By, Tom Baldino
What started as Blues by the Beach in 1998 was the brain child of long-time JSJBF member Barry Stein. One of the first acts he reached out to was Chuck Lambert. Two years later, past President, the late Mark North, reached out to Barry, and the Foundation has been a partner with the City of Long Branch in this and other events, including the Long Branch Jazz and Blues Festival ever since.
On a Sunday night where rain was the order of the day, with showers all around us, miraculously it held up long enough to get the show in. It was not one of the biggest crowds, but those who braved the weather saw a true master of his craft with a band that were his equals on the stage. Before my introduction, my wife Joanne surprised me with a sheet cake for my 75th birthday, and with the band playing, those in attendance serenaded me with that familiar refrain. Afterwards, everyone who wanted got a piece of cake and Joanne confided in me that she didn’t know what she was going to do with the cake if we were rained out!
Chuck is known as a blues man, but in taking lessons from the preeminent jazz guitarist at the Jersey Shore before his passing, Jerry Topinka, his set list has widened in scope and included both jazz and blues. Songs like Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” and Billy Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” explored the jazz side, with both Eric Salkin’s expressive sax playing and Bob Stasiak’s adventurous keyboards adding to the complex renditions. The band showed they could get down and funky with the hard driving rhythm section of Eddie Ellis on bass and Chip Dixon on drums on songs like Etta James’ “The Blues is My Business & Business is Good.” Chuck thrilled the crowd with his soaring leads as well as his beautiful fills on that Hoagy Charmichael chestnut “Georgia on My Mind.” His voice has aged like a fine wine and whether a whisper or a shout, it’s a unique road-worn sound that’s always pleasing to the ear.
For those who missed the show, you can catch Chuck at one of many local venues he frequents regularly. He also runs a Thursday night Jam at the Blue Moon in South Amboy. Check out his Facebook page for the schedule and locations.