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Jul
18

The Count Basie Theatre: Home to New Jersey’s Top Talent

One of the oldest and most famous theaters in NJ is the Count Basie Theatre, located at 99 Monmouth Street in Red Bank. Constructed under the name The State Theater, when it opened on November 11, 1926 it was called the Red Bank Theater. On opening night, the audience was entertained with a live vaudeville show and a movie. Over 4000 people attended, including all of the local politicians. This was just the beginning…

image from NJ Monthly

Over the next 6 decades, this was the place to be in Red Bank – the magnificent theater hosted many big name acts including Tony Bennett, the NJ Symphony Orchestra, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and Bon Jovi. While other theaters in the area were closing, the Count Basie was thriving. It is known for its beautiful interior, thousands of brilliant lights and fantastic seating plan – somehow, every seat has a great view. And in the center of the house, hanging from the domed ceiling, is a spectacular crystal chandelier.

In 1974 Bruce Springsteen played on the Count Basie stage for the first time. This was the start of a 30 year association with the theater – he often plays this intimate venue as a warm up to his world tours. In a 1975 Newsweek article, Springsteen credited the Count Basie Theater with his rapidly growing success.

The biggest night of the year at the theater has always been New Year’s Eve, but in 1977 it reached a totally different level, putting the theater on the map nationally. That year, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes highlighted a star studded evening that also featured Little Steven, Gary US Bonds, Brian Setzer, Darlene Love, Kevin Kavanaugh, Paul Schaeffer, Steve Jordan, and Gary Tallent. This show aired live on national radio and received many great reviews. People all over the country were talking about that concert.

In 1979, William ‘Count’ Basie and his 17-piece band played the then-named Monmouth Arts Center for the first time. After performing for a nearly full house, he proclaimed “Well, we’re back home again.” It only seemed fitting that when the Red Bank native passed away in 1984, the theatre was renamed in his honor – the Count Basie Theatre.

In 1998 Jon Bon Jovi headlined the “Come Together” concert, a benefit for a fallen Long Branch police officer’s family. The show had many big name stars including Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, Little Steven, local band LaBamba, and many more. The concert was a huge success, raising over $100,000 for the family.

The theater has a lot of history, but the great shows have not ended. Coming up later this month are The Music Man, the Happy Together tour, and Chazz Palmiterri performing A Bronx Tale. On July 31st, they are showing the classic movie Raiders of the Lost Ark – for free!

If you have never been to the Count Basie Theatre, make it a point to get there. Come see why Tony Bennett calls it “my favorite place!”