What do you think of when you hear about jazz? A particular song? A style of music? As it turns out, a beacon of Trenton’s historic jazz scene is still alive.
Trenton is home to the Candlelight Lounge, a historic jazz club located at 24 Passaic Street nestled alongside the D&R Canal in a quaint brick building. Although unassuming from the outside, as you step through the doors of the Candlelight, you’ll be transported into a new world.
Opened in 1967, the Candlelight remains a cornerstone in Trenton’s arts community. At one time, Trenton had a bustling jazz scene, with clubs scattered across the city. Today, it is the only dedicated jazz club in the city. With a rich history and great performances to this day, the club remains a must-go for jazz enthusiasts in the region. Even now, the Candlelight hosts live jazz performances most Saturdays from 3:30 pm to 7:30 pm. Small but mighty, the club reckons back to one of Trenton’s most exciting eras.
As with many things, Trenton’s unique proximity to New York and Philadelphia was key in making the Candlelight the legendary venue it is today. As artists would go between our neighboring cities, they would make a pit stop right here in the Capital City. In an interview in 1999, Richie Cole, a local jazz legend, noted “A lot of outside entertainers would come through on their way to Newark and New York. I remember hearing a lot of the greats: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Earl Bostic, Sonny Stitt, they’d come through here all the time.” Mr. Cole would be remembered as one of the greats himself.
Richie Cole, a Trenton native, serves as the perfect embodiment of the Trenton jazz scene. An innovator, musician, and composer, Cole was a celebrated artist who made his claim to fame during the 1970s bebop revival. Cole’s father owned two clubs in Trenton, Hubby’s Inn and the Harlem Club. At 10 years old, he found a saxophone that was left behind at one of his father’s clubs; the rest was history. Remembered as a gifted performer and true visionary, Cole is one of Trenton’s most beloved jazz performers.
Another noteworthy member of Trenton’s jazz community is Orrin Evans, a well-renowned jazz pianist, and composer. Evans is known amongst jazz enthusiasts for pushing the envelope, combining sounds and techniques from a variety of different styles to forge something uniquely his. Evans now boasts a discography of over 20 albums, is a frequent collaborator with a variety of artists, and is currently a part-time lecturer of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University.
With legendary venues, noted performers, and a rich history of the arts, Trenton remains a destination for jazz fans far and near. Perhaps more than any other genre, jazz can forge community. As a revolutionary style of music that has been at the forefront of our nation’s history, jazz continues to break down barriers and pave the way for the next generation of artists. Now, the Candlelight Lounge and its partners seek to keep that flame lit, keeping the jazz scene alive and well in the heart of the city.