After 31 years in Red Bank, entrepreneur, education activist and occasional singer W. David Tarver is leaving town. And he’s going out in style.
Tarver tells redbankgreen that he and his wife, Kishna, are packing up their house at the Bluffs on West Front Street for a move to Birmingham, Michigan next month.
The time and circumstances are right, he says. His daughter, Stacy, just graduated from New York University. His son, Aaron, graduated from Red Bank Regional last month and will be heading to college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Tarver’s brother and 85-year-old mother live near the Detroit suburb.
But before he leaves, Tarver has a couple of pieces of musical business to attend to.
First, this Thursday, he’s is scheduled to sing next door to his home in Riverview Gardens Park as part of the Jazz in the Parks concert series. There, backed by a 10-piece band, Tarver will deliver a set that meanders from Big Joe Turner to Al Jarreau to Stevie Wonder.
The band includes keyboardist Vance Villastrigo and and saxman Tommy LaBella, both regulars at Basil T’s, and pianist Barbara King, who’s often in the spotlight at McLoone’s Riverside in Sea Bright. A vocal group called Rain will add backup.
“It’s kind of like my swan song, musically speaking,” says Tarver.
Then, on August 1, he’s producing a show at the Two River Theater by Jamaican singer Karen Smith. The performance, a mix of reggae, jazz and R&B, is a fundraiser for the Parker Family Clinic and the Red Bank Family Support Center.
“My wife kicks me,” Tarver says with a laugh. “She’s like, ‘We’re trying to get out of town. Why are you doing another show?’ But I love Karen Smith and I wanted to show some support for these organizations as a last gesture.”
Tarver, 54, started out at Bell Labs and later made a fortune on his own in the tech sector. In recent years, he was central in the creation of the Red Bank Education and Development Initiative, a private sector effort to bolster health and cultural outreach at the primary and middle schools.
The effort drew a good deal of attention New Jersey Monthly magazine did a feature on Tarver’s efforts in early 2003 and was successful in fostering the Red Bank Charter School, in raising student performance and in improving the quality of health, particularly dental health, of kids from low-income families, he says.
“I’m happy that we were able to get things done,” he says.
But the RBEDI is dormant today, having given away $70,000 earlier this year to charities, including $50,000 to the Community YMCA for the purchase of a bus, taking its own bank account down to just $5,000, Tarver says. The group’s future is uncertain, though Tarver plans to convene a meeting of its eight member board before he leaves the area on Aug. 15.
His “biggest disappointment,” he says, is that the integration of races and cultures that he believed Red Bank was capable of has not come about.
“We have people from different backgrounds here, but we really aren’t together,” he says. He says he frequently finds himself the only African-American at fundraising events, but also attends functions at which no white or Hispanic people are present, too.
“It’s not unique to Red Bank,” he says. “I think it’s the leadership civic, business, social. I don’t think we put enough effort” into encouraging diversity. “People are more focused on their own situations.”
Now, he’s looking forward to Birmingham, a walkable city of 20,000 residents that’s a lot like Red Bank, he says.
Is he feeling emotional about his imminent departure?
“Not yet,” he says. “But maybe I will be Thursday night.”