Shore Lore: Music Man

Three years after Moses Septytor was born in 1925, his parents, fleeing anti-Semitism and seeking opportunity, left their native Poland. The family settled in Newark, where Moses, a good student, graduated from a yeshiva.

Later he wrote for the topical TV series The Eternal Light, co-produced by the Jewish Theological Seminary and NBC. A rabbi he met advised him to change his last name if he wanted a career in entertainment.

So the handsome, dark-haired young man with the big smile and dazzling blue eyes became Moe Septee. It wasn’t as a writer that he would make his mark, though, but as a concert producer. Before Bruce Springsteen, before Southside Johnny, before the Stone Pony, there was Septee, the Bill Graham of Asbury Park, who, according to Billy Smith, co-owner of the former Asbury Park Rock ’n’ Roll Museum, “changed the face of music on the Jersey Shore.”

Septee didn’t start out down the Shore. He began close to home, at Newark’s Mosque Theater—today known as Newark Symphony Hall—where his first booking, sometime in the late 1950s, was Andrés Segovia, the father of modern classical guitar. On May 2, 1961, Septee helped bring Judy Garland to Newark for a show that, according to news accounts, packed about 3,800 people into the 2,800-seat hall.

By then, he and his wife, Ruth, had three young daughters, and he noticed that young people were listening to a different kind of music. He met Bob Dylan after booking Joan Baez and then booked Dylan twice. In 1964 he produced the Beatles’ appearance in Philadelphia.

The Septee family was summering in Belmar in the early ’60s when Moe’s eye fell on Convention Hall in Asbury Park, which extended out from the boardwalk and over the sand. Lots of big names had played Convention Hall—Glenn Miller, the Dorsey Brothers, Frank Sinatra—but by this time the day’s popular entertainers weren’t filling the seats. “Moe had a good sense of the moment,” Ruth Septee says.

And the moment, Septee realized, belonged to the young. The only problem, says Smith, was that Asbury Park “didn’t want real rock ’n’ roll or R&B shows in town. They feared they would draw unruly kids. They wanted safe acts like Frankie Avalon and Louis Armstrong. Moe didn’t give in to that pressure.”

Among the acts that Septee brought to Convention Hall were the Beach Boys, the Blues Magoos, James Brown, the Byrds, Ray Charles, the Dave Clark Five, the Doors, the J. Geils Band, Herman’s Hermits, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, the Rolling Stones, the Temptations, and the Who. In 1973 Septee arranged for a young Springsteen to open for comedians Cheech and Chong, but the performance was cancelled.

“Moe was a one-man show,” says his wife. “He had a lot of energy and only slept about five hours a night. He distributed the posters and opened the box office. He hired plenty of off-duty Asbury Park policemen to watch over the shows, and he went himself. Moe didn’t want any of the kids getting hurt.”

In 1975, Septee stopped booking concerts at Convention Hall. He had gone in yet another direction to become a Broadway producer, bringing Bubbling Brown Sugar, Yentl, and Richard III with Al Pacino to the stage. By the time he died in 1997 at age 71, his wife believes that he had accomplished what he set out to do. “What motivated him was not money,” she says. “It was his love of people. He loved to make people happy.”

Click here to leave a comment
Read more Jersey Celebrities, Jersey Living articles.

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.

Required
Required not shown
Required not shown