Paterson’s and Newark’s West Side

When you’re a Jet, You’re a Jet all the way. From your first cigarette, To your last dyin’ day.

My favorite Broadway show, hands down, is West Side Story. The show that put Stephen Sondheim on the map has transcended time. I remember watching the movie for the first time in middle school during general music class. The music has been ingrained in my head ever since. My husband and I had the song “One Hand, One Heart” sung during the candle lighting ceremony as part of our wedding mass.

A few years ago Steven Spielberg decided to take on the monumental task of remaking West Side Story. It is set for mass release this upcoming weekend. Obviously I haven’t seen it yet, so I am reserving judgement, but needless to say the bar is quite high.

Paterson as late 1950s NYC (Credit: Aristide Economopoulos, nj.com)

What I am excited about is the movie’s filming locations. Nope, it wasn’t filmed on the “West Side.” It was filmed in Paterson and Newark, New Jersey. Yes, Spielberg decided to film his remake of this monumental piece of art in The Garden State.

Spielberg’s team transformed several blocks of downtown Paterson into late-1950s New York City. From half-torn-down buildings to altered storefronts, the team was meticulous.

Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise directed original film adaptation of the Broadway show, which was released in 1961 and went on to win 10 Oscars, including best picture.

Production then moved on to Newark at 744 Broad Street, which was made to look like Bamberger’s. I regularly heard about shopping trips to that store from family members. Sadly, the real Bamberger’s closed in 1986. The department store chain’s flagship store opened on Market Street in Newark in 1912 and eventually spanned an entire block.

The topper to all these Jersey connections is Rachel Zegler. This Clifton native is playing the role of Maria. I’ve seen a few of the short videos that have been released so far online and her voice is absolutely spectacular. I am sure she will make Jersey proud!

Like I said, I’m reserving judgement on the entire production until I see it. I hope Spielberg did not stray too far from the original show. I am sure, however, that Jersey will be positively represented.

Italian Heritage in New Jersey: Bucky Pizzarelli

COVID-19 has certainly left us devoid from us this year. We’ve lost family, friends, and others we admire. One of those wonderful New Jerseyans of Italian heritage we lost to the virus is John Paul “Bucky” Pizzarelli.

Born in Paterson in 1926 to the owners of a local grocery store, Pizzarelli picked up the guitar for the first time at the age of nine. At 17, he embarked on his professional career when he joined the Vaughn Monroe dance band in 1944. Over his amazing career, he played with an incredible list of iconic musicians that included Benny Goodman, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, and Paul McCartney. He was also a long-time member of the “Tonight Show Band.” When Johnny Carson decided to move the show to California, he opted to stay in New Jersey, unwilling to uproot his young and growing family.

John Paul “Bucky” Pizzarelli.
Source: johnpizzarelli.com

After his time with the Tonight Show Band, he began to play regularly at clubs in Manhattan with long-time friend and collaborator, George Barnes. Additionally, he began performing and recording with top jazz musicians. In 1980, he also began collaborating with one special individual – his son John. The father-son duo would perform and record together many times, often joined by Bucky’s other son, Martin, a bassist, and vocalist Jessica Molaskey, John’s wife. John once described them as “the von Trapp family on martinis.”

He never had plans on ever retiring. In a 2015 profile in New Jersey Monthly, Pizzarelli, then 89, said, “Retire?! Why am I gonna retire? I’m gonna sit home and watch Judge Judy all day? No thanks!”

He was a force of nature until the very end and made incredible contributions to jazz music. He passed at home in April of this year due to complications from COVID-19 with his wife of 66 years, Ruth, by his side in Bergen County. Sadly, she passed one week after suffering his loss. May she be continue to be serenated by him in Heaven.