June 14--Dostoevsky, Hemingway, and Faulkner were sitting quietly on their shelves, but down the hall at the Greenwich Library in Gibbstown, an alto sax, electric guitar, drums, and bass were starting to swing.
Long the hushed province of art and literature, the libraries of Gloucester County are taking hold of a different art form: classical jazz.
More specifically, the music of the Gabriels, a band featuring Art Lord, 78, a retired Drexel University physics professor; Ron Parker, 74, a studio musician turned Episcopal priest; Vince Long, 75, a retired businessman; and John Ciliberto, 53, a music teacher who builds guitars.
So far, the quartet has played six shows -- most recently Tuesday in Gibbstown -- drawing audiences of 30 to 60 per show.
"We seem to be the hit" of the libraries, at least in a section of the county, said Long, of Logan Township, who plays bass and is the lead singer.
They play the Great American Songbook -- Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and others -- mixed in with Dixieland and show tunes.
The band practices in the basement beneath the pews of Christ Church Ithan in Wayne, Montgomery County, where Parker used to be rector. (Parker lives in nearby Rosemont; Lord in Springfield, Delaware County.)
Before their foray into the library scene, the Gabriels made their name in Philadelphia-area churches, though with a different cast of players.
The ensemble was formed 20 years ago with Long and the Rev. Warren Davis, who played jazz vespers at St. Gabriel's Church in Northeast Philadelphia -- hence the group's name -- Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Society Hill, and other churches.
In those settings, the music had "a strong sense of spirituality to it," Long said, "even though we were doing secular music."
Davis died in 2006, but Long continued to make connections with like-minded musicians through the church, and he brought Lord, Parker, and Ciliberto on board.
"We thought, 'Where do we go from here?' We didn't want to do the club scene or play restaurants until 1 o'clock in the morning. Those days are over," Long said.
"That's how this library is a nice thing. It's like the excitement of playing Carnegie Hall, but what it is is actually the library around the corner."
In his other life, Parker played guitar for Judy Garland in New York and in Broadway shows. Then he became a priest and put the guitar away for 20 years. "It's not quite like riding a bicycle," he said.
While at Drexel, Lord played the saxophone in a jazz ensemble and also taught jazz courses. And Ciliberto, of Swedesboro -- "the youngster," Long said -- teaches the drums at Old Town Music in Turnersville.
The band did its first library show two years ago at the Greenwich Library, which also has played host to a bagpipe player and Polynesian dancers.
The librarian, Pat Collins, saw Long perform at St. Claire of Assisi Church in Swedesboro and invited him to play.
"Whoever plays music, I say you can come and do it at the library," she said.
"They are always looking for something different than basket-weaving or knitting," Long said, laughing.
The shows are free -- the libraries dip into a $1,500 Target grant to foot a small bill for gas and tolls -- and are advertised in the church bulletin, on book receipts, and on Facebook. That's no small feat -- because of budget constraints, the East Greenwich branch library is set to close in January.
Ciliberto acknowledged there's something odd -- or at least unexpected -- about playing music at the library. "Librarians are always telling you, 'Shhh!' " he said. "It's different. People go to listen, not for drinks or socializing."
So it was Tuesday in Gibbstown. About three dozen people turned out. One was even saving seats. Audience members tapped their feet -- some dancing in their chairs -- to Berlin's "Blue Skies," Bart Howard's "Fly Me to the Moon," and other songs. The band is hoping to make its next stop in Swedesboro soon.
"I think it's fantastic," said John Licciardello, 49, of Woolwich Township, who has attended all six shows. "I wouldn't miss it."
Contact Andrew Seidman
at 856-779-3846 or email@example.com,
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