By GWEN OREL
In “First Person” we report on events in, well, the first person. Reporters draw on their own experience at the event to describe it.
I wasn’t going to dance.
I’d put on my retro ’70s T-shirt, a denim skirt and sandals, but that was just to fit in. A reporter should fit in.
My assignment: to report on the DJ Brother Mister Soul and Old Funk party put on by Jazz House Kids on Friday, July 28, at 18 Label Street.
As I left home, Mom said, “Have fun at the party.”
I was going and it was a party, but “going to a party” was not what I was doing. I was going to work! Photographer Neil Grabowsky was meeting me, and I thought I’d just get some quotes and color. So off I went, in the middle of Rachel Maddow.
Really, not feeling festive, on a hot summer night.
Then I got to 18 Label Street.
The crowd on the dance floor was thick, but after pushing through a wall of people I found plenty of room at the front.
I took in the vibe: people were dancing, laughing, waving their arms.
As DJ Brother Mister spun tunes, video behind him showed clips of ’70s and ’60s groups, Brown himself, Walker and McBride.
I found Neil.
I was ready to work, get some quotes, go home in time for “11th Hour with Brian Williams.”
And then, James Brown.
“Get up, get on up!
“Stay on the scene!”
I looked down, and saw my foot moving.
Then my hips. Then my arms were waving.
Brown’s spirit had permeated the Q&A I’d done the week before with Christian McBride (that is, DJ Brother Mister).
McBride explained that the moniker DJ Brother Mister was a nod to Brown, who addressed everyone as “Mister,” unless he really felt comfortable with you, and then it was “Brother Mister.”
It meant a lot to McBride the day Brown called him “Brother Mister.” And so McBride had written a tune by that name.
This first party, one of the ramp-up events to the Montclair Jazz Festival on Saturday, Aug. 12, was a hit: it sold out, “dancing room only,” 300 tickets going to party-goers. Many of the dancers hadn’t even known that McBride and DJ Brother Mister were one and the same, according to Nancy Klein, Jazz House Kids’ marketing and communications specialist.
A woman danced waving a fan. A man got down with a cast on one arm.
Even skips in the record of a Donna Summer song (DJ Brother Mister spins vinyl) slowed things down.
During “deep cuts,” people left the floor to fan themselves with Jazz Festival postcards.
Then “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” came on and the place exploded with people singing while they danced.
The restrooms at 18 Label Street are in the corridor that connects the main dance floor to a bar area and outdoor space. As people waited to go in, they bopped in place.
Marshell Jones Kumahor, a Montclairite, was celebrating her birthday at the party. “I got here at 10 of 8, but was too ashamed to come in and be a nerd and be the first one.
“So I came in at 8:12. It’s epic. I haven’t stopped dancing since I got here.”
Many people said, “I was born in [insert year here]. This is my music!”
Which only just shows, as Jazz House Kids’ founder and president Melissa Walker said, that soul and funk are American music, along with jazz.
“There is nothing like great old classic soul and funk,” Walker said. “It’s just another part of us.”