Robert Randolph electrifies the Green, capping memorable Morristown music fest

Robert Randolph reaches for heaven at the 2016 Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Robert Randolph reaches for heaven at the 2016 Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Video: Robert Randolph lets ‘Good Times’ roll on the Morristown Green

By Kevin Coughlin

Robert Randolph  compares his shows to church services.  He won’t get many arguments from the huge crowd who saw his Almighty performance Saturday on the Morristown Green.

Randolph and his Family Band capped the sixth annual Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival with a rip-roaring, rollicking set that melded funk, rock and blues, putting a giant exclamation mark on a day full of superlative moments.

The George Gee Orchestra got things off to a swinging start.

Then, 90-year-old Bucky Pizzarelli, still on the mend from a stroke, made his bid for Comeback Player of the Year, trading his customary sportcoat for shirtsleeves to play a gentle set of jazz standards.

Bucky was backed by guitarist Ed Laub, violinist Aaron Weinstein and bassist Martin Pizzarelli, his son. They dedicated It’s Been a Long Long Time, a signature song of the late Les Paul, to Les’ son Rusty Paul, a performer at prior Morristown festivals, who passed away in January.

“I didn’t want to miss this. And I was lucky I made it,” Bucky said backstage on a warm August afternoon.

Slideshow photos by Jeff Sovelove, Berit Ollestad and Kevin Coughlin

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Some clouds wandered by, but Louis Prima Jr. and The Witnesses blew them away with a mighty horn section.

“Once you’re on the stage, you don’t feel the temperature. It’s hot, you sweat a little bit more. We have fun playing,” said Prima, who compared Morristown to the fictional small town in Back to the Future.

Video: Louis Prima Jr. & The Witnesses turn up the heat

The fun continued with Quinn Sullivan, back for his second Morristown Jazz & Blues Fest–at the ripe old age of 17.

A guitar prodigy, Sullivan has been learning to master his adult voice, with impressive results.

“I think singing every day helps a lot,” said the Massachusetts native, who will be a high school senior this fall. He dedicated Buddy’s Blues to his mentor, famed bluesman Buddy Guy.

Randolph invited Sullivan back onstage to join the Family Band, and the teen played with such verve that he could have passed for one of Randolph’s many multi-talented cousins.

“He’s great,” Randolph said later.

Dancing up a storm at the 2016 Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Dancing up a storm at the 2016 Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival. Photo by Jeff Sovelove

A steady stream of fans brought lawn chairs and blankets throughout the 10-hour festival; quite a few of the ladies wound up dancing onstage with Randolph and The Family Band.

“We’re loving it,”  Janice Nellins of Denville said as she basked in the sunshine. Someday she will remind her daughter Sammie, 4, about the legendary performers they saw.

“I’m so excited to be here. We were out of town last year. I’m a big fan of Robert Randolph and Bucky Pizzarelli… It’s a treat,” Nellins said.

The Sazonov family–George, Victoria and daughter Iryna, 9, made the trek from East Brunswick, even though Victoria is only weeks away from giving birth to another child.

“The setting it beautiful…and it’s very good sound,” said George Sazonov.

Gabby Neely, a 9-year-old violinist from Dover, enjoyed Aaron Weinstein’s embellishments with Bucky Pizzarelli. She found the afternoon both relaxing and entertaining. “You could feel the beat,” she said.

Dancing to Louis Prima Jr. and The Witnesses. Video by Berit Ollestad

Mayor Tim Dougherty, who hatched the festival, was ecstatic.

“It’s been a great day. All the acts have been fantastic… they just keep getting better and better each year,” he said, praising co-promoters Don Jay Smith and Linda Smith. 

Funded with private donations, the annual event aims to help downtown restaurants and businesses, the Mayor said.  So far, Mother Nature has gotten the memo.

“It’s six years of really good weather, and I’m very grateful for it,” Dougherty said.

Robert Randolph, a former Morristown resident, is the only pedal steel player on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists. He left many grateful fans in his wake this weekend.

“The one thing that’s missing around this world is everybody concentrates on a lot of bad news. And the bad news is just a part of life,” Randolph, 36, said after his full-throttle set.

“The only thing you can continue to pass on is love. Love, peace and happiness. When we play it’s really like a church service, bringing people together, concentrating on positivity, peace, love and happiness.”

Amen, Brother Robert.

Stay tuned for more videos and photos.


Robert Randolph and Quinn Sullivan. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Robert Randolph and Quinn Sullivan. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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