Tom Moran is sitting backstage in the green room at the River Street Jazz Café where he has been booking live music and cooking for many years. Surrounded by hundreds of posters and art, Moran nestles back into a chair and begins telling me how proud he is of the Plains venue. One recent act, The Barr Brothers, was featured on The Late Show with David Letterman a month after gracing the Jazz Café’s stage and he isn’t surprised at all. He knows they’ve paid their dues for years. He hopes many local acts will find greater national success and he feels that his venue is the perfect place to let these musicians hone their skills. He’s in it for the music. Meet Tom Moran …
You are the self-proclaimed black sheep of the family. Talk about your family.
I have three sisters that live all over the east coast. My sister, Kate, is an oceanographer and just left a position working for President Obama in the White house. My sister, Pat, has her Ph.D. and is president of a small college in the Allentown area, and my sister, Molly, is a professor at a small college in Massachusetts.
I am the black sheep. Basically I wasn’t very good in school and learned later in life that I was dyslexic. So I decided to enlist in the Navy on one condition; I told them I wanted to be left in San Francisco when I was finished with my four years. When my time was up, they left me in Calif. and I lived there for 14 years.
How did you come back and settle in the area?
I lived through the ’72 flood as a 14-year-old. The flood affected the entire valley and years later, it was still a mess with buildings that weren’t repaired. I was so tired of living in it. We didn’t have a whole lot of money, so I left and joined the Navy. Years later, while visiting for Christmas, my uncle, brother in-law and aunt passed away all within three weeks of each other. After a short trip to Texas, I came back here to get my vehicle and ended up staying.
What was your favorite place in your travels?
My favorite place at that time was Berkeley, Calif. I worked as the door guy at The Keystone, which was at one time owned by promoter Bill Graham. I got to see the Jerry Garcia Band. That’s when I really got into music to the point that I could see the whole production which is stuck in my head and it’s what I do here at the Jazz Café. I miss that music a lot. I want the music here and I don’t want to travel for it. I guess it’s kind of a selfish reason.
When did you fall in love with music?
My first musical influence was my sister, Molly, who was into Simon and Garfunkel and The Beatles. I would listen to her albums and then I became a very big Bob Dylan and Grateful Dead fan. Why? I’m not even sure. Then I saw the Dead in the ’70s and Bob Dylan at the Bottom Line in New York City. They were the shows that made me go “wow, this is cool!” I’m a Jerry fan because I followed his career in the Bay Area which turned me on to bluegrass, funk and gospel music. I’m a very big natural American music guy, it’s one of my favorite kinds of music, but I’ve grown into electronic music as well.
When did you decide that you were going to be proactive and make things happen in the local music scene?
I started in this because of Charles Havira. He was the original person that turned me on to putting music in rooms. At first, I really didn’t know what I was doing. We started bringing Philadelphia acts like Townhall, Brothers Past and Lotus to the area. When I moved to the Jazz Café, it got much, much better. The sound system was better, the room was better and Dylan Skursky (of Cabinet) was doing sound. That’s when I started to pay attention to local music more.
You do a lot
I didn’t look at the talent in town – it was all out of town, and Skursky came in here as a kid and never left. He basically helped me look at the talent in town and develop it further. I now look more at the individual players themselves than the collective bands. Those days of the record deal are gone. You have to get yourself a crowd and then the record company pays attention to you! A discovery rarely happens unless you are on one of those stupid shows, but even they get big and fizzle out.
Talk about some of your favorite shows at the Jazz Café.
Garth Hudson from the band playing with Miz. Jackie Greene playing with Miz. I think every Cabinet show keeps getting better and better. Leon Russell, no doubt about it. John Scofield, no doubt about it. Corey Harris, Tim Reynolds and Brothers Past. The last Lotus and Railroad Earth shows before they got big were amazing. I hope someday Cabinet plays the Kirby Center and doesn’t play the Jazz Café. That’s what it’s all about. I have so many favorites, it would take forever. I can’t name them all and would probably miss several.
What are you looking
forward to in 2012?
I am going to concentrate on the food. The new menu is coming out in February and I will do my damnedest to get our food numbers up. The one reason that these artists come back here isn’t the money; it’s the hospitality. I get a chance to entertain them with food before the show. I find the better you treat them before the show, the better they treat you from the stage.
You keep focusing on the positive.
People need releases when times are tough. I think that the one thing I love about this club and booking this club is that you can come by yourself and it’s not one of those clubs where it’s cliquey. You can come and enjoy whatever is going down. There are no pool tables or other distractions. The room points in only one direction – the stage.
- tom graham
To see who’s playing next at the River Street Jazz Cafe, visit www.riverstreetjazzcafe.com.