RED BANK: PARK IT HERE, JAZZ LOVERS

johnny jazz park 051115 1John Gatta wields giant scissors as he dedicates the new park named for his late brother, Ralph ‘Johnny Jazz’ Gatta Jr. (seen below), as Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer applauds. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

ralph johnny jazz 2006 1For 47 years, while cutting meat and selling boxes of rice and cereal, Red Bank butcher Ralph ‘Johnny Jazz’ Gatta Jr. preached the gospel of an American musical art form he deeply loved, and wanted his customers to hear as he heard it.

On Monday night, borough residents showed they had heard, and had been touched by both his love of jazz and his generosity as a grocer.

At a brief ceremony tinged with fondness, humor and a bit of live jazz, the site at the corner of Shrewsbury Avenue and Drs. James Parker Boulevard was named in honor of the late jazz-enthralled butcher.

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RED BANK: PARK TO GET JOHNNY JAZZED UP

rb jazz 082214 2ralph johnny jazz 2006 1Anyone who ever had the pleasure of getting an earful of bebop – and a history lesson in jazz – while picking up a pound of ground chuck at the now-gone Johnny’s Jazz Market in Red Bank should consider stopping by the pocket park on Shrewsbury Avenue at Drs. James Parker Boulevard tonight at 6:30 p.m.

That’s when borough officials will officially rename the park for the late butcher and irrepressible jazz maven Ralph ‘Johnny Jazz‘ Gatta Jr., who ran the shop for almost 50 years – always with his beloved jazz playing in the background.

Gatta, a lifelong borough resident, died in 2011. The park is the site of a series of summer jazz concerts hosted by the borough.  (Photo above by Trish Russoniello; below, by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

 

 

 

RED BANK: PARK TO HONOR JOHNNY JAZZ

ralph johnny jazz gatta 2006

By JOHN T. WARD

rb jazz 082214 1 He presided over what had to qualify as one of the quirkiest neighborhood grocery stores in the history of retailing, let alone Red Bank.

Now, four years after his death, the beloved jazz-enthralled butcher known to all as “Johnny Jazz” is to about to get a neverending solo.

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GETTING JAZZY FOR JOHNNY JAZZ


Red Bank’s jazz royalty gathered in an unassuming pocket park at Shrewsbury Avenue and Drs. James Parker Boulevard Friday night as the Al Wright Unit, above, the Chuck Lambert Band and other acts performed for a packed-in crowd of about 100.

The occasion: the third and final of the summer in the Count Basie 365 Cultural Series organized by the borough parks and rec department. The show was a tribute to the late grocer and jazz enthusiast Ralph ‘Johnny Jazz’ Gatta(Photo by Stacie Fanelli. Click to enlarge.)

BUT WILL THE SIGN BE HAND-SCRAWLED?

Jj_07By JOHN T. WARD

Red Bank officials are mulling a ceremonial renaming of a portion of Shrewsbury Avenue in honor of grocer Ralph ‘Johnny Jazz’ Gatta, who died last Saturday at age 74.

Gatta, a lifelong Red Banker, died at Barnabas Health Hospice at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch. He was buried Wednesday at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Middletown.

A butcher who infused bebop, played loud, into his every working hour over nearly five decades behind the counter at Johnny’s Jazz Market, Gatta served as a living encyclopedia of jazz arcana among the boxes of cereal and detergent in his store.

He was also, he was fond of telling visitors, a front-row witness to the West Side’s transition from a neighborhood dominated by African-Americans and immigrant Italians to one with a Spanish accent – changes he heartily embraced.

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A SWINGIN’ IDEA FOR DADDY-O’S DAY

gattagildagambone

Ralph “Johnny Jazz” Gatta (pictured at left with Gilda Rogers of Frank Talk) is the subject of a special salute, and the Gambone Project provides the grooves, as the second annual Jazzy Father’s Day Brunch expands into the Two River Theater this Sunday.

By TOM CHESEK

Since opening the doors of her Frank Talk Art Bistro and Bookstore on Shrewsbury Avenue in autumn of 2008,  author and educator Gilda Rogers has kept her intimately scaled “cultural oasis” humming with activity — hosting everything from book signings, live music, film and theater, to yoga classes, hair makeover sessions, public forums with politicians and a high-profile appearance by Amiri Baraka last December.

When it comes to naming a single “signature event,” however, the Red Bank Regional faculty member doesn’t hesitate to cite A Jazzy Father’s Day Brunch at Frank Talk. Now in its second year, the party scheduled for this Sunday has quickly grown into a celebration of local lore and life that ought to be of interest to lovers of great sounds, fine food, dear old Dad and good old Red Bank, in no particular order.

Here in 2010, the brunch has expanded — not unlike Pop’s waistline — into the spacious new host venue of the Two River Theater. And, along with the home-cooked delights and homegrown sounds that have come to define the day, Sunday’s event will honor the “living legacy” of a notable neighbor who served as the inspiration for the Father’s Day affair — hipster historian and longtime West Side merchant Ralph “Johnny Jazz” Gatta.

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DEATH RUMORS: WAY-OUTSVILLE, MAN

johnny-jazz-042710Ralph ‘Johnny Jazz’ Gatta at Riverview Medical Center on April 27. (Click to enlarge)

Johnny Jazz is not dead. Repeat: JOHNNY JAZZ IS NOT DEAD.

In fact, for a guy with throat cancer, he’s actually doing pretty well, family members tell us.

But according to a persistent rumor, repeated in laudatory comments posted here on redbankgreen, the beloved West Side grocer/jazz aficionado Ralph ‘Johnny Jazz’ Gatta passed away.

One comment, which was deleted by our moderator after it was discredited, even gave a specific date of his purported passing to the great bandstand in the sky. “Sadly, he lost his battle with cancer yesterday,” the author wrote Friday night.

Wrong. But family members are finding themselves awash in premature condolences.

“It’s bizarre,” says niece Mary Gatta, who compares the rumor to those of Elvis sightings.

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‘JOHNNY JAZZ’ ENDS FIVE-DECADE SOLO

jj_2010_1Ralph Gatta at Riverview Medical Center yesterday, and a note to his customers, below.

Ralph Gatta, a butcher and grocer known as ‘Johnny Jazz’ to generations of Red Bank’s West Siders, has hung up his cleaver after 47 years of enveloping his customers in a cocoon of jazz sounds, imagery and anecdotes.

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The owner of Johnny’s Jazz Market posted a handwritten notice closing the Shrewsbury Avenue store on its front door nine days ago, one day before he was hospitalized with complications of throat cancer. Because of his illness, he won’t be back, he tells redbankgreen.

The closing marks the end of one of the oldest mom-and-pop groceries operating in Red Bank. Even more, though, it is the fade-out for a grubby museum of sorts curated by a jazz lover whose brother says is “from Mars” with his fanaticism.

“I can’t bend, won’t bend, don’t know how to bend,” Gatta told redbankgreen on a visit to his room at Riverview Medical Center yesterday, explaining why jazz played non-stop on his store’s stereo and jazz memorabilia hung from every available surface.

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