“It’s a great place to have your family close by and to be able to continue old traditions and to have your kids remember that this is home.”
Shortly after graduating from Bishop Hoban (now Holy Redeemer), Plains native Arthur Jump (known by just about everyone as AJ Jump) found himself lured by the muses to Boston. He attended the acclaimed Berklee College of Music. And, before he could ditch his “heyna’s” for “wicked cool’s,” he drummed off into the stratosphere with the now legendary Wilkes-Barre/Scranton rock band, The Five Percent.
They had a good run – rocked local venues, toured the country, opened shows for huge acts. Of course, things change. NEPA’s thriving local music scene fizzled. The lights dimmed, but the hustle – it never stops. AJ bounced from one successful project to another. He followed his talent from New York to Oregon and almost to L.A. And, just before the West Coast claimed him, he answered one fateful call from his old man.
AJ’s father and a few partners were considering purchasing the old Polish Union in Downtown Wilkes-Barre. The iconic, Depression-Era structure housed a near perfect lounge space in the basement. His dad knew. And once he laid eyes on it, AJ knew, too. This place, this forgotten, old building, this dusty basement – it could be “the spark” that reignites the dormant embers of live, local music in NEPA.
Indeed, it did. It became home to Karl Hall. It became home to beat up, sticker-caked vans, nervous dreamers with guitar string fingers and drumstick blisters. Karl Hall became that intimate space between “let’s start a band” and a growing army of eager, patch-wearing local fans. What’s more, for AJ Jump, that old building on North Main Street became home again.
We met up with AJ at Karl Hall. He colored the dark, empty space with tales from the road. And we countered with hard-hitting queries like Why NEPA?
How long have you lived in NEPA?
Total… I think now it’s been around 28 years. Yeah. I’m 36. Take out college. Then I was in New York for a bit and out in Oregon. And now I’m back. Yeah so, I would say a total of 28 years.
What do you love about your town?
I think that the simplicity of NEPA – the whole close-knit family aspect of it. You know, we watched a great movie over the holidays called Feast of the Seven Fishes. It was based on this big Italian family just outside of Pittsburgh. And they have their big Italian feast on Christmas Eve. Well, my family does Wigilia, which is the Polish version of that. (Laughs) Even though we’re more Italian than we are Polish. My grandfather is 100% Polish. And my grandmother was all Italian, so, you know, there’s a whole bunch of Italian things that sneak in to our Polish feast like the smelt and stuff like that. I’ve been all over and you can go to so many other places and the deep-rooted traditional family stuff like that – it doesn’t really exist. We’ve got some really heavy, established traditions here that I think are absolutely wonderful. And I think it’s a beautiful thing to bring up children around that. Yeah, I really think that is one of the most positive things here.
What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?
Oh man… This is the tough one. The food is second to none. I mean, there are some awesome restaurants here. I know (laughs) I support as many as I can as often as I can. My buddy John Tabone at Bar Pazzo. I absolutely love him. He’s a great guy. His counterpart, Sam Agolino at Pazzo, is just fantastic. Then there’s Rikasa – excellent. We also have so much incredible ethnic food. Right down the street, you got Caribbean Paradise. It’s one of the best kept secrets in Downtown Wilkes-Barre. I absolutely love the curried goat. I had a side gig doing maintenance in the mornings at the movie theater, and I used to go to Caribbean Paradise for lunch at least once a week. Oh, I can’t forget about Margarita Azul. Their patio is amazing. That was literally our savior for the summer and the fall. (Squirms in seat) But if I have to pick my number one, I’m going with Bar Pazzo. Yeah… I think that’s my favorite.
What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?
I would have to say going out to dinner. Even with all that’s going on right now, I mean, if the restaurants are open and you can go, we’ve got to support them. It’s like our NEPA tradition. I don’t know where it all started. You know? You get dressed up on Friday night. We always go out to dinner on Friday nights. And it’s about the conversation and the wine. It’s great. It’s something you can get lost in for an hour or two…or sometimes three (laughs). If you’ve got a great wine list, like at Rikasa or Bar Pazzo, and some great food, you’re set, man. I guess I just love the conversations and the whole ritual around going out to dinner.
What’s next for you?
Well, I have this (Karl Hall). This is like my child. You know? This pandemic came out of nowhere. And it’s been tough. For so many of us in this industry, something like this has never happened. So, we have to get through it, you know? That’s all there is. We have to stay positive. And we have to hope people are ready for live music again when the time is right. A lot of people are telling me that, when this is all over, people are going to need live music more than ever. And I hope so. I know I need it more than ever. Northeast Pennsylvania was heading in the right direction before all this started – in terms of live, local entertainment. I really hope wan can pick that back up. We have a lot of great plans and ideas cooking right now. There’s going to be some really cool announcements coming up here. I have some really exciting things in the works. You know, Karl Hall didn’t just go away. We’ve been working on music and lining other things up. I have purpose here. (laughs) I also have a ton of side hustles going on to keep me busy.
Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?
Moving forward, I hope NEPA can continue in the direction it was going with things like the concert series on the river. Things like that were a major step in the right direction for this area. You know, promoting the arts and music is so crucial. And we have so many great events, like the Fine Arts Fiesta. I hope we don’t forget about things like that. I hope venues like Montage get up and running again in a big way. I know the Kirby will come back. It’s an amazing and wonderful place to go. Yeah. And we’re going to come back, too. We hope to keep doing what we do here and to get back to making people happy. I just hope that all the positive things that have been going on in NEPA will continue to happen after all this.
Like I said, it’s all about those strong family traditions. Our families are here. We have strong roots here. It’s great to be close to your family, you know? This is a wonderful place to grow up. It feels like home. And you’re also just a tip toe away from places like New York and Philly, but you don’t have to pay the high rent and taxes. It’s a great place to have your family close by and to be able to continue old traditions and to have your kids remember that this is home.