By Tom Baldino
Jane Stuart and her band played the 2019 JSJBF Long Branch Festival and we have kept in contact since. In September, I received an email invitation to attend a private event at the Mountsier Gardens in Nutley, NJ. The gardens reflect a thirty-year project on the two-acre property that is the home of Silas Mountsier and his partner Graeme Hardie. It was a warm afternoon on the first Sunday in October where I met my good friend, Barry Cooper, at the site to enjoy the band perform a 15 song set with these amazing gardens as the backdrop, https://www.nutleyfamily.org/mountsier-hardie-garden-photo-gallery/.
Jane and her husband, drummer Rick DeKovessey, have been musical partners since before they were married. She relayed a story to the audience about how they met when she filled in for another vocalist who couldn’t make the gig and, as they say, “the rest is history.” Gary Haberman is the musical director, arranger, and a master of keyboards while John Arbo handled the bass, Chris Amelar was on guitar and my old friend Frank Pagano played percussion (our daughter used to babysit his son).
The diverse set kicked off with “Who Will Buy?” written by Lionel Bart, the British composer who created the musical “Oliver!” Jane’s voice was in fine form as the band hinted at their considerable skills, which would be on display throughout the afternoon. Next up, “Stone Soul Picnic” written by Laura Nyro and most famously covered by The Fifth Dimension, was given a reggae treatment, emphasized by Frank’s stellar conga playing. Speaking with him after the show, he admitted to being “a little verklempt” (i.e., overcome with emotion) as he had not played that song since doing it with Laura Nyro back in the day.
Later in the set, with Jane displaying her scatting skills, the vocals were turned over to Rick who also has a terrific voice. His singing and playing on Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right” earned a warm round of applause from those in attendance. Moving between sambas, pop songs and ballads, they then reminded us that October is reminiscent of baseball with their rendition of “The Ballgame.” Written by Sister Wynona Carr for the movie adaptation of Jackie Robinson’s life, “42”, this gospel-rooted tune was given a swinging arrangement that put the band into high gear. The last song was a rousing version of “Let the Good Times Roll.” Chris Amelar’s excellent solo on this song had the crowd chanting for one more, and Jane obliged with an up-tempo version of “Just in Time.” Ironically, “Let the Good Times Roll” was also the final song played at the JSJBF local round of the International Blues Competition the day before. I mentioned this to Frank after the show and he casually noted that he had won this Memphis-based competition in 2000 with the Dave Keyes Band! What extraordinary musicians we have at the Jersey Shore!
It was a wonderful afternoon of music in a setting that has to be seen to be believed.