When he plays a gig beside the ocean or bay, as Eddie Morgan Jr. does occasionally on summer days or nights, he says he's never even tempted to put down his trumpet between sets and pick up a fishing rod.

But that may be about the only time Morgan, of Atlantic City, doesn't have at least a little itch to fish.

Because if he's not playing or singing jazz, or doing his day job - teaching music in Pleasantville's schools - the chances are Morgan is out looking for fish to catch.

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Ask him his favorite spot in his hometown and he reels off four or five, starting with his pick on this day, the popular seawall just north of Gardners Basin, off New Hampshire Avenue. Ask him how far he'll go to chase fish and Morgan starts off his list with Avalon and Stone Harbor and Cape May - the latter a spot for one of his summer music jobs, at the bar called Martini Beach.

Still, at age 55, he swears he'd never try to sneak in any fishing on a day he has a show on his schedule.

"Before the gig? Never," Morgan says. "Because it takes too much energy to play. I don't even like to warm up that much."

And just as he takes his music seriously, he also is serious about his fishing.

When somebody asks if he sees any parallels between his twin passions, Morgan comes up with one immediately. It has musical echoes of the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall - practice, practice, practice.

"The thing about fishing is, you have to put in the time," Morgan says. "If you don't come out regularly, you're going to get skunked."

Morgan obviously believes in practicing his instrument, too - although he says he has mostly stopped bringing his trumpet with him on fishing days, to break out if the action slows down underwater. But he has a musician friend who still does it, and on this day at the seawall, Morgan did bring his horn with him for picture purposes.

When a guy asks him to play a little, he floats - without a note of warmup - into a languid, liquid version of "Summertime," the classic song of the season. As he plays, the Atlantic City Cruises tour boat turns the corner from Absecon Inlet and eases by on its way to Gardners Basin, and a lot of the passengers find a reason to be standing on the side of the deck with the unscheduled, free entertainment.

Morgan finishes the song, gets a little applause from his fellow fishermen and pulls the trumpet away from his mouth to show a sly smile.

"Fish are jumping," he says, quoting the irony of one of the lines on a slow day at his fishing hole. "Not here - but fish are jumping somewhere."

Morgan says he didn't stop mixing fishing and playing because of that old warning about too much noise chasing fish away - even if the guy one spot down griped, with a grin, that Morgan's horn was doing just that.

"I don't know anything that scares the fish off," Morgan says. "If they're eating, it doesn't matter what you do. You get there when they're hungry and you're going to catch fish."

Morgan always liked to fish and liked to play, but he was serious about music first. He remembers playing his first professional gig at age 13 - although he can't remember exactly where it was, which is the occasion for a little history lesson from the music teacher.

When he was growing up in Atlantic City's Venice Park, there was live music pouring out into the streets all over his hometown.

"I would ride my bike around town just to see cats playing," he says, naming the old Club Harlem and Grace's Little Belmont, both on legendary Kentucky Avenue, as two steady spots to stop.

That first paid job could have been at the Silk Hat, or it might have been several other places. But Morgan knows it was with a group called Black Essence, playing "dance, soul, R&B, James Brown and Earth, Wind & Fire. ... We would do cabarets at the Soldiers' Home and the Elks Lodge" - and they played at local clubs and high-school proms.

He expected the musical opportunities to just keep expanding when Atlantic City got legal gambling - the first casino opening, in 1978, was while Morgan was away at college. (He graduated as a music-education major from the old Glassboro State College.) But he says that for lots of reasons, his groups never did get many casino jobs, and these days, very few live musicians do.

Now Morgan says it's tough to find any place to play jazz, although bands he leads have been featured in the past few years everywhere from Kelsey's, the Atlantic City soul food restaurant, to the Top of the Trop, also in his hometown, to Richard Stockton College of New Jersey's Campus Center, in Galloway Township.

The jazzman also started fishing as a kid, but says it wasn't until after college that it became a "hobby or passion" for him. Now his name shows up far more often in his local paper to list his music gigs, but Morgan occasionally makes it into the sports page's fishing column - usually for his work encouraging the city to renovate the long-dilapidated seawall, which was rededicated last year in memory of the late Bill Demones, who also was known as the "mayor of the seawall."

Elliott Hairston, Morgan's friend, fishing buddy and fellow sewall activist, credits Morgan for some of the success in getting seawall improvements Hairston was "ecstatic" to see finally happen. Hairston, of Atlantic City, also credits Morgan with being "pretty good at fishing" - although Hairston knows Morgan's music, the teaching and the playing, often keeps him away from the water.

Carmen Marotta, who books the acts for the weekly, summer series of Somers Point Beach Concerts, made the Eddie Morgan Jazz Ensemble his headliner for this year's last show, Sept. 6, on that town's little Bay Avenue beach.

Marotta knew Morgan through the Somers Point Jazz Society, but said he caught Morgan's act recently at Kelsey's "and loved him. ... Eddie is an excellent showman and entertainer, a real personality and a terrific singer, as well as being a great jazz trumpeter."

Marotta added he planned the show - which also features singer Jackie Greggs - as music that would be "accessible to someone who's not necessarily a jazz freak."

With his hip-deep roots in music - Marotta's father ran Tony Mart's, the legendary Somers Point club - the promoter knows lots of musicians are also fishing fans. But he's never seen any of his stars try their luck in the bay between sets.

"I don't give them enough time to go fishing," Marotta said.

As another summer winds down, Morgan knows it's time for him to get back to school and teach a new generation of musicians. But even when the weather cools down, he still looks forward to playing any time there are music fans around and fishing anywhere the fish are hungry.

He just won't do both on the same day.

Contact Martin DeAngelis:


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