It's a warm Monday evening but inside the Bus Stop Café in Pitman the vibe is very cool.
As they do the first and third Monday each month, Rowan jazz students and faculty have come to this eatery – a record store and restaurant – to jam out before family, friends and diners.
The students make a few bucks from a cover charge at the door but the real payoff is the experience of playing live, building chops, and having fun.
"This is the way jazz works," says veteran jazz trumpeter George Rabbai, an adjunct Rowan faculty member. "You can't just practice in a room, you've got to get out and play."
On this night Rabbai is joined by faculty members Bob Rawlins on alto sax and Jim Miller on drums and a half dozen Rowan students. Some of the students form a core of regular band members, others sit in on various tunes, jazz standards by Miles Davis, George and Ira Gershwin, and others.
Rabbai, a Pitman resident, says the program, started last summer by Professor Denis Di Blasio, is becoming popular with residents, a lure downtown two nights a month.
"The kids love it, the community loves it, and we're contributing to the culture of South Jersey," he says. "It's so important to play out because that's what builds survival instincts. You're working with a tune you know but you're composing new melodies, theme variations, on the fly, and that's what makes it jazz."
On this Monday in late May, the room is lively with dinner customers, many in a state of jazz bliss: eyes closed, head bobbing gently to the groove.
Around the room, rock icons on classic album covers seem to approve.
Drummer Gavin McCauley, a senior jazz performance and music education major, said he works on techniques with Professor Miller in class and tries them out in gigs like the Bus Stop.
"You have to be at a certain level just to get into this school," says McCauley, 20, of Willow Grove, Pa. "What’s great is they not only encourage us to find real working gigs like this one, they come out and sit in with us!"
Keyboardist Chris Simonini and bassist Frank Prendergast, also jazz performance majors, join McCauley regularly at the Bus Stop.
"It's a great space," says Simonini, 24, of Vineland. "I play like three times a week on other gigs so I could stay home and take it easy but I'd rather come out and play."
Di Blasio started the Bus Stop program because he sensed both students and jazz patrons would enjoy it. Like Rabbai, he lives in Pitman and believes in Rowan's role within the southern New Jersey cultural community.
"For our students it's an opportunity to play in a jazz club even if they're not old enough to get into most clubs," Di Blasio says. "As long as the kids and customers like it, we'll keep doing it."
If you go… The Rowan Jazz Workshop at the Bus Stop Café is held every first and third Monday of the Month, from 4:30 PM until around 7:30. The Bus Stop Café is located at 148 South Broadway in Pitman, N.J. For more information, dial (856) 582-0009.
To learn more about Rowan's jazz program, visit the web site. To apply to Rowan, visit Admissions.