Washington Street Live

photo by @theonlyvegas

That one-way section of Washington Street can be crazy during the day. It’s basically a two/three-lane highway leading from West Kinney towards McCarter Highway. The library, the museum, and the courthouse are all there. You can just barely find parking. People are switching lanes or beeping or pulling out of parking garages. A bunch of lights—it’s a lot.

There’s a different type of energy at night. Washington Street is quieter. One of the only stores that’s really lit up is the chicken shack. Foot traffic is light. And, in line with the central ward’s musical history, certain doors lead to live jazz and rap.

I’d been meaning to go to one of the jazz events at Clements Place, near the library. This Friday I finally had a chance to go. But I’m late to everything so I only got there during intermission. I said some hello’s then went straight to the bar. Then, just as I was forgetting what I was there for, Alvester Garnett’s sextet rejoined onstage.

Violinist Regina Carter stood out from the beginning. Her sound was clean. She and one of the sax players played back and forth like they were talking to each other at certain times. One would play a tune, then the other would play a matching one. Other times, Carter walked offstage while the same sax player lead the group. There was a sort of theatrical conversation happening within these informal movements. But everyone in the group got their solo time too. Though they played sheet music, the group flowed together as if they were just following each other’s thoughts.

photo by @theonlyvegas

I left the jazz event just before they wrapped up to go to a rap event a couple blocks down Washington. The Secret Society 1Revolution concert featured like fifteen or more different rappers. Most of them I didn’t know, which isn’t a bad way to go into something like that. It’s kind of like how you’re supposed to see a play before you read it. It’s meant to be performed.

While Garnett’s jazz band was its own group, each rapper’s group seemed to spill into the crowd. Like if a dude from Roselle was onstage, you’d see more people from Roselle come out. Once that person finished, they’d spread out and another group would take its place. The geographical magnetism was palpable. Those onstage could point out who was from where—“I see Irvington, I see Newark, I see Passaic county.” And right when a person’s set was done, they were back in the crowd like everybody else anyway. If you weren’t watching five minutes ago, you wouldn’t know that the person next to you just got finished performing. Anyone could be anyone in that cloud of smoke.

photo by @theonlyvegas

But everyone in the audience fell in tune at certain moments. You could feel it when Chad Bussa was chanting “shesuckdick, shesuckdick, shesuckdick.” It took me a second to hear what he was saying—you really had to stop and listen—but he just kept repeating it back to back. It was funny and good. It reminded me of Clemont’s Place where head bobbing came in waves throughout the length of each song too.

It’s not surprising that jazz and rap would hypnotize people so similarly, given the cultural connections between them as original Black American genres. There are elements of improvisation. They both also rely heavily on expressions of uncensored emotion (and bass). The way they sample music completely also transforms original projects. One of the rappers that night reused Nas’s question “whose world is this?” from the song “The World is Yours.” And that song samples jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal’s song “I Love Music,” further intertwining the evolution of both genres.

The whole night was cool. One of the good things about Newark is that it’s mad low-key. It’s to the point that getting the crowd’s attention and engagement at the jazz event, especially after the intermission, meant someone leading the clapping or being like “we can do better than that!” during the re-introduction of the band. And, much later, when people on stage at the 1Revolution concert tried to hype people up like “where’s Newark at?!” it would be quiet. Crickets. Newark was too twisted by then to even answer.

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