Vibrant and resilient jazz scene is focus of photos 

Simon Thomas

It was early 2020 and Rutgers Professor Simon Thomas was at his usual table near the stage in the Tavern on George, enjoying live jazz, and shooting pictures of the musicians as they jammed through the New Brunswick night.

“It was one of the last times, and everything seemed normal except that we bumped elbows,” says Thomas, a Distinguished Professor of Mathematics in the School of Arts and Sciences, and an accomplished photographer. “And then, the world shut down.”

In New Brunswick, the Covid-19 pandemic devastated the community of musicians and listeners that had been coming together every Wednesday and Thursday night for what has over the last decade become a vibrant jazz scene.

“The first few months we were all completely isolated,” Thomas said. “We were scared stiff to go out.”

Musicians playing outdoors in New Brunswick, New JerseyThen in June of 2020 city officials, in an effort to boost outdoor dining, closed traffic on George Street, between Albany and Bayard streets Fridays and Saturdays, eventually expanding the closure to seven days a week.

That move created a lively outdoor scene that soon brought live music back to downtown. Thomas wasted no time; he returned with his camera and captured the historic moment taking place beneath large tents along George Street.

“Just coming out and meeting friends was wonderful,” he said. “You have been isolated all this time, and now the entire street is full of people enjoying themselves. It was more fun than ever.”

He credits Tavern on George owner Doug Schneider as well the New Brunswick Jazz Project (NBJP) led by co-founders Virginia DeBerry, Michael Tublin, and Jimmy Lenihan. The NBJP is a non-profit organization formed in 2010 dedicated to presenting world-class jazz performances in downtown New Brunswick and other Central Jersey venues.

The photos below by Thomas tell the story of New Brunswick since June of 2020, with musicians, patrons, and passersby recapturing joy, friendship, and community amid an unprecedented health crisis.


The street closures and outside performances will continue through December.