Willie Nelson sings and Basie swings in a riverfront town graced by Victoriana.
William Count Basie grew up and got his musical chops on Mechanic Street in Red Bank. In the early 1920s he moved to Harlem and the rest is jazz history, to the tune of the “One O’Clock Jump.” His hometown on the south bank of the Navesink River about 25 miles south of Manhattan went through some lean, mean times after that, but has since made an astonishing cultural and economic comeback, linchpinned by the refurbishment of the 1926 Carlton Theater, now the Count Basie performing arts center, a venue for ballet to rock to Willie Nelson. Cafés, galleries, clubs and shops followed, along with farmers markets and street fairs, attracting people from well-heeled Monmouth County and the Jersey Shore. Town folk (pop. 12,200) went to work on neglected old homes with good bones, the landmark Victorian train depot was restored and the silver was polished at the Molly Pitcher Inn, named for a Revolutionary War heroine who is said to have brought water to thirsty soldiers serving under George Washington during the Battle of Monmouth County. The Navesink got a spiffy waterfront park, the setting for jazz concerts in the summer and iceboating when the river freezes; string quartets and youth choruses perform at the Monmouth Conservatory of Music, while the Two River Theater Company stages new plays and musicals. It all adds up to a model for small-town renewal. -- SS
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