Candlelight Lounge owner E.C. Bradley has been slowly transforming his Passaic Street tavern into a cultural and culinary destination. He is also changing the way the name is printed from Candlelight to Candle Light.
Known for its Saturday jazz matinees, 3:30 to 7:30 p.m., and its Thursday Blues Night, the Candle Light is reacting to the current season of closed clubs and theater by singing the blues online — as evidenced by its streaming of Philadelphia singer Suzanne Cloud live at the beloved Trenton jazz spot.
“We are attempting to maintain the Candle Light tradition of live jazz by all means during this COVID-19 shutdown period that appears is going to bankrupt everyone,” says Bradley via safe social distancing — aka email.
“Our regular scheduled musicians can’t work either, but most are willing to participate in efforts to live stream plus have the segment continue to post for 30 days of access.”
Following that first presentation in late March, Bradley says that the production highlighted Cloud, the venue, and the “support of musicians who have played here many times, including Aaron Graves on piano, Craig McIver on drums, and Lee Smith on bass.”
Bradley says that because of the COVID-19 closings that the Candle Light has been ordered to shut down and “almost every musician has had events canceled.”
He adds that he hopes people who are shut in “will have access to live jazz/blues through streaming and help support the musicians who play without a live audience (so important to the music vibe) but are willing to try anything that can provide sustaining income.” (See behind the scenes sidebar on page 13).
Livestreaming is a new twist in the operations run by Trenton native Bradley, a retired construction company owner who was involved in many building projects around Trenton.
Originally contacted to talk about the Blues Night, Bradley says, “Blues is more enlightening, blues is more fun, and there’s a comradeship that evolves out of playing with folks. I love jazz, but sometimes in jazz there’s a stuffy flavor and you cannot fit in real easy, so it becomes a little disheartening. There’s a brotherhood in jazz too, but it’s a different kind of teamwork.”
Bradley plays tenor saxophone and has done so since he was in seventh grade in Trenton public schools. He sits in a lot on Thursday nights with a veteran drummer and vocalist and keyboardist and various other musicians.
“It’s been my passion and my pleasure,” says Bradley, “I play the tenor, the alto, and soprano.”
When he talks about his playing past, Bradley also talks about Trenton’s past music scene.
“Back in the 1970s I played at Fantasy Lounge on Chambers Street. I was in a band in front of Billy Paul one night. At that time, Fantasy was the place to go for good music and a lot of the bigshots were there. James Brown was there, all the big names were either here or there or BT’s Lounge,” he says.
The Candle Light Lounge also has its share of names, and its walls are adorned with photos of the prominent and not-so-prominent musicians who have played there, including two Trenton-born music celebrities: the late trombonist-vocalist Clifford Adams, once part of Kool and the Gang, and internationally known pianist Orrin Evans.
Speaking about his own love of music, Bradley said he had never wanted to become a professional musician.
“I enjoyed playing, and it was a hobby, like guys play golf. For me, it was fun, it kept me out of trouble, and I needed an outlet when I was raising young kids.”
Bradley was raised in Trenton, attended Trenton public schools, studied carpentry as a union trainee at Mercer County Vo-Tech, and eventually got a college degree in 1977 from the University of Minnesota.
He returned to Trenton, where he was the eighth out of ten siblings, to help care for his ailing mother, Naomi, a cleaning woman who looked after many of the old synagogues in the city.
Back in Trenton, he rejoined the local carpenters union — by then mostly free of members with backwards racial attitudes — and worked a variety of construction projects in Trenton, Harrisburg, and New York.
Then, when he was about to retire, his accountant tipped him off that the Candle Light Lounge was up for sale. That was 14 years ago.
“I needed something to do in my retirement, and it was ideal for me because they had been doing jazz here since 1967, and they did R&B and blues here as well,” he says.
After some experimentation, he says the winning formula was one-part jazz programming on Saturday afternoon and one-part buffet, something he learned from the legendary Trenton soul-food restaurateur Speckled Red.
