Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

Vocalists of the North River Community Choir

by Kyle Andrew Smith

June 13, 2018: The skies were clearing, the air was warming, and the stage was set to showcase some of Jersey City’s most diverse and talented vocalists and musicians. Since 2008, Groove on Grove, located at the Grove PATH plaza, has brought artists, musicians and performers to the community. Coordinated by a prominent musical leader in the city by the name Dancing Tony, the weekly event is held every Wednesday from 6pm to 9pm. It attracts hundreds of families, locals, commuters and tourists to celebrate the importance that performance and art have in a community.

Sponsored by the Historic Downtown Special Improvement District with audio support and mixing done by Corey Zack, a JC local audio engineer, producer, and composer, the evening’s theme was Voices Carry, featuring, but not limited to, vocal performers across Jersey City.

The crackling sound of a massive pot of fresh kettle corn being heated and stirred, a large patch of fake grass for kids to play and dance rolled out right in front of the stage, and the PAs adjusted expertly to the space, the community was ready for a night of appreciating the artists that define the culture of the city. If you weren’t lucky enough to pass by, here’s what you missed.

Instructor Angelica Marie McKenzie stands in front of her students after their performance.

The young dancers of PS 23

Kicking off the evening was a group of dancers from School 23; if the name lacks in charisma, the dancers have it in scores. In this remarkably diverse school, the need for an outlet to express cultural differences was taken on by Spanish teacher Ms. Angelica McKenzie, a Jersey City resident of over 30 years, originally from Panama.

Eleven years ago, a group of newly immigrated Indian-American students enrolled in PS 23 came to Angelica with an issue; they didn’t have a platform to express their culture. Angelica took up the challenge and started a dance program, one which would allow the students of School 23 - with students from Indian, Asian, Arab, Hispanic, and African descent - to understand one another’s cultures through the universally understood language of dance. Now the program is run by both Angelica and her daughter, Angelica Maria Mckenzie, who has introduced a emphasis on modern music to accompany more traditional songs, making it more exciting for students to participate in the dances.

In the performance, 19 students between the ages of ten and thirteen entertained a crowd of nearly 100 with impressively choreographed dances to music spanning from China to Africa, as well as to an upbeat selection from Bruno Mars and Finesse that left the audience charmed. Even the most busy commuters pouring off the elevators from the PATH couldn't help but smile at the sight.

With hopes to extend her program to many other schools across Jersey City, Angelica Maria can’t stress the importance of the arts in helping students from some of the city’s most underprivileged communities. Their program relies entirely on the contributions made by the parents of the children.

“We don’t have a lot, but we want to show we’re worth something,” said Angelica Maria, hoping that eventually she can extend the program to more schools across the city.

From Bridgewater to JC: Evagelia

By day, she’s a young social studies teacher right out of Rutgers. By night, the singer-songwriter plays at some of NYC’s hottests venues: Rockwood ballroom, the Delancey, Bowery Electric; the list goes on. But for this show, a middle ground was achieved.
Rocking out in front of a crowd ranging from parents to kids, commuters to JC locals, Evagelia gave her first performance at Groove on Grove, something she has been wanting to do since moving to JC this past August. “I remember when I first saw my first Groove on Grove, I was like “I love this city! I love where I live," she enthused. "I always post it on my story. It's a lovely community.”

Accompanied by John Nunez’s tight grooves on a beautiful hollow body guitar and Jimmy Merchant’s jazzy sax, Evagelia’s voice attracted a continuous stream of people around the stage. Although her music is usually performed witha full band, the peppy but soft sound matched perfectly the vibe of the surrounding city scene. Following the show, more than a few in the audience were humming "Still Think About You" (check out the songs beautifully filmed music video)

After the show, a three year old kid came up to Evagelia to declare himself as her new biggest fan. “It was so cute. I melted,” Evagelia said. Check out Evagelia’s website here, her music videos here, and Facebook page here.

Ashley Campanaro sings I’ve Got the World on a String with the North River Community Choir.

The Great American Songbook: North River Sings

Calling Evagelia’s three performer outfit and raising it by 45, the North River Sings Community Choir occupied every inch of the stage as they sang tunes from some of the greatests musicals as well as jazz classics to the evening’s peak audience, around 200 people.

Drawing from artists from Cole Porter to Leonard Bernstein, the large choir brought the Grove Street square back to the days forgotten by most. The exciting upbeat swing of "It don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got that Swing" included Benny Goodman-like instrumental breaks that got the kids on the lawn dancing. Local Jersey City performer Ashley Campanaro’s rendition of "I’ve Got The World On a String" charmed the crowd.

Liz Morrill, the founder and executive director of the group, stressed the importance of community performance, “I love Jersey City’s cultural opportunities and community… its like heaven on Earth," she said. "Performing at events like Groove on Grove perpetuates this wonderful sense of community.”

Morrill attributes the group’s success to the dedicated members of the choir, the world class musicians,, and to the new choir director, Conrad Chu, who joined the group only a year ago. According to Morrill, he brings a sense of warmth and fun to rehearsals without sacrificing the demand for high quality performances, which is evident from their performance. After the show, Conrad had young children running up to him asking to audition, to which he enthusiastically replied that if they kept on practicing in a few years they too can certainly join the group.

The band was accompanied by the quick hands of NJ Jazz Society scholar Errold Lanier Jr. on drums; music teacher and director of All Saints Episcopal Church in Hoboken Joshua Mauldin on piano; and well known bass player Pedro Giraudo, whose bands and collaborations have won both critical praise and music awards.

Although the evening marked the end of the group’s fourth season, the choir is already gearing up for their next. They play not only at large venues such as Grace Church Van Vorst and the Oculus at the World Trade Center, but nursing homes and homeless shelters as well.

Liz invites anyone interested in joining, from anywhere, to come to auditions on Tuesday, June 26 from 7pm to 9pm.

Ross Sandler sings with the a capella group Prom Date.

Prom Date

Ever wonder what it was like to be in love in the 1950’s age of doo-wop romance? Well then, Prom Date is here to fulfill your dreams.

Introduced by Dancing Tony with ruthlessly cheesy references about limousines and corsages, the a capella group is led by Annie Kessler and can be found on street corners around Jersey City wooing the community with the nostalgia of a simpler time.
The group consists of seven members, all of whom, besides Annie, were not yet born during the heyday of doo-wop’s mainstream popularity. “Its my music, it's not theirs,” said Annie; but regardless of this, she said, the performers not only vocally perform the pieces with tremendous enthusiasm and passion, but act the archetypes of the romantic youth that enjoyed the period.

All performers showcased an incredible variety of talents as they each gave solos to the vast collection of music from the 50's and early 60's.

The crowd was audibly wowed at the incredible depths of Jersey City resident Bertram Okpokwasili. Ross Sandler, playing the part of the 1950s teenage heartthrob, dazzled the audience with a falsetto that carried all the way down Grove Street, and danced and gesticulated with unapologetic charisma. When Brian Hsu joined Annie in singing one of their 15 selections, the crowd erupted in adoration.

As the sun had set and the lights projected the singer’s shadows upon the rainbow colored flags blowing in the soft breeze, the group concluded the night of music and dance with a touching rendition of Ben E. King’s "Stand By Me."

If you’re free next Wednesday, June 20, Groove on Grove will be featuring some of the up and coming hip hop artists of Jersey City, curated by the ChicPea JC blog. Admission is always free, popcorn and other snacks abound, and all are welcome. On Wednesday, June 27, Groove On Grove presents a "Grand Piano Showcase."




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