By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Tucked away inside Red Bank’s train station shelter for years, the bust of Red Bank’s native son, William “Count” Basie, one of jazz music’s greatest composers, has now been moved to a more prominent location outside the Monmouth Street train stop. Tomorrow, local officials and fans will hold a re-dedication ceremony for the bronze bust.
For the kid from Red Bank, it’s the very least the borough could do, says Gene Cheslock, who, along with Ray Brennan, purchased the bust back in 2004 to commemorate Basie’s one-hundredth birthday.
“It was lost inside, and not in a noticeable area. Now you can’t miss it,” Cheslock, line Brennan a Little Silver resident, with some serious roots in Red Bank, said. “It’s sort of like the completion of the circle.”
It isn’t often that the hamlet of Red Bank gets to celebrate its most famous native. These days Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Kevin Smith rule the roost. But that’s the purpose of Friday’s bust dedication. Cheslock, a former doctor and still-avid jazz fan, wants to keep the fire that Basie lit a-glowing in Red Bank.
“There’s so many artists that he mentored, fostered or passed-through,” Cheslock said. “There’s not a lot of people who have affected jazz with music that rank with Basie.”
Still, there is a sense of pride in Red Bank for the jazz legend. There’s Count Basie Way, a of Mechanic Street, where he was born. There’s a stadium park and a learning center named in his honor. And of course, there’s the Count Basie Theatre, which is an attraction in itself.
For the theater, adding the bust to town is more than fitting, because, as Chief Executive Officer Numa Saisselin said, “Not everyone gets to claim someone that famous or influential.”
“He’s easily one of the greatest jazz composers of all time,” Saisselin said. “When you think of big band jazz, you think of him and Duke Ellington.”
But nobody will be thinking of Duke Ellington when they step off the train in Red Bank. Not these days, says Red Bank Visitor’s Center director Margaret Mass.
“It’s the gateway to the arts corridor,” she said. “Count Basie, being the renowned musician he was, will bring a tremendous amount to Red Bank.”
Red Bank assistant administrator Gary Watson said the borough intends to add a podium in front of the bust that explains the history and impact of Basie’s life. That won’t come until at least 2010, when Red Bank gets some money for it, he said.
The bust greeting travelers is just what the borough needed at this time, Watson added.
“It’s going to be a great addition,” he said. “It brings pride.”
The re-dedication will take place from 4 to 5p at the Red Bank Train Station. One of Basie’s nieces is expected to attend. The lineup of events includes a brief history on Basie and the bust, some recorded music and comments from Mayor Pasquale Menna. The ceremony will close out with one of Basie’s songs, “Rail.”
For more info on the ceremony, contact assistant administrator Watson at 732.530.2770.