It would be difficult to find an experienced local musician in Central Jersey who doesn’t know Jim Ferrante, a man who has done just about everything on both sides of the microphone during his career.
Ferrante is one of the true nice guys in the business; experienced audio specialist during the day and serious – and seriously talented – musician by night. He and his extensive repertoire of songs make Jim a crowd – and musician – favorite at the open mic nights in the area. He is one of the regulars at Jamian’s in Red Bank, Molly Maguire’s in Rumson and the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park.
Just recently, Ferrante and co-organizer Al Manzo have started a new open mic event, every Thursday evening at the Colts Neck Inn. It is always comforting, from a musicians point of view, when Jim is next to you, behind either his Fender Stratocaster or his beloved Moonstone Eclipse, because chances are high that whatever song is being thrown together is going to sound pretty darn good.
His supportive demeanor onstage makes for a more confident ensemble, very important for open mic settings.
It was a “dark and stormy night” when I first met Jim, early in 2013 at a weekly open mic night in Loch Arbor, organized by shore area music scene stalwart Cook Smith. “Have guitar, will travel” must be his mantra; on this night, the 25-minute ride south from Middletown seemed strenuous to me, with a cold, biting wind that kept many musicians and bar patrons home.
Well, I discovered, Jim routinely travels from his home in Somerset to Monmouth County with little regard for weather conditions. I also realized very soon how accomplished of a guitarist he really is. “Who is this guy?” I thought to myself. Where’s the attitude? Where’s the ego? It seems the story started many years ago in a galaxy far, far away (the 1970s), when a bunch of teenagers happened upon the scene. They were no ordinary bunch of kids. They called themselves Little Jimmy & the Starlites. With no member over the age of 20, this promising music group performed popular music of the ‘50s and ‘60s, along with a few original tunes along the way.
In the early ‘70s, a new music label, called Arista Records, was formed, and Jim and the boys caught someone’s ear at the label. In a few months time, Little Jimmy Ferrante and the band had a record deal – a very big thing to have happen to any artist, especially back in the day before “American Idol,” “The Voice,” et al.
At this point in the interview, and with Ferrante being as talented at storytelling as he is along the fretboard, I was delighted, and smiling at his good fortune, as I anticipated the next auspicious chapter in this feel-good saga. Unfortunately, some things were just not meant to be.
Regardless of music genre, a group of musicians can frequently develop into a volatile relationship. In a marriage, there are only two participants, but a band can have many members, all with many different personalities. When you have differing temperaments in a group, and then introduce a bit of success, opinions can quickly and easily fluctuate and diverge, sometimes resulting in complete ruin.
Little Jimmy & the Starlites wrote, recorded, engineered and mixed what was to become their first album, but that was the end of their journey together. Dissention in the ranks created chaos, and eventually left every one wondering “what if.” Jim attempted to regroup with different members in the years afterward, but he could never reclaim the magic of the original Starlites. At this point in time, the audio business was growing larger, and Ferrante’s dream of professional musician was put on the back burner.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and all is well with Jim and wife Marianne, and he has no regrets as to what might have happened almost 40 years ago.
As owner of Stirling Audio Services, Ferrante provides high-end sound equipment to a multitude of customers, ranging from nationally touring music groups and local universities for stage presentations to area businesses for meetings and seminars. With an inventory of professional-grade equipment and after 30 years in the business, Stirling has proven time and time again it can deliver the proper level and quality of audio needed for a successful event, such as the 1995 papal visit to New Jersey by Pope John Paul II, a very special project for Jim and his staff.
While currently rehabbing a leg injury, Jim will be back onstage very soon, entertaining the good people of Central Jersey as he has done for so many years. I encourage folks to come out and enjoy the work of this fine musician, and don’t forget to mention, “welcome back” when you do. Get well soon, brother, we all hope to see you in a couple of weeks!
Chris Spiewak is currently the bassist for rock/blues cover band VyntEdge.