New Jersey Folk Revival Music: History & Tradition by Michael Gabriele
Author Michael C. Gabriele’s comprehensive history of New Jersey’s folk history.
Over 300 years of history, from early Colonial dance tunes in local pubs, to the folk revival and of the 1960’s, even till today, music of the people, by the people, and for the people has been and is being created, re-created, reintroduced, and propagated in the the North Eastern state of New Jersey, telling us that New Jersey is grounded in it’s traditional music and this tradition doesn’t die.
Michael C. Gabriele is a journalist, author, and historian in New Jersey. He was the editor and associate publisher between 2005 and 2013 of the Catholic Archdiocese publicationThe Catholic Advocate in Newark, which won several awards from the Catholic Press Association during 2006 and 2010, which had a readership of 40,000 with his coverage. He is known for his books detailing New Jersey’s popular history, which include History of The Golden Age of Bicycle Racing in New Jersey and History of Diners in New Jersey. His expertise and appreciation increase for his home state, proven by his December 5th, 2016 book release New Jersey Folk Revival Music: Tradition and History, which was celebrated on December 9th, 2016 at Nutley Historical Society and Museum.
I first learned of Michael Gabriele and his new book on New Jersey folk music from Vermont folksinger Rik Palieri. The folk music community is a worldwide network and Rik is an advocate and storyteller everyone knowns and who knows everybody! Rik has been live streaming every Thursday at 12pm Eastern on a segment he calls “A Chat and a Song” where he shares stories and songs, warms hearts, and helps encourage empathy and understanding around the world.
When I spoke to Michael Gabriele on the phone, I needed to know something. How in 43,000 words did he capture something that was beyond facts and tradition,Heart? Because, as I researched his book, that’s what I found. I asked him if he was a folk musician himself, just trying to answer the “how.” He said that he is a musician and he was familiar with folk music, but he is a saxophonist and inclined toward Jazz and Blues music. I further questioned him, “When did you think you might want to write a book on New Jersey folk music history?” He replied that he’d been speaking with his publishers at Arcadia Publishing out of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina about what the next book could be, and he wanted to write about a subject that had never been written about before, at least not comprehensively. Having written books on other New Jersey historical and popular culture subjects, it seemed to follow logic that music was to be the subject that he would dwell on for the interim of the next two years.
It became clear to me while I was talking to Michael Gabriele who refers to himself as a “Jersey boy” that while the love of this historic music is enate in the book itself and in everyone he interviewed, that there is something that subjects all boundaries and preferences at work in New Jersey Folk Revival Music: Tradition & History, and that is the love of New Jersey itself.
I asked Mr. Gabriele where his research started and he began to relate his story, which sounded like an adventure or a great quest for the true scope and actuality of New Jersey folk music.
When he began to work on his section on Colonial music which is the first section in the book, he started where you may guess, in the library. But he didn’t just do research at the local libraries we all frequent. One of the libraries he visited was Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives in New York. This library houses a research collection on labor unions, movements and contentions and historical leftist political documents on subjects such as communism, socialism, anarchism, and Utopian concepts and experiments, which coincided with his research on the folk revival of the 1960’s.
Michael Gabriele’s research was not solely studious and in-print but conversational and relational. This is where the heart of his book started pumping. He began his organic research with Professor of American Studies Angus K. Gillespie at Rutgers College in New Brunswick. Professor Gillespie teaches courses in American folklore including myth, legends, and ballads, including subjects such as “Buffalo Bill” and “Calamity Jane.” A chain reaction began when he started to speak with the people who study folk history and those who play the music. He said that as an outsider, when he approached these people at first he was met odd looks, but as he got to know them and they understood his project they referred him to other sources who would help him understand the tradition. Everything started moving, snowballing and the book was being written.
It seems appropriate that the way Michael Gabriele researched New Jersey Folk Revival Music: Tradition & History is by the same means the music has always been learned and passed on. He related that, although it is true that folk music has been communicated and propagated by word-of-mouth, it has always been cross-pollinated in every other possible way, by written music such as hymnody, by recordings, and of course by teachers who pour into their students the rhythms, melodies, and stories they have learned themselves.
In his book, Michael Gabriele brings readers the intangible history and sociology behind New Jersey folk music in a really genuine way. He gives an intimate vantage into the thought lives of folk musicians and escorts readers up to the door of the music, reaching into their hearts with close and personal tales of New Jersey folk musicians such as those in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, like Merce Ridgway, Jr. who told the tale of his discovery of the untapped potential of a heavenly secret “third” note, while whistling with fellow musician, Jack Fitzgerald, as they were hunting rabbits in the woods of Lanoka Harbor.
As he interviewed people involved in the music and shared with them what he had already learned; one person responded, “I didn’t really know that (about New Jersey folk music;)” he replied, “you just forgot.” To me that is an answer to the DNA. Wherever history lives in a person, I think it’s passed down in fibre and Mr. Gabriele’s book reminds people that this music is New Jersey’s own life’s story a secret code woven into the fabric of tunes handed down, embroidered onto new music being made now.
And speaking of “now,” Mr. Gabriele says, “In 25 years, I think we’ll look back and say ‘about 2010, there may have been a folk revival.’” And that seems to be the trend as we listen now. It may not sound like 300 years ago or even 50, but Americana, roots music, acoustic music and something called “folk” seems to be the reality of roots now.
I asked Michael Gabriel if there is a shibboleth, some sort of hatrack every folk musician from Colonial times till now, could rest his or her hat on upon closing the back cover of the book, he said, “I think if you could gather all the participants mentioned in my book in a room, they would be proud to know that they are part of a grand tradition–something bigger than themselves, each generation contributing to the next.”
I think it is true.
New Jersey Folk Revival Music: Tradition & History is great for the fireside, the bedside, your folk society, or your home library and you can buy your very own copy on Amazon or at Arcadia Publishing. The Arcadia Publishing website has wonderful history-based books for the bookworms and history buffs out there!
View article at Folklore Corner at http://www.ninariccimusic.com/
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