These are a few of the many people whose paths crossed Springwood Avenue in Asbury Park, New Jersey. In some way, they have all impacted the music history of Asbury Park’s west side community.
Explore more of this history through the ever-growing AP-AMP Digital Museum, dedicated to the people, places, and music of Springwood Avenue!
The biographies on this page are based on first-hand interviews conducted by the AP-AMP team between 2017-2021. Full interview transcripts and videos can be found at the Bruce Springsteen Archives at the Monmouth University Library and the AP-AMP Digital Museum. Thank you to all the individuals (and their families) who have shared their stories with us.
Please contact us if you or someone you know has stories or photos relating to the history of Springwood Avenue at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JT Bowen (voice)
JT Bowen was born in 1947 in Rochester, New York. He was raised in the church and started to sing there. He met Clarence Clemons in 1960 and remained friends (and often bandmates) until Clemons’s death in 2011. Bowen was the singer of The Chosen Few, an R&B band based in Asbury Park, with Clarence Clemmons and George and Gilbert Davis. He was later the lead singer of Clarence Clemmons and the Red Bank Rockers. Bowen is still involved in music today.
Bill Carter (saxophone)
Bill Carter was born in 1948 and raised in Neptune, New Jersey. Growing up, he lived next door to Dee Holland and later in life, the two played together. Carter learned piano as a child, and started playing the saxophone in high school and participated in the Neptune school band programs. He was in a group called the Soul Sound when he was around 17 and became the house band at the Admiral’s Table. He continued playing past high school and played at various venues, including the Orchid Lounge, across Asbury Park. He also played around New York with Jason Bryant of The S.O.S. Band. Carter still plays saxophone today.
David Clayton (voice)
Along with Al Covington, Ben Dinkins, Richard Witcher, and Ernest Daniels, David Clayton was an original member of the Equations, and later the Nu’Eara vocal group. Younger than the other members, Clayton would sneak out to practice with the band. Clayton enjoyed performing at the Orchid Lounge. The crowds at the Orchid Lounge were always appreciative and it was a great place to play. Fifty years later, Clayton still performs with almost all the original members of the group.
Valmont Corbett was a member of the dance group, The Madisons, along with Ricardo Washington, Starlone Thomas, Ricky Miller, Ricky Wise, and Tyrone Johnson.
Raised in Asbury Park, Valmont performed with The Madisons in the 1960s at many venues and remembers the “good times” on Springwood Avenue. He was also a track star at Asbury Park High School.
As a member of The Madisons, Valmont helped choreograph many dance routines to songs like Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood” and the Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud.” Valmont also performed as a “sword boy” with the Muscaleros, a 46-member drill team from Neptune and Asbury Park, NJ.
Al Covington (voice)
Al arrived in Asbury Park in 1963 from Greensville, North Carolina and has been a part of the community ever since. He attended Asbury Park High School, where he began to meet the eventual members of what would be The Equations, and later, the Nu’Eara vocal group. During this time, much of Black popular music was transitioning from Doo-Wop to what would soon be known as Soul or R& B music. Although competent in singing acapella, the group soon began to appear with a band. The core members competed in talent shows, sang at various engagements in the area, and received a record deal. Some 50 years later, minus one original member, the group is still going strong.
Ben Dinkins (voice)
Ben Dinkins was born in 1949 and grew up not far from Springwood Avenue. He began singing in churches and then moved towards secular music. When he was in high school, he joined a band with Al Covington, Richard Witcher among others. Their group, The Equations (which would later become the Nu’Eara vocal group) played around the Asbury Park area. One memorable performance location for the group was The Orchid Lounge. Their group later received a record deal. The original group, minus one member still performs today, around 50 years later.
Al Griffin (drums)
Al Griffin was born in 1929 in the apartment above his family business in Asbury Park, New Jersey. At age fourteen, he started playing the drums and began performing with local musicians such as Dee Holland and Cliff Johnson on Springwood Avenue. He has performed all over the world with performers such as Dinah Washington, Milt Buckner, and Eddie Chamblee at venues such as the Apollo Theater (NYC) and the Fontainebleau (Miami, FL).
