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Meet The Empire Strikes Back actor John Morton at Rutgers Day Newark on April 30

April 20, 2016
John Morton at Rutgers Day

There are many other Rutgers Day events sponsored by Dana Library and The Institute of Jazz Studies. Please see the complete schedule below.

For the multi-faceted John Morton, the path to playing Dak in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) began when a theatrical writer/director attending a solo gig of Morton’s at a club in London’s Earls Court district in the mid-1970s asked him to appear in a musical. By the time the show got to the West End, Morton, whose mother was an English war bride of an American naval officer, got a union card and an agent promising film roles.

“Three years and several films later (starting with A Bridge Too Far starring Robert Redford) I got cast as Dak,” said Morton. Dak was Jedi master Luke Skywalker's co-pilot in their snowspeeder in the Battle of Hoth.

Morton will be part of Rutgers Day festivities on the Rutgers University-Newark campus from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, April 30th at the Dana Library/Institute of Jazz Studies tent to answer questions from Star Wars fans.

Morton, a resident of Annapolis, Maryland, has maintained his ties to the ever-popular Star Wars franchise over the years. He attends an average of 10 Star Wars and science fiction conventions annually and also writes for Lucasfilm’s web site. Morton has completed writing a short story saga from his character Dak’s point. It will be included in a deluxe edition of the fan magazine Star Wars Insider in 2017 to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of the film series’ debut.

As to Star Wars’ enduring popularity, seen again last year with release of the global sensation The Force Awakens, Morton says, “It’s all archetypal, what with the appeal to the unconscious, the collective unconscious, so it’s almost bound to resonate automatically worldwide.  It’s sort of space-age myth making.”

As an author, Morton has written books on naval history and national security. And jazz.

Morton earned a reputation in jazz circles for his critically-acclaimed 2008 book, Backstory in Blue: Ellington at Newport ’56, the story of a legendary appearance by Duke Ellington and his orchestra at the Newport Jazz Festival, whose uproarious finale almost resulted in a riot. The upshot led to Ellington’s best-selling record ever and, within weeks, a cover story on Time magazine.

Morton’s first exposure to the recording came when he was driving and listening to the radio. He tuned in to tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves’s explosive solo punctuating “Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue,” and heard a rising din in the crowd, which along with the band, was ignited by beautiful blonde in a dark brown cocktail dress gyrating wildly to the music. Years later he thought the concert might be the source for a story. He approached Newport Jazz Festival producer George Wein and George Avakian, who produced the live recording for Columbia Records.

It didn’t take much digging to see that the story of Newport 1956 was book material. Before long he was in touch with band members, the son of the blonde “who launched a thousand cheers, writers, and audience members with treasured memories of an unforgettable event. Morton’s book was published by Rutgers University Press.

Other programs of Dana Library and The Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS) to be featured are:

11:00 a.m. - 11:20 a.m.   Trio performance by student musicians in New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Well Fargo Jazz for Teens, Main Stage.

11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Digital Humanities Librarian Krista White will offer audio samplings of two important oral history projects housed at the library: the Krueger-Scott Newark African American Oral Project and the Jazz Oral History Project, the most-widely consulted body of interviews in the field

11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.     Tours of the Institute of Jazz Studies will be offered by IJS staff

12:00 p.m. -12:30 p.m.   Story time for children

2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.       James McElroy, a history masters student at Rutgers University-Newark and assistant to IJS Associate Director Adriana Cuervo, will discuss the Newark Citizen Historian Initiative, which offers workshops on preserving home movies, family photographs, and sound recordings, and textiles. Programs presented in English and Spanish continue through June.

2:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.       Tours of the Institute of Jazz Studies will be offered by IJS staff.

2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.       Drawing Chinese characters by Wen-Hua Ren will demonstrate and invite participants in some basics of her home country’s written language.

3:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.       Story time for children.

Library staff will be available to provide information to Rutgers alumni about how to obtain library privileges at the Rutgers University Libraries.

Throughout the day there will be giveaways and prizes for visitors with a very special raffle for an Amazon Kindle towards the end of the day.


There will be Libraries events at Rutgers University-Camden and Rutgers University-New Brunswick as well. Stay tuned for more announcements!