bill bodkin is talkin’ jive…
On Thursday February 21st, Pop-Break returns to the famed Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey to celebrate the one year anniversary of its Shipwrecked at the Shore Music Showcases.
One of the bands performing on the show seemed to have been molded from the sand, saltwater and sweet sounds of the city-by-the-sea. That band is Matt Scuteri and the Jive Stewards. The rich, full sound of Scuteri and his band is reminiscent of the music of the guys from E Street — but there’s this intrinsic quality, this little air of magic about them that makes them fresh and unique.
Pop-Break sat down with Scuteri to talk about his band, his work with the Holiday Express charity organization and returning to Asbury Park.
My Band Consists Of: Nick Porcaro (guitar), Bryan Scuteri (keyboard), Kevin Rafferty (drums), Chris Miller (sax), Nick Chirumbolo (bass)
I’ve Been Performing Since: 2008
I’m Based Out Of: Manalapan, NJ
New Record To Be Released: “Living the Dream” due out…soon
My Sound Has Been Likened To: Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Michael Buble (sort of)
Awesome/Famous Bands I’ve Performed With: Holiday Express, Outside the Box
Pop-Break: Talk about your band, The Jive Stewards. It has a very E-Street feel to it with a number of players in the band including some horns. What was the inspiration behind the sound of the band?
Matt Scuteri: Funny you should mention that E Street feel. I’m sort of a disciple of sorts to the Bruce Springsteen school of songwriting and performing. He does a lot of things right, in my opinion, and to be likened to him is a compliment.
The make up of the band being E Street in nature, however, is completely by accident. I’m actually a natural bass player, but after playing a few shows while singing and playing bass, I felt a bit restricted by it and made the switch over to the guitar to allow myself a little more freedom not to play…which depending on who you talk to has greatly benefited our sound. My brother has been playing the piano for a number of years and carries a heavy blues and jazz influence and after hearing him play, I thought he added very nicely to the sound that I was creating in my songs. Chris, the sax player, and I went to college together and after playing together a few times decided to make it more of a full time gig. And he’s bigger than me, so I couldn’t say no. But he brings such an intangible to the music that I can’t even imagine what we would sound like without him. Suddenly, I turn around and I’m looking at something of an E Street incarnation…and I’m alright with that.
I’m very fortunate to have this grouping of musicians around me. For one, each are very accomplished on their instruments and can find their own way in the song with only a slight suggestion from me. I’m convinced that Nick Porcaro can play just about anything. He always comes up with awesome guitar lines that give the song a level of intricacy sometimes I didn’t even imagine when initially writing it. Kevin Rafferty is a fabulous and creative drummer who was never content with just playing the back beat on 2 and 4. I can always count on him to come up with a cool groove on the drums. Combined that with Nick Chirumbolo’s simplistic but smart bass lines and the aforementioned musicianship of Bryan and Chris, I’ve got myself quite a unit. When introducing a new song, all I have to do is start playing, singing and watching as the rest of the band puts their own brand of uniqueness on the music. Then we stop and figure it all out. It keeps it fun and light and I think (or hope) that it comes out in our performances.
PB: Talk about the Jive Stewards live experience — what can people expect from you guys when you hit the stage?
MS: We love to play and we really want to play well and be the best we can be. But we also try not to take ourselves too seriously up there. The most important aspect of any show is the audience and if they are having a good time. Any band worth its salt will agree with that. For me, the best shows I’ve seen is when the band shows a little unpredictability and makes a few mistakes. It shows they are human. So to me, if we make some mistakes or a song isn’t as tight as it should be, I’ll be the first to point it out. The vast majority of audiences want you to succeed and will forgive these mishaps so long as they are entertained.
In addition, we try to bring energy, giving extended solo and involving the audience as much as we possibly can. We’re just trying to have fun and hoping that it connects with the audience as well. We’re also not afraid to slow things down and do a nice intimate piece as well if I feel the moment calls for it. So what can you expect from us? Expect us to give you everything we can give you, the best we possibly can but also expect to have some fun and do some different things…hopefully you will have fun too.
PB: You’re returning to the Asbury Park scene on February 21, what are your thoughts on the scene and where do you think The Jive Stewards fit in?
