Ed Hardy always felt an attachment to music but it wasn’t until he enrolled in New Jersey City University’s music program that he began to realize he had the chops to go the distance.

“I knew from the age of 8, I wanted to be a professional musician,” the 24-year-old said. “I initially connected with music through video games –mostly guitar Hero and Rock band which I will play to this day.”

From the get-go, though, young Hardy was facing the music, in a different kind of way, growing up with 10 siblings in a Newark family repeatedly being evicted for inability to pay the rent.

During the family’s sojourn at a public shelter in the Brick City, a friend of the-then 14-year-old Hardy invited him to attend a “Youth Night” sponsored by the Newark Corps of the Salvation Army.

It was there that Hardy was introduced to Dean Farram, the Corp’s statewide musical director.

“He threw me behind a set of drums,” Hardy recalled, and that was the beginning of a special relationship with the Corps.

“I got my very first music lessons in 2014 at the Newark Ironbound Corps,” Hardy recalled. “That was for snare drum and learning how to read music.”

Surprisingly, the Salvation Army bills itself as the leading provider of free music lessons to children, after the country’s public school systems.

Ed Hardy

With the Corps’ help, Hardy “benefitted from free music lessons, instruction, mentoring and friendships,” a spokesperson said. “While his life was challenging, mentors were all around him, encouraging him not to give up.”

Having access to the Corps’ musical arsenal was just as essential. “I didn’t actually own my first instrument until 2020 during COVID-19,” Hardy said. “I purchased a cheap but nice drum set from a friend for $80 which I still own and use for gigs to this day.”

After graduating from Arts High in Newark in 2018 Hardy set his sights on getting an undergraduate degree targeted to a degree program with a music concentration.

At the time, Hardy said, his first choice was the then-Montclair State because its percussion program was acknowledged to be tops among state schools.

“NJCU was my fallback position,” Hardy confessed.

But after he missed his audition appointment at Montclair, Hardy shifted his focus to then-Jersey City State College for which, he says, he has “no regrets.”

He’s on schedule to complete a degree in jazz performance – a skill he has demonstrated by playing the drum set, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, xylophone, glockenspiel, vibraphone, timpani and the various auxiliary percussion (instruments like) wind chimes, bongos and triangle.

Hardy has been busy on several musical fronts: playing with the NJCU jazz “house band;” acquiring some road experiences performing with retired NJCU Jazz Orchestra artistic director Gabriel Alegria’s Afro-Peruvian Sextet during a five-day tour of Florida in 2020; and composing three pieces –“swing charts” – as “final projects for school.”

These original tunes were “Good Day,” “Midnight Blues” and his most recent composition, “All of Me.”

Hardy described “Good Day” as a “contrafact” to the tune of “Autumn Leaves,” which, according to its composer, is “basically an original melody played over pre-existing chords of a tune.”

“All of Me” he said, “is a big band arrangement that I wrote for the big band at my school.”

Hardy said he supports himself “by getting gigs with the Salvation Army,” NJCU and “even at this point, different states.”

On the professional jazz circuit, he’s still hoping to book more metro-New York jazz spaces but is quick to add that he “will always remember my first performance at the Zinc Bar in New York.”

Hardy says his “top three” jazz styles to play are swing, bossa nova and fusion.

While he continues to build his music resume, Hardy will be fulfilling a post-graduation requirement by completing an internship with Derek Lance, bandmaster of the Salvation Army’s New York Staff Band through mid-August.

As part of that assignment, Hardy was a judge for the Salvation Army’s annual Territorial Star Search musical competition for youths ages middle school to 21 in Hershey, Pa.

Starting in August, Hardy will be firmly planting himself in the worlds of music and the Corps with a full-time gig as music and ministry coordinator for the Salvation Army Levittown Corps in Pennsylvania.

As such, a Corps spokesperson said, he “plans to build a community where kids can feel safe and find hope and joy through music.”

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...