Corrections or additions?

This article by Richard Skelly was prepared for the October 6,

2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

All-Star Blues Show and Exhibit

When you’ve been playing in clubs as long as Joe Zuccarello has, it

takes a lot to get excited about a concert. After all, he has seen it

all — ill-conceived festivals that didn’t pan out, clubs that have

sprung up and closed like flowers with the passing of the seasons, and

potential big theater shows that never came to fruition. But

Zuccarello, a longtime Trenton and Jersey Shore area guitarist, singer

and songwriter, who performs as Joe Zook, is genuinely excited about

the show Friday, October 8, at the Ellarslie Mansion in Trenton.

The museum staffers came to two of Trenton’s most prominent blues

musicians, Zuccarello and his fellow guitarist, Paul Plumeri, for help

on an exhibit about the blues and Trenton’s connection to the music.

After all, Voorhhees-based Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy McGriff was

signed to his first record deal at a Trenton nightclub in 1961. There

are dozens of other musicians through the years who have come through

Trenton clubs and made their mark there before going on to clubs in

Newark and then New York City. The exhibit, which includes

photographs, memorabilia, and autographed blues LPs is presented in

conjunction with McCarter Theater’s production of “Polk County,” a

play by Harlem Renaissance author and playwright Zora Neale Hurston.

The play is set in a sawmill in Polk County, Florida, and includes a

variety of music, from work songs and field hollers to spirituals, and

of course, the blues.

In response to a request from Ellarslie, Zuccarello hand-picked the

people for the kickoff concert on October 8. Along with Plumeri, he

also donated extensively his own collections of old vinyl LPs, and

guitars, many of them autographed by famous blues stars like B.B. King

and Muddy Waters.

Zuccarello says that the choice of performers for this concert was

pretty obvious. Vocalist Doris Spears, who performed with Lionel

Hampton’s band, sang jazz for a time in the 1980s and 1990s but has

now devoted herself to blues again. She was a natural for the show. So

was Paul Plumeri, but because he and Zuccarello play the same

instrument, he will play a concert for the closing of the exhibit in

December rather than taking part in the opening concert. Zook added

Philadelphia harmonica player Steve Guyger and the James Cheadle, the

keyboardist from his own band, Joe Zook & Blues Deluxe, to the mix. To

round things out, he added Philadelphia-based guitarist, singer and

songwriter Georgie Bonds.

“We tried to get as many Trenton people as we could, and so I

immediately thought of Doris Spears, and then we figured we’d need a

male vocalist as well. Georgie Bonds is such a nice guy and he’s all

over the place,” Zuccarello says. “It also doesn’t take too much of a

brain to figure out that Steve Guyger is the best harmonica player

around these parts,” he adds.

With Cheadle on keyboard, himself on guitar and vocals, Spears as a

featured vocalist, Guyger on harmonica, and Bonds on guitar and

vocals, Zuccarello is confident he’s got the all the working

ingredients for a great night of music.“This will be a pretty good

group,” he says. “We didn’t need drums, because Guyger stomps his foot

and the crowd can always clap.”

Stephanie Morgano is one of several curators at the Trenton City

Museum who organized “Blue Notes: Chronicling the Blues from Polk

County to Trenton.”

“Hurston collected folklore, and music, and dance, and work songs —

the early roots of blues music — so our exhibit has a duality to it.

We’re focusing on Trenton and the blues, and also on Zora Neale

Hurston, which links us even more to McCarter’s.” (The McCarter

production begins its run on Tuesday, October 12.)

“The bluesy part of the exhibit encompasses a retrospective on artists

who have come through Trenton, and this has been depicted through four

different photographers,” says Morgano, “so we have all kinds of

photographs, musical memorabilia, signed albums, backstage passes, and

a separate exhibit on Zora Neale Hurston.”

Zuccarello, for one, can’t contain his enthusiasm for this show, which

has the potential to bring the whole central New Jersey blues

community together for one night. He and his fellow musicians will be

doing music from their CDs and will finish the concert with a jam

session. Says Zuccarello: “I can’t wait to play!”

— Richard Skelly

A Night of Blues, opening concert and reception for the

exhibit “Blue Notes: Chronicling the Blues from Polk County to

Trenton,” Ellarslie, the Trenton City Museum, Cadwalader Park; Friday,

October 8, from 5 to 9:30 p.m. 609-989-1191 Admission to concert: $15,

opening reception, free.


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