Rocking the blues: Jersey boy Rob Paparozzi will salute Woodstock at Morristown Jazz Fest, Aug. 17

Rob Paparozzi performs at the 2013 Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Rob Paparozzi performs at the 2013 Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Rob Paparozzi never got to Woodstock–his mom put her foot down. But a half-century later, he’s raring to go. And you are invited.

At Saturday’s Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival, Paparozzi will lead a tribute to the legendary 1969 extravaganza. Saluting rock and roll at a jazz and blues fest can be risky. Paparozzi is confident.

motown jazz blues festival logo 2013“It can be done. It’s a matter of having somebody that knows how to tie the knots together, you know?” says the longtime frontman for popular reboots of Blood Sweat & Tears and the Blues Brothers.

Paparozzi will anchor the 4 pm slot at the ninth annual Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival, which runs from noon to 10 pm on Aug. 17, 2019, at the historic Morristown Green.

Bernard Allison and Davy Knowles, rained out, at the 2018 Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Bernard Allison and Davy Knowles, rained out, at the 2018 Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Admission is free. The lineup includes the Antoinette Montague Experience, the Frank Vignola Trio, the Bernard Allison Group and closer Davy Knowles. The latter two acts were invited back after rainouts last year.

Weather should not be a worry this time. If conditions start to imitate Woodstock, the Mayo Performing Arts Center is ready with a good roof and dry seats.

Paparozzi, 66, will bring plenty of Woodstock connections onstage with him.

For starters, look for guitarist Steve Katz.  He performed with Blood Sweat & Tears at Woodstock, 50 years ago to the day.

Trombonist Tom “Bones” Malone has played with the late Levon Helm, a Woodstock veteran with The Band.

Rob Paparozzi of the Ed Alstrom Quartet
Rob Paparozzi

Paparozzi is steeped in Woodstock stories from his older brother, who worked for the Ampeg amplifier company and cadged a backstage pass to the four-day mudfest in upstate New York.

A month after Woodstock, the teenaged Paparozzi opened for Sly and the Family Stone–a Woodstock act– at Newark’s Stanley Theater.

And Paparozzi worshiped the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, another Woodstock act. (And incidentally, the backing band for Bob Dylan when he riled the 1965 Newport Folk Festival by “going electric.”)

This group introduced Paparozzi to Chicago blues, thanks to a customer who dropped off Butterfield’s first album at his mom’s Newark candy shop.

That record also opened Paparozzi’s ears to the harmonica, and its possibilities beyond the pop forays of Dylan and the Beatles.

“The harmonica fits in real real well with blues and jazz and rock and roll,” says the harp virtuoso.

Video: Rob Paparozzi lets it rip at the 2013 Morristown Jazz & Blues Fest:

Growing up in Linden, Paparozzi seldom got near his big brothers’ guitars.

“You know, it was ‘don’t touch our guitars, they’re expensive!’ With the harmonica, nobody gave a crap about it. It was sitting on the shelf. And man, I had this love affair with it. And I never looked back. That little sucker has really changed my life, you know?”

It’s been his musical passport to stages around the world. At one time, it might have been his ticket into the E Street Band.

Before he became the Boss, Bruce Springsteen fancied a Linden girl and made some visits from Asbury Park, Paparozzi remembers. Paparozzi and Springsteen both had bands, and occasionally they opened for each other at bars in their respective stomping grounds.

“He was really a nice cat, man,” Paparozzi says. “You know, he just wanted to play his music. But he was just learning how to become a frontman. So he was watching a lot, like he was watching me because I was already out fronting my band. And he loved the way I had played guitar, with a little harmonica in the rack.”

Invitations followed.

“He’d go, ‘Hey, Rob, bring your harmonica down to the Student Prince in Asbury Park. Every Tuesday I’m doing a blues jam.’ And I’m thinking, ‘That’s a little far, I’m not gonna go down there.’ And I never went, you know, and I’m thinking, man, I could have been like the Clarence Clemons of the harmonica!”

The 2019 Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival:

Noon: The Antoinette Montague Experience

2 pm: The Frank Vignola Trio

4 pm: Rob Paparozzi’s Juke Joint

6 pm: Bernard Allison Group

8 pm: Davy Knowles

Things turned out pretty well, just the same. Paparozzi has worked with B.B. King, Dr. John, Whitney Houston, Carole King, Judy Collins and Phoebe Snow, among others. He played on Broadway in Big River, and his harmonica licks made the soundtracks of Brother Where Art Thou and Flirting With Disaster.

He toured with Blood Sweat & Tears from 2005-2011, and he’s been with Steve Cropper and the Original Blues Brothers since 2000.

And though he did not venture down the Shore perhaps as often as he should have in younger days, Paparozzi was no stranger to Morristown. Saturday’s gig will be a homecoming of sorts.

Before he was old enough for bars, Paparozzi and his Psychotic Blues Band played the Thirsty Ear, a now-defunct coffeehouse on Washington Street. He saw The Who down the road, at Drew University in Madison.

Later, he played Morristown’s Recovery Room (also long gone), and he has performed in town at First Night Morris County over the years.

Grover Kemble of Za Zu Zaz fame and Rob Paparozzi, lead singer of Blood, Sweat & Tears, at the first Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Grover Kemble of Za Zu Zaz fame and Rob Paparozzi, lead singer of Blood, Sweat & Tears, at the first Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

At the first Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival, Paparozzi appeared as a special guest of headliner Grover Kemble. Paparozzi returned with his Hudson River Rats as a main act in 2013.

Mayor Tim Dougherty, the festival founder, has been pushing promoter Don Jay Smith ever since to bring back Paparozzi, who tours Europe every summer.

“He’s one of my favorites, and one of the crowd favorites, one of the top showmen in the business,” says Dougherty.

Paparozzi was intrigued by this festival from the start, and continues to profess astonishment that such an enterprise can flourish in central Jersey.

“I was impressed that Morristown, the town I got started in, was going to have a festival that plays the kind of music I like,” he says.

Paparozzi is especially delighted because his grandkids, ages 3 and 5, will be coming from nearby Mendham to see their Poppy in action.

“So it comes full circle,” he says.

One more thing.  Eventually, he forgave his mom for Woodstock.

“I was mad at the time. But…I probably was too young to see some of the stuff that I was going to see up there. It would have been great. But I think I wasn’t ready for it.”

You can bet Rob Paparozzi will be ready for Saturday’s golden anniversary.

MORE FROM THE 2019 MORRISTOWN JAZZ & BLUES FESTIVAL

MorristownGreen.com is proud to be a media sponsor of the ninth annual Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival, which runs from noon to 10 pm on the Morristown Green on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019.  Admission is free. Bring a lawn chair or beach blanket. Rain venue: The Mayo Performing Arts Center.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Hi Kevin,
    Thanks for this great story on the Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival. Just one correction: The Mayor has been pushing promoter Linda Smith to bring Rob Paparozzi back. She books all of the talent for the festival and handles all of the details for the show. It is going to be another great day for Morristown!

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