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RED BANK: ARTS CHAMPION TOM CHESEK DIES

tom-chesek-082913-2-500x375-5493613Tom Chesek in Asbury Park in 2013. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

Tom Chesek, an arts-and-entertainment writer who for decades trained a spotlight on otherwise unheralded musicians, playwrights, visual artists and other creators on the Greater Red Bank Green, died at home in Asbury Park Tuesday night. He was 64 years old.

Among countless freelance gigs, he was a longtime writer for redbankgreen.

tom-chesek-aphs-500x384-8735322Tom Chesek in a recent photo posted on the Asbury Park Historical Society Facebook page, above, and in an undated “noir” portrait by Danny Sanchez. (Click to enlarge.)

tom-chesek-by-danny-sanchez-220x204-5525250A two-performance community theater production in a church, accompanied by coffee and brownies? High school thespians mounting their take on a Broadway classic? A concert featuring world-class jazz artists? Whether happening on a stage, a slightly elevated platform or a scuffed linoleum floor, Chesek was on it, getting the word out to readers across Monmouth County.

Via “scathingly funny local music and theatre reviews, he was a tireless champion of the arts in all its forms,” his daughter, Maggie Chesek, wrote in a Facebook post.

“He lived to spread the word of creative people who he admired,” she told the Asbury Park Press.

Born in Newark, Chesek grew up in the Port Monmouth section of Middletown, a place he later dubbed the “Upper Wet Side” of the Jersey shore, with near-zero fondness.

In adulthood, as a resident of Red Bank, his byline appeared in an entertainment newsletter he began in the early 1980’s; in weekly and daily newspapers, including the Coaster and the Asbury Park Press; and for almost a decade starting in 2007, on redbankgreen and in a short-lived spinoff, Red Bank oRBit.

Less a reviewer than an advancer, Chesek put out word about upcoming arts events small and large with attentive interviews of traveling musicians, local authors and more. Always, his prose was distinctively Chesekian, as in this 2008 piece:

Illuminated by star power, ablaze with spectacular stage effects and drenched with enough hemoglobin to drown the lamps of Transylvania, “Macbeth” is coming to Red Bank. Shakespeare’s 400-year-old tragedy of murderous ambition, maddening guilt and most uncool karma begins a month-plus engagement at the thoroughly modern Two River Theater next week.

His sentences pingponged with puns and alliteration, as in this one about the Red Bank music scene in 2015:

While the town doesn’t often get mentioned in the same breath as Asbury Park and other musically-minded burgs, the fact remains that most every night of the week finds something for music aficionados to choose from; be it at the Basie or one of the borough’s bars, beaneries, sidewalk bumpouts or black-box performance spaces.

Drollery abounded. Chesek once opened a feature story with the sentence: “Dick Hyman! Who wouldn’t get excited at the mention of the name?”

In a 2008 article on movies with connections to Red Bank, he wrote: “Red Bank’s first major movie star passed himself off as a she, had a thing for bestiality and remains a franchise well into the 21st century.” The star was Lassie, a dog.

A devoted night owl, Chesek pieced together a living on the written word, extending his skills to public relations for a health clinic, a heavy-equipment company, a pool installer and more. He wrote a book, “Legendary Locals of Asbury Park,” published in 2015. In his rare off hours, Chesek was a prolific doodler of caricatures he’d leave behind like tips in restaurants and bars, and took long, solo strolls along the boardwalk in the dead of night.

In a recent Facebook post, Chesek wrote that after consuming “Angostura-level java” at a local diner, he “bobbleheaded [his] way home for another caffeine-crazed night of attempted work, punctuated by the screams of our demented old cat and the sounds of sirens, screeching brakes, soused street debates and other sweet signifiers of springtime on our fair Shore.”

For the past decade, Chesek served as director of the historic Stephen Crane House in Asbury Park, onetime home of the author of “The Red Badge of Courage,” where he led tours and programmed author readings, musical events and more. Chesek resided in the Fourth Avenue house with his wife, Diana Moore, and died there.

From a Facebook post by the Asbury Park Historical Society:

Our hearts are a little heavier this week as we mourn the loss of not only one of our own here at APHS, but a steadfast and long-time contributor to the culture and history of our city, Tom Chesek. Tom was lovingly known as a “Walking Encyclopedia of Asbury Park” and used this knowledge to tell great tales of the city from days gone by straight through to the present… He spent decades nurturing the heartbeat of Asbury Park, and this city has felt his impact in many ways. We will miss his words, his style, his signature hats and ties.

According to the Press, “Chesek’s cause of death has not been determined. As per his wishes, he will be cremated and there will be no formal service, but there are plans for an informal tribute in Asbury Park.”

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