Meet the sound of Church Street.
During these cooling autumn days, Gene Phipps Jr. is the man who fills Montclair's busy city center with the tenor of his saxophone. Restaurant-goers and passersby can see him throughout the week at lunchtime sitting on his favorite bench in front of Raymond’s Restaurant.
“This is what I do,” said Phipps. “I play music.”
Phipps is a Montclair native, but went to school in East Orange and eventually became a music teacher in Newark schools. Playing both the saxophone and flute also propelled Phipps to venues in New York City, including the Village Vanguard, and Europe with innumerable different jazz musicians throughout his life.
Now, at 63, he is retired. When Phipps is not playing his saxophone on Church Street, he teaches music lessons and jams at the local DLV Lounge and Tapastry.
“Montclair is now the cultural spot of the area, and West Orange,” said Phipps, which is what convinced him to play music town.
But music venues are becoming a rare breed, he added, and after Cecil’s Jazz Club in West Orange closed this year, he began performing more in local restaurants. Playing on Church Street is also his own way of bringing greater attention to musicians playing in the area.
“If this area is going to resemble in anyway New York, then we need people to support the arts and the artists by coming out to the restaurants that have live music,” said Phipps.
Phipps' Church Street playlist is generally comprised of show tunes that everyone knows, in addition to songs such as “Misty” and “Moon River.” He must be going something right, because it is not unusual to see people dancing on the sidewalk.
“I always get a warm reception” when I play here, said Phipps.
As the weather gets colder, Phipps said he will probably continue playing outside until the end of the month.
You can see Phipps play every Tuesday night at the DLV Lounge from 9 p.m. to midnight, and Sundays at Tapastry from 6 to 11 p.m.