Eddie Brigati of The Rascals lends support to NJ’s educational Rockit Academy

Eddie Brigati interview

MARK WEISS

Eddie Brigati performs with students from Rockit Academy.

“The champions are the people who are pointing to the future and that’s what music is: It’s about the future, cooperation, motivation and inspiration,” said Rascals member Eddie Brigati as he discussed the upcoming, Jan. 11 auditions for the Rockit Academy at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft.

Rockit is a program for aspiring rock musicians that “also endeavors to build character as well as talent, instilling confidence and team skills with an emphasis on community service,” according to its mission statement. Some of the program’s participants have gone on to perform with Jon Bon Jovi, Steve Vai, The Les Paul Trio, Keith Urban, and others.

Founded by Bruce Gallipani in 2004 and inspired by E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt’s “Underground Garage” radio program, Rockit recently has partnered with Brookdale in an effort to increase its visibility and offer those in the program a broader learning experience.

Brigati — a Garfield native, one of the Rascals’ two main vocalists, and the co-writer of Rascals hits such as “Groovin’,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “A Beautiful Morning” and “People Got to Be Free” — is an active member of the board along with Van Zandt and Van Zandt’s wife Maureen. He says his involvement with the program stems from his long-time friendship with Little Steven.

“Let’s start off by saying that Steven and Maureen Van Zandt are 10-star human beings,” Brigati says. “They speak for themselves but I’m going to speak for them in this instance. Steven is a wonderful mentor to me; he produced the Rascals — the best production ever of Rascals — in 2013. … We had a tour, about 80 shows across the United States and Canada, and he got us in the Hall of Fame in 1997.”

Van Zandt not only lobbied for The Rascals but made their induction speech, too. “He’s a super Rascal fan,” says Brigati, adding that “legend has it” that Van Zandt’s first concert (which he added with Bruce Springsteen) was The Rascals, “and that was back in 1860 (laughs). Steven is a super-duper advocate for rock ‘n’ roll; look up TeachRock.”

Brigati says Gallipani “takes these children from 8 to 18 years old and it’s a very wonderful, nurturing, progressive entry level at those tender ages and he performs upwards of a dozen concerts a year. There’s probably about 70 or 80 children involved, and he invited me to come and speak, and I’ve never stopped from that point on. I’ve been validated, vindicated and everything you can think of, and it has been an honor to be part of it. My wife Susan and I are on the council board.”

He said that as a result of the agreement with Brookdale, “these kids are going to campus and the great part of it is that they are being groomed and they are in an environment to continue their higher education. I go back to music, which is the basis of my life, so it’s about cooperation, expression. First you express yourself, you cooperate, and you have this tool to navigate and get through life which has to do with your opinion and your expression and getting together and supporting each other. Communication is the key word: That’s what songs are all about.”

Auditions are held to fill the limited number of spots available. According to Brigati, it’s not just about finding the candidates with the most talent, but determining who is the most serious about learning, and has the right attitude.

“I have no degrees in music or business and my success stems from cooperation,” he says. “We are trying to project that — the civil part of our society.”

Once a student is accepted, there is still the matter of financials. Rockit Academy doles out several scholarships per year; each has a value of $5,000 and includes free private lessons, band class and the live performances. Brigati believes that everyone deserves a chance, and that this program and its scholarships allows for just that.

The Van Zandts, Gallipani and Brigati all recognize that there is a need to assist today’s youth, especially since more and more schools are removing music and art programs. Rockit Academy does just that, but rock’s elite, such as Van Zandt, sometimes go a little above and beyond.

“Steven invites people to his concerts and he invites teachers to his concerts and it’s not just a token superficial nod towards this,” Brigati says. “Whatever Steven does, he’s all in, one million percent.”

So what exactly is it that Brigati wants to get across to the participants of the program, and how does it feel when he sees a kid succeed or do well?

“I’m that kid,” he said with a chuckle. “What I try to relate to them is essential. I say to them, ‘Do you love music?’ They all respond, ‘Yeah, yeah,’ and I say good, study law and accounting. Here’s why: Law is language, expression, communication, lyrics; accounting is every step, every note, everything you eat. It’s everything on the measurement side of it. You don’t have to be a lawyer or an accountant. You just have to know that those things are constantly in play.

“Write your own song, make it your pizza. Is it a three-minute song? Every pizza is about a pound and a half of dough. You roll it out. Now what do you want to put on this pizza? You want Latin percussion? Okay, that’s one pizza. Oh you burned it? Okay, make another one and another one and another one and that’s the real point that I’m trying to inspire. I am an example and proud to be an example of doing just that.”

Auditions for this nine-week program take place Jan. 11 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Brookdale’s Lincroft campus, at 765 Newman Springs Road. There are a list of requirements and guidelines as well as fees beginning at $20; visit rockitacademy.org/auditions.

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