Dolores “Dee” Holland (piano)
Dee Holland was born in 1923 in Neptune, New Jersey. She began playing piano at the age of three. She started performing in Asbury Park with local musicians as a teenager, and enjoyed a 41-year career with the federal government. Dee has continued to perform locally on Springwood Avenue, in churches, and throughout the Jersey Shore.
Al Holmes (voice, guitar)
Songwriter, guitarist, and singer Al Holmes was born August 26, 1954 in New York City. He was raised in Harlem, and began singing and playing piano at a very young age. In the summer, he would often visit his family in Asbury Park; his aunt gave him his first guitar as a teenager. In 1969, the year he entered high school, Al moved to Asbury Park. He began playing in venues on Springwood Avenue and around New Jersey, and was a member or leader of many bands over the years. He often played with local drummer, Poncho Donato, as well as his mentor, blues guitarist Willie Mitchell. Currently, he is the leader of “The Tribe,” a band which is still active in the Asbury Park area today.
Cliff Johnson (saxophone)
Clifford “Cliff” Johnson was born in 1925 in Asbury Park. His mother was a music teacher and started him on piano at a young age, but he switched to saxophone when he was around 13. He began playing jazz and swing as soon as he could, and started gigging in Asbury Park around 14. Memorably, he played at Cuba’s club on Springwood Avenue. He performed with Tommy McCloud and the Squires of Rhythm. He also performed with other local musicians such as Al Griffin and Dee Holland. Johnson still plays occasionally and speaks fondly of the camaraderie he and his bandmates shared.
Chris Lowell was born in Detroit and built her career as a jazz vocalist in New Jersey. Chris sang with countless musicians in Asbury Park and along the Jersey shore.
“ … Some of the Springwood Avenue crowd would come up and… dig us, you know, and play with us… At the end of the gig, they would escort … us down to Springwood Avenue and we would play…
“ … That’s what jazz is all about. You just have to feel it. And do it. And if it works, it works.”
Duval Moore was born in 1947 in Asbury Park. He grew up listening to jazz at home and heard bands at a bar in Newark, NJ where he worked as a cleaner. In high school, Moore was a track star and still holds the record at Asbury Park High School. His father, Odyssey Moore, opened the Orchid Lounge where musicians such as Dee Holland, the Escorts, Doctor Donnie Smith, and George Benson played. Duval worked at the Orchid Lounge for many years. Moore’s favorite Orchid Lounge memory occurred when he was in the military between 1967-69. He remembers inviting the sergeants to the lounge and “having a ball down there.”
Desi Norman (vibraphone)
Desi Norman was born in 1952 raised on Ridge Avenue in Asbury Park, New Jersey. He played in the Asbury Park High School band, where he studied with Dorian Parreott. After learning piano as a child, the vibraphone became his primary instrument in high school. Desi met Grant Green at the Orchid Lounge on Springwood Avenue, and at age 18, joined him on tour, playing in venues all around the world. Desi later performed around the Jersey Shore area at venues such as the Stone Pony (opening for Jimmy Cliff), and alongside countless musicians, including Jah Love, Gladstone Trott, Chris Lowell, and in a trio with Dee Holland and Bill Carter.
Though he played at all the venues on Springwood Avenue, his favorite was the Orchid Lounge (it was a “pretty club”). He is still an active performer today. “Springwood was on par with any jazz neighborhood anywhere in the country… people all over knew about Springwood.” His advice to musicians: “keep listening.”
Rev. David J. Parreott, Jr.
Reverend David J. Parreott Jr. was born in 1934 in Asbury Park. He is the older brother of Dorian Parreott. In high school, he was active in many sports teams. At the same time, he played the drums (bongos and timbales) in a band called “Cubops” that his brother, Dorian started (see photo below). The band performed in talent shows, auditioned on the Ted Mack show, and the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY.
He was drafted in the U.S. Army and fought in the Korean War. After the war, he finished college at North Carolina Central University, then joined the Asbury Park Police Department in 1959, and his first 18-month assignment was patrolling Springwood Avenue. After an illustrious career, he retired in 1985, and later served on the Asbury Park City Council and Asbury Park Housing and Redevelopment Authority. Rev. Parreott is an avid photographer and carries his camera with him wherever he goes. He also keeps a thorough archive of his family’s history in Asbury Park.