MS: What can you say about Asbury Park that hasn’t already been written in 1,000 rock history books? It’s an amazing town. Rock ‘n’ roll notwithstanding, you can literally feel the history walking down Ocean Ave, where the old buildings stand next to the new ones. I can’t help but think about the millions of summer vacationers, residents, and musicians who have walked up and down that boardwalk. It really is an amazing town. I think the Jive Stewards represent a time when a rock show at a local club was fun thing to do on a Friday or Saturday night. Maybe you didn’t know who was playing but hey, you go anyway because it’s a good time. I appreciate the recent resurgence to bring that sort of energy back to Asbury and I’m excited to be involved it.
PB: You’re a member of the famed Holiday Express, a band that comes together every Christmas season and does great works of charity through concerts, fundraising, etc. for those in need around the Jersey Shore and New Jersey. Talk about your involvement.
MS: Holiday Express is unequivocally the best thing I do as a musician. It’s a very special group of people who sacrifice large amounts of time during the busiest season of the year to go visit those who are less fortunate and put a smile on their face at least for a couple hours. Not only is the band spectacular and made up of some of the best musicians in the state, but the whole experience is genuinely rewarding. I think playing with Holiday Express gave me the “let’s go have fun up there” mentality, because it’s the only band I’ve ever played with where the audience in most cases isn’t worried about how tight you are as a group or how you sound only that you are there entertaining them if only for a short while.
The events are made up of so many special unscripted moments (we’ve dubbed them “Holiday Express moments”) that’s really hard to predict what’s going to happen day to day. This year alone, I remember playing bass behind Tim McLoone (founder and all around good guy) when he turned around and asked us if we knew “This Little Light of Mine.” Not a holiday tune, granted, but he felt it would be a nice fit into our set. Tim started the song and away we went, desperately trying to figure out the chords as went along. Not the sharpest performance but WOW did it bring the house down. I saw tears in the eyes of some clients as the music overwhelmed them. It became a permanent fixture in the set after that, receiving the same reaction everywhere we went.
I remember another moment from this past year at a developmental center in North Jersey where a man stood up in front of Tim and yelled “PLAY LET IT BE”…again not the most festive of holiday tunes, but what makes Holiday Express so great is the ability of the musicians and volunteers to adapt to any situation almost instantaneously. So we played “Let it Be” for the gentleman and he sang every word at the top of his lungs (followed it up with a rousing version of “I Saw Her Standing There” because why not?). Last year, I was given an ornament made by the students of a special needs school we visited. I tied the ornament to the head stock of my bass as a constant reminder of who I play for year after year and how fortunate I am. Nick Chirumbolo is actually borrowing my bass for this show so I’m glad to say it will make an appearance at the Wonder Bar on Thursday!
I could go on and on, but I’ll shorten it by saying this. There’s something about the music the band plays and the interaction of the volunteers on the floor with the clients that creates something so magical that it has to be experienced in order to understand. I’ve seen such beautiful things happen in front of me while I’m holding my bass or in front of the mic that I’ve been moved to tears…and I’m not afraid to admit that. I get bummed out when it’s over…is it Christmas time yet??? If you are a musician or generally into volunteerism and giving back to those less fortunate in a very personal and tangible way, you owe it yourself to become familiar with Holiday Express.
PB: What are your plans for the band and for you as a solo performer in 2013?
MS: This year I’ve been playing a lot of solo performances at open mics in the area, when I can. It’s hard to know when the next time the Jive Stewards will be able to play together again will be, as we are so spread out geographically that it’s hard to get everyone together. I plan to still look for opportunities to play with them (because it’s just so fun!), while continuing to play solo as much as I can. I’m proud to say that my involvement in the Jersey open mic scene has earned 4 Jersey Acoustic Music Award (JAM) nominations. On April 7, I will be up for Top Male Listening Room Act, Top Male Songwriter, Top New Male Act, and Top Record. Voting is open on http://www.JAMawards.org/ under the “Awards” tab so be sure to cast your vote for favorite Jersey Acoustic Musician before March 1!
Matt Scuteri and The Jive Stewards will be performing with The Mystery Men and Gay Guy/Straight Guy at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, NJ on February 21 as a part of Pop-Break’s Shipwrecked at the Shore Music Showcase. Tickets are just $5.