A multigenerational band wants to make you dance
Some of the members of the Essex Funk Collective, L-R: Jonathan Glasser plays guitar and Kenny Vaughan, Faith Taylor and Nigel Finley sing
Although every performance by the Essex Funk Collective is different, there’s one thing that’s always the same: people come to dance to the music. “We’re a dance band,” says Jonathan Glasser, the band’s guitarist and co-founder. “We’re playing music that everyone loves to dance to. It’s infectious grooves played by your neighbors.”
Essex Funk started in 2019, when Glasser and Faith Taylor gathered friends and family members to cover soul, disco, funk and R&B classics. They included The O’Jays’s “Love Train,” Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing” and “Let’s Groove” by Earth Wind & Fire. The Collective has grown to nine members, with a vocal lineup that features Taylor, her daughter Kiyomi Taylor, Nigel Finley, Kenny Vaughan and rapper Norman “Skip” Burns. It also has Glasser on guitar, Lawrence Allen on keyboard, Brian Swisher on bass and Steven Feldman on drums.
True to its name, the band has deep roots in the local community. The Taylors, Finley, Glasser and Vaughan are from South Orange, with other members from nearby towns. When the band fills the stage with members who are Black, white, older and younger, it is putting into musical action the values that are so important to the South Orange-Maplewood community.
“What I really treasure about our community is that it’s integrated and you have opportunities to meet people that in other towns you would never meet,” says Glasser. “I think our band is a celebration of that.” It’s especially unusual to see a multigenerational group of men and women on local stages that might typically feature “Dad Bands” playing straight-ahead rock music. “Having multiple generations brings in a wider range of songs and music,” says Faith Taylor. “We’ve incorporated rap into many of our songs, which a lot of traditional R&B bands won’t do.” Kiyomi adds, “Our band is a reflection of that varied age makeup, but the music is timeless. It’s just good music.”
Drawing from a broader range of styles also broadens the band’s audience, bringing in older and younger fans. “Nigel and Kiyomi have friends from the community who come to the shows, and their parents are there with them,” says Faith. “One parent told me after a show that she loves how she can come with her kids and they all have a good time.” Kiyomi agrees: “It’s a local experience. We have a community of people, friends and family at the shows over and over, even old teachers that Nigel and I haven’t seen in a while. It’s always a fun crowd!”
The band has jammed on the stages of Maplewoodstock and Pickett’s in Maplewood, Village Hall and Flood’s Hill in South Orange, and the Montclair Brewery and Tierney’s in Montclair. It will be playing a benefit for the Achieve Foundation of South Orange and Maplewood in March 2024. “We haven’t had too much trouble finding gigs,” says Glasser, “but there’s nine of us, so you can’t stick us in a tiny, little place!”
Some of the Collective’s members have longstanding musical connections. Faith and Glasser played at the first Maplewoodstock in a big, horn-driven band called The Logistical Nightmares. Kiyomi grew up hearing her mother sing in different groups. She was in a group, The Motherfunkers, with Finley while they were students at Columbia High School. Other members of the group have been in and out of local groups.
Those many years of musical experience and personal connection help elevate the band members’ experience. “I’ve played in originals bands. I’ve played in blues bands. I studied at a conservatory in New England and studied jazz. I’ve done a lot of different kinds of things,” says Glasser. “But this is the happiest I’ve ever been in a musical context. It’s the most fun.”
That sense of fun helps the band relax into the groove of each song. The musicians are able to improvise and play off of each other in the moment. “I love how the people in the band are great listeners,” says Glasser. “Some of these songs are jams – you find a groove and embellish on it, and we always find our way through.”
Finley also sees individual and group talent growing. “I’ve been able to work on my craft, to grow vocally and performance-wise,” he says. “I see the same for everybody: the ways we work together and listen to each other and vibe.”
That tight musical connection has evolved around the band’s demanding nonmusical day jobs. Allen is a professional musician who incorporates Essex Funk into his wider array of musical projects. Burns works for the nonprofit after-school organization New City Kids. Finley works in development for New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center. Glasser is an attorney with Lester Schwab Katz & Dwyer, LLP. Vaughan is a network engineer at State Street Corp. Feldman is a technology consultant for Citibank. Swisher is a copywriter for Brother USA. Faith is Global Sustainability and ESG Officer for Kyndryl, Inc. Kiyomi is a professional artist.
Now that the Collective is riding a solid post-pandemic groove, it’s added an original song to its catalog of covers. “Enough Is Enough” is a social justice anthem written by Faith and born out of the experiences of George Floyd’s murder and Black Lives Matter protests, the turmoil of the COVID era and a hope that people will work together to make things better. The video for the song was shot at a pandemic-era backyard band practice, with masks visibly dangling from the ends of instruments.
Although the song is new, the funky rhythms and soulful vocals slot in seamlessly with the rest of an Essex Funk Collective set. It makes you feel good and gets your feet moving. “We stick together. We have fun,” says Faith. But she also says the band’s music is accomplishing a higher mission while it’s filling the dance floor. “Music is for healing. It’s a universal language, and it will lift your spirits.”
Brian Glaser is a dedicated fan of all things New Jersey who lives in Maplewood with his wife, son and cat.