Dorian Parreott was born in 1935 in Asbury Park. He grew up in Asbury Park and began singing in the children’s choir. He started the Cubops and played in talent shows, the Apollo Theater, and auditioned on the Ted Mack Show. While playing with the Cubops, he started to move towards the saxophone as his main instrument. He then went to North Carolina Central and majored in music. While in North Carolina, Parreott played in a mixed band around North Carolina. After returning to New Jersey, Parreott worked in instrument repair. He then taught music at Asbury Park High School before becoming a professor at Kean University for four years. He also served as president of the New Jersey Music Teacher’s Association. Parreott is still involved in music and plays in churches and events. He also still repairs instruments around New Jersey.
Karen Lee Schwarz
Karen Lee was born in Newark, NJ and spent most of her childhood in South Orange, NJ. She attended Montclair State University as a music education major. She moved to Asbury Park in 2003. She is now a high school music teacher. After Dorian Parreott left in 1990, the band program lost strength. She worked hard to revitalize the Asbury Park High School band program. She played with Dee Holland at small restaurants and churches; their final performance together was at Restaurant Plan B on New Years Eve. Karen is currently teaching elementary school music in Asbury Park and performing on multiple instruments in the Jersey Shore area.
Charles Trott (artist)
Charles Trott was born in 1951 in Brooklyn, NY. He moved to Asbury Park in 1953 with his parents. His brother, Gladstone Trott, was an active pianist in Asbury Park and the surrounding area. Charles grew up surrounded by music, playing clarinet and singing in the choir. He was also in a swing band in high school. He turned from music to art and attended Pratt Institute. Mr. Trott is a visual artist and arts educator. He joined the Asbury Park African-American Music Project (AP-AMP) and designed the cover art for the project. The illustration (below) depicts a jazz quintet with a saxophone, pianist, bassist, drummer, and singer. The colors used in the logo are the colors of the Asbury Park schools. He hopes to see visual and other performing arts incorporated with the music returning to Springwood Avenue. Mr. Trott is the founder of Diasporic Images of African (D.I.A.), a project that uses visual arts to show Africa’s connection to countries and cultures around the world.
Robert Watt (french horn)
Mr. Robert Watt was raised in Asbury Park and remembers Springwood Avenue well. He was drawn to the French Horn at an early age, and through his own initiative, learned to play it. He played the French Horn in the Asbury Park High School band. While in high school, he had the opportunity to play with a professional concert band at the Arthur Pryor Band Shell on the boardwalk. After graduation, he attended the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music.
In 1970, he was hired by the Los Angeles Philharmonic — becoming the first African-American French Hornist to be hired by a major symphony orchestra in the USA. He played with the LA Phil for 37 years, retiring in 2008.
Some of the many people he has performed with include: Yo-Yo Ma, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, Wynton Marsalias, Henry Mancini, Gladys Night, Isaac Hayes, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Barry White, Rihanna, Paula Abdul, Herbie Hancock, Lalo Schifrin, The Carpenters, Benny Carter, Quincy Jones, Bon Jovi, Elton John and film composer, John Williams.
In 2014, Mr. Watt published his autobiography, “The Black Horn.”
Photos courtesy: Robert Watt.
“Bob Watt in Conversation with Todd Cochran” (2018)
Shared with permission of Bob Watt
Richard Witcher (voice)
Richard Witcher was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey and moved to Asbury Park as a child. He joined Al Covington in forming a band and later invited Ben Dinkins to join them. Along with Ernest Daniels and David Clayton, they formed The Equations. The group played in Asbury Park and notably Springwood Avenue. The group played at significant venues such as the Orchid Lounge, Turf Club, and Big Bills. They started to branch out of Asbury Park and played in New York and North New Jersey. Witcher and almost all of the original members are still performing many years later.
Fred “Willie” Wynn (guitar, voice)
Fred “Willie” Wynn, a man of many talents but only one love. Fred was born the son of a sharecropper in Benevolence, Georgia and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida. Born with an entrepreneurial spirit and an autodidactic ability he eventually found his way to Asbury Park. Coming here first as a cook, he quickly availed himself with the local music community, where he met and worked with the likes of Dee Holland, Dorian Parreott, and many others. As Fred would say, learning music expands the capillaries in your brain and will make you smarter than you think you are.