like the Eagles, Poco, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. We were privileged and went to private schools, but we had friends in other schools and had the corner on the high school student dances.”
After graduating from the private Riverdale School, Georges attended the University of Pennsylvania from 1976 to 1980. “I started in liberal arts, initially a pre-med student for one semester, and I realized it wasn’t for me. So I transferred to the Wharton School. I believed in liberal arts education but wanted something marketable, so I took the minimal number of (business course) credits to get the Wharton stamp. I was trying to find myself and found myself becoming a bit of a producer at school. For three years I became the producer of the Spring Fling Festival.” The festival occurs before spring exams and is one of the largest college festivals on the East Coast.
Georges says that when he left the Wharton School he moved back to New York and immediately headed in the wrong direction. “I wanted to work. I think I got turned down by every bank. I was interviewing and I would tell them about Spring Fling, and they would say, ‘you’re barking up the wrong tree.’ So I got out my copy of (the self-help book) ‘What Color is Your Parachute?,’ did the self assessment, found I was (barking up the wrong tree), and went into the entertainment industry, at CBS finance. I got an offer from NBC, but the CBS one spoke to me. The people were more like me.”
He continued at CBS, even after taking a leave between 1982 and 1984 to get an MBA from Harvard, and returned as “the finance guy, the budget guy. I was seen as back office, not part of the show. Then I took a career risk. I had an opportunity to move and become a unit manager for the CBS Morning Show, which was a sinking ship.” The involvement, however, made him feel part of the presenting side and was satisfying. “I didn’t want to leave the company without having that experience.”
Something was missing. “Much of the financial work was pretty boring, not very stimulating. I then founded a young adult group at the Greek Orthodox Church, the same one that my grandfather was involved with. There was a group called the cathedral fellowship: young adults who would come together for social reasons and have parties. I got very active and felt that we needed to do philanthropic things. That’s when I got a band together, the New York Garage Band. I got some church friends together and some ringers. We had a cosmetic surgeon on drums, an IBM guy on bass, and an investment banker on keyboards. We did music for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, foster homes, Christmas carolers at Covenant House. A lot of threads of my life were coming together: community, music, spirituality, service to others, and fun.”
He also met his wife, Soula, a pediatric gastroenterologist, had two children, and was now involved with launching two media projects: New York One (a CNN-type news channel for New York City) and a news-on-demand interactive TV project for Time Inc.
While the work was satisfying, signs that things needed to change were evident. “I needed to establish balance in my life, have a better life-work balance. Over a one-year period my father got sick and died and there was a near accident with wife,” who was commuting from New York to her work at Robert Wood Johnson in New Brunswick.
To do so, his family moved to South Brunswick. “I was in transition. During this time, my goal was to get my family together before going back to work. I was scared. I felt lost. I lost my father, left my job, and lost child care, but I didn’t lose my family life,” he says.
Eventually he became a consultant and developed business plans and financial advice for clients that included the Center for Arts Education in New York, Playbill, and Metromedia Fiber. He also began to meet more people in the central New Jersey area, including Jesse Lerman, and became involved with a new start up, Princeton Server Group, a digital video broadcast systems provider. “It was very successful. We ended up being acquired by (digital media company) TelVue in Mount Laurel” in 2007.
The next step, Georges says, was that he “wanted to take a year to myself and dedicate it to music. I hadn’t written any songs in about 15 years.”
While he taught himself digital recording and contemplated his next move, he says that he felt that he was not contributing to the Einstein’s Alley entrepreneurs and that fresh leadership would help. He says that he and others asked Marion Reinson, who launched the Princeton-based marketing communications company To The Point, to move the group forward. She agreed on the condition that Georges follow through with something that he had often talked about: start a band and play at the entrepreneurs’ holiday party.
“So I put out a call via a number of LinkedIn groups, knowing that a lot of entrepreneurs were closet musicians, and put together a jam-band. We played our first show in 2011 and had such a good time that we decided to keep the band together, PiFight, the official band of Einstein Alley. There were other bands forming around us, a sister band, the Funkin Soulnuts, and I felt I wanted to grow this into a community.” The result is the Einstein Alley Musician Collaborative, founded, Georges says, with a “Field of Dreams” concept: build it and they will come.
Georges notes that he is not the only force behind the collaborative and that it, like music, it depends on an ensemble. “Early this year when our membership passed 100, we expanded our leadership team. The new organizers, some of our most active members in our first year and a half, have been working together to make our community sustainable for the long term.”
Those members include Garry Pearsall, the Pennington-based owner of an independent contracting business, guitarist, lead singer, and coordinator for the November 24 event; Michael Cohen, guitarist, singer, and Comcast IT consultant; Stuart Malakoff, a Merrill Lynch financial planner, guitar and bass player, and an original member of PiFight; Nicole Cochran, a Westminster Conservatory graduate and music instructor; Helen O’Shea, Princeton-based Irish singer; Ed Hermann, guitarist and ETS employee; and Jeff Friedman, keyboardist, Acoustic Road member, and a Montgomery-based digital marketing consultant.
Georges cites another reason why he and others gather to create and work together. The collaborative’s founding, he says, “was during the latter time of the financial crisis. More and more people were talking about doing with less and less. I wanted something more authentic for people to share, and music seemed just the right thing to do that. We have the opportunity to create not only an entrepreneurial ecosystem but a place where people can share their music. Music is a gift. It’s joy. It’s love. It’s passion. It’s emotion. It’s something that people love. It’s a language.”
That’s something you don’t have to be Einstein to figure out.
Einstein Alley Music Collaborators’ Fall Fab Collab, Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street. Sunday, November 24, 2 to 6 p.m. Free. www.meetup.com/Einstein-Alley-Musicians-Collaborative.