“Speckled Red had a way with people and food,” Bradley says. “He would feed them, advise them, employ them, and at the end of the shift he would help folks out who needed something to eat. So we thought we would incorporate some of that attitude about putting food out and letting our customers come in and eat.
“We gave them the same advice Speckled Red did: ‘Wait ‘til the show is over then you can come in and enjoy the food, too.’ It was mainly folks who were hungry. We prefer not to refrigerate food if we can, and it leaves us room to prepare more and get ready for the next event. My wife (Valarie) is such a fantastic cook and the people enjoy her food.”
Bradley says the blues night’s successful startup was assisted by so some of the region’s strongest area musicians. “We’ve had Joe Zuccarello, John Bushnell, Michael Ray from Kool and the Gang, [and his band in New Orleans, the Cosmic Krewe], he would come in and play a couple of songs and get something to eat.”
He also credited Dave Orban from the Hamilton-based Mojo Gypsies. “He gives blues night a true variety and he tends to bring in lots of his other friends.”
With a $5 cover charge, the Blues Night and buffet was catching on with some saying it was the best nightclub value anywhere in New Jersey.
But for the time being, jazz and blues lovers will have to be content to look for the Candle Light’s very significant themed productions: “Live From Trenton, New Jersey.”
Candle Light Lounge, 24 Passaic Street. jazztrenton.com. 609- 695-9612.
Putting the blues online:
Editor’s Note: So just how did the Candle Light Lounge in Trenton’s first live stream happen? We asked its technical consultant, Hamilton-based video producer and president of Front Row Productions audio and video service provider Robert Bullington for a behind-the-camera peek. Here is what he told us:
This is my second time making some kind of a recording at the Candle Light. I produce a radio program for MCCC’s HD2/Streaming jazz station (JazzOn2.org).
It’s the every fifth Sunday at 8 p.m. and called “Jazz Discoveries.” I made an audio recording for my last show of (jazz saxophonist) Lynn Riley and World Mix at the Candlelight.
Suzanne Cloud and I are old friends. Years ago, I helped her with a re-release of a CD and recorded a few new tracks, including this rendition of Wrap your Troubles in Dreams:
When I saw that Suzanne was playing at the Candlelight, I thought it would be wonderful for my March show and got her permission to make an audio recording.
When it was becoming apparent that the club could be shut down, Suzanne asked about the feasibility of a livestream.
I honestly don’t remember who proposed it first, but I know I soon set off on the path to research the feasibility of making a livestream pay-per-view.
Suzanne included her friend Michael Ricci of allaboutjazz.com and jazznearyou.com. He made modifications to his website to help promote live-streamed events.
He worked actively with me to plan the execution of this livestream, served as a test listener, and promoted it for us himself.
I shared the idea with Trenton podcating genius Frank Sasso, and he went nuts.
He recorded a special edition with three of his podcasting hosts and an out-of-state guest (crazy title, I know. This crew pushes the envelope at times): www.trentonwaves.com/podcast.
Suzanne, EC, and I were in alignment that the goal of this should be to support the musicians and EC’s shuttered club in the near-term and possibly build a sustainable (aka paid) model for the future.
I felt it was necessary to produce at a level that would differentiate this livestream from the plethora of mobile device camera, Facebook, and amateur livestreams flooding social media. So I threw my best gear and a lot of testing and planning into this.
The setup: Two state-of-the-art motorized pan/tilt/zoom cameras (a.k.a. robocams) with a remote joystick controller; a portable video production switcher; a multitrack recorder with two ambient mics on the stage and a direct mix from the house amplifier; and lots of little accessories to tie the above together.
I implemented a “paywall,” charging $5 for a “ticket” that entitled the purchaser to watch the livestream in real time and the on-demand version for 30 days afterward.
The results were modest but encouraging. Frank and I are going to continue to aggressively market this for the next 30 days to generate as much revenue for the club and musicians as we can and thus prove that this is a viable model worth repeating.
— Robert Bullington
Learn more about Bullington and Front Row Productions in a U.S. 1 interview.