20 Students Aid in Asbury Park Documentary

Long after the Asbury Park night clubs such as Student Prince, Upstage and Cuba’s shut down their businesses many years ago, the memories of what occurred in them have not vanished. Remaining cherished with the musicians and fans who experienced them years ago, the public had the rare opportunity to hear some of those stories during the screening of Asbury Park Musical Memories on October 4 in the Pollak Theatre.

Beginning with the 1930s and ending in the 1970s, the film consisted of 27 interviews from musicians and fans who experienced the “magical” times of the city’s music throughout those four decades. Some of the musicians featured were Nick Addeo, Willie Mitchell, Billy Brown and Vini Lopez.

The 53 minute documentary which was viewed by over 100 students, faculty and members of the public and gave a perspective of what the West Side of Asbury Park was like, concentrating on the gritty, blue-collar neighborhood on bustling Springwood Avenue.

Directed by Susan Pellegrini, the idea for the film began in 2011, which happened to be musical heritage year in Asbury Park. “At some point during the year long celebration, we had an idea to document the oral history and musical experiences of the musicians from this city,” said Pellegrini.

Along with being Co-Chairperson of the Musical Heritage Foundation, Pellegrini is also Producer and Director of Synergy Productions, the company who produced the film. Adding a new dimension to the documentary, Pellegrini used local students to assist her production company with the making of the film. “When we decided to make the documentary, I thought it would be an excellent educational opportunity for students of Asbury Park High School and the University to assist in the production process,” said Pellegrini.

In total, 20 students over the period of a year and a half contributed to the production, working on important details such as interviewing, editing and filming. Eight communication students from the University mentored the high school students. “It worked out quite well,” said Pellegrini.

Assisting Pellegrini in helping the students with this hands-on learning experience was Donna Dolphin, Associate Professor of TV/Radio at the University. “I thought it was great that Susan approached the University about having some students contribute in the production of the film,” said Dolphin. “The students were given the invaluable opportunity to hone their skills in interviewing, journalism, and media production and I know that they learned a great deal by assisting in this production process as well as mentoring the high school students.”

After the process of contacting the musicians and fans who were to be interviewed for the documentary, the day came when it was time to begin the shoot. “On the first day, after four hours of interviews that were mindblowing and magical,” said Dolphin, “We knew we had something very special.”

Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, the original drummer of the E Street Band, was one of the musicians interviewed. “It’s always a wonderful thing when people want to know about what myself and other musicians from the neighborhood have done,” said Lopez. “It’s a whole different day and age from when we were playing music.” The screening at Pollak Theatre was Lopez’s first time seeing the documentary.

“The biggest difference in bands nowadays, as opposed to back when I was young, is that we had more opportunities to jam with different musicians,” said Lopez. “Today, there’s hardly any establishments that welcome young musicians to just play on stage and meet other musicians.”

Even with that being the case, Lopez feels that musicians are still doing a good job at what they do. “Don’t get me wrong, the music is still great today. There’s guys writing songs now who are just as good as we were, but we were the pioneers in those days.”

One of those pioneers, arguably the most famous, is Bruce Springsteen who was mentioned at times throughout the documentary but did not get interviewed. A production assistant for Synergy said, “we [the company] tried to build up enough buzz about the documentary so that Springsteen would become interested and want to share his memories with us, but unfortunately we never had the opportunity to get to sit down with him.”

Michael Dressler, a senior communication major who interned with Synergy Productions, was present at the screening. “I was excited to be a part of the whole process,” said Dressler who was one of the eight Monmouth students who mentored the high school students. “I had the opportunity to conduct many of the interviews, prep the high school students for their assignments, setup many of the shots and also cut through all of the footage in the preliminary stages of the editing process,” said Dressler.

Senior Diego Allesandro said that it was refreshing to hear stories of Asbury Park’s West End during those times. “It was interesting to learn of the dynamics in that section of Asbury Park,” said Allessandro. “It’s great to have these stories documented so young musicians like myself can hear about how influential music was to the people of that neighborhood.”

Gabrielle D’Acunto, a communication major, enjoyed the screening as well. “It was really interesting and entertaining,” said D’Acunto. “It’s amazing how passionate the people of Asbury Park are about their music.”

Aware of the city’s passion for music, Pellegrini said that more documentaries are on the way. “It’s our goal to raise funds and continue a part two and three of the documentary,” said Pellegrini. With the recent passing of Bobby Thomas, one of the musicians who was interviewed in the film, Pellegrini said, “It is imperative to continue documenting this important musical information and put it together into other films so that it is saved for the archives.”

The archives that Pellegrini referred to will be located at a future Musical Heritage Foundation Center in Asbury Park that will have exhibitions featuring the musical history and memories that the city is so well known for.

The next public screening of Asbury Park Musical Memories will take place on Nov. 17 at the Algonquin Theatre in Manasquan.