Editor’s Note: This concert has been postponed to a date to be announced due to coronavirus concerns.
Baritone saxophonist, bandleader, arranger, and composer Jack Furlong feels blessed for a lot of reasons.
For one, says the Hopewell-raised musician, he has been able to pursue two passions.
“When I was in high school, the two things I felt really blessed to be doing were playing music and baseball,” he says during an interview in advance of his Saturday, March 14, performance at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing.
“As I came to the end of my high school career (in 2001), I thought I wanted to continue with music and baseball rather than something that doesn’t fulfill me,” he says.
And while Lafayette College in Pennsylvania gave him that opportunity, he says he had a change of heart.
“Our (Division I) coach was very cut-throat and he was going to make me give up playing music in order to play baseball. As much as I wanted to play baseball professionally as a career, I had to come to my senses and realize I have a better shot as a musician than I do as a baseball player.
“I then spent the next four years delineating what that meant and figuring out what I was going to do as an artist and figuring out what I liked and didn’t like in the music industry and how I was going to make money,” he says.
Then sometime around the time he was a jazz studies graduate student at William Paterson College in Wayne, New Jersey, he decided he would become a performer-composer-arranger-teacher.
“The ambiguity of the [jazz] business can be frightening,” he says. “I realized I didn’t want to just be teaching music and training the next generation of musicians to take my job. I wanted to create and have a place in the history of music before I began to share my talents. That’s why I find myself so comfortable now as a college professor because I get to do both — continue to thrive as a professional musician and utilize my students who are trying to learn the same thing and so they get to play a role in that with me.”
Furlong has been teaching classes at Kutztown in jazz improvisation, jazz arranging, and music business. And while he let go of his professional baseball aspirations, he still remains active with baseball. He works as a state-certified umpire, officiating levels from Little League through college, and has started his own sports-related charity, The OSIP Foundation, Inc. OSIP stands for Outstanding Sportsmanship Is Paramount.
A 2001 Hopewell Valley Central High School graduate, Furlong says his parents separated when he was very young. His mother, Bernadette, was an actress and singer who had attended Rider University and whose career also took a change.
“She was about to work with (the TV soap opera) ‘All My Children’ when she got a bit part in it. The day she was supposed to go in and shoot, she couldn’t get out of bed. She was so sick. It turned out she was pregnant with me.”
His father, Jack, is a prominent area defense attorney.
Furlong says another reason he feels blessed is his Catholic faith and the joys that come with becoming a seminarian at his American Reformed Catholic Church in Toms River.
“I grew up Roman Catholic and my faith is very important to me, but the way the Catholic Church has gone in recent years, I just could not continue to blindly support that,” he says.
“The American Reformed Catholic Church welcomes gay people, divorced people, women who want to be priests, we welcome everyone with open arms, and the fact that I can become a priest there and not have to be celibate is a big plus,” Furlong says.
Asked about influences and developing his own style with baritone saxophone, Furlong cites Jerry Mulligan then adds Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Of Coltrane, he says, “I don’t consider myself anywhere near the virtuoso that Coltrane was, but I think you can hear just a little bit of his sound in my sound.”
Furlong also cites music for television and movies.
“When I did my master’s thesis, the topic was the relationship between jazz and the film cannon of James Bond. It’s a commentary on the fact that we have taken music from so many places in the 20th century and turned it into jazz.” As proof, he points out that literally dozens of classic Beatles tunes have been re-worked by so many prominent and not-so-prominent jazz musicians.
By incorporating music from TV and films into his live shows and offering up “jazzified takes” on these tunes, he says, listeners “can tap into the emotions of people who relate back to the nostalgia of their childhood, and you play on so many different things inside the psyche of people because music does that. So I say, let’s take a musical journey through our childhood, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Furlong’s relationship with the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing goes back five years. He credits his girlfriend, Katelyn Mulligan, a Bristol-Myers Squibb employee, with introducing him to the place, not far at all from where he lives in Pennington.
And while the circumstances of the discovery where unpleasant — he had become unemployed and was helping her recover from a car accident — the results were positive.
“It was kind of serendipitous that I would lose my job at the same time that I would spend the next three years helping her to rehabilitate,” he says.
Then after she recovered, she “went out of her way to go out and act almost as my agent. I had no income. I was living off of her grace and with my mother, and I was trying to contribute what I could. One of the things she did was find the Sanctuary. We went over there, met (coordinator) Bob Kull, and I fell in love with the room and the piano and said, ‘I’ve got to play here.’ And, it’s not every day you can roll out of bed and basically be at the gig,” he says.
He is so enthused with the sound and the friendly administration and volunteers at 1867 Sanctuary, Furlong recorded one of his CDs, “Opportunity,” at the venue, sans a live audience. His other recordings are “And That Happened,” “Bunnies in Limbo,” and “A Jazzebration!”
At the 1867 Sanctuary performance Furlong will be accompanied by his longtime bandmates, Sean Gough on piano, Jon McElroy on bass, and John O’Keefe on drums. O’Keefe is also the owner of the recording studio that Furlong uses.
The presentation, he says, will be “a hodgepodge of traditional jazz with a slight blend of contemporary but also a deference to the past and an exploration of some areas you may not have thought of when it comes to jazz, some things from TV and movies we may remember from our childhood.”
Jack Furlong Quartet, 1867 Sanctuary, 101 Scotch Road, Ewing. Saturday March 14, 8 p.m. $5 to $20. 609-392-6409. www.1867sanctuary.org.