Finance professor's bar band will rock graduate program commencement

Morris Davis

By day, he’s Morris Davis, mild(ish)-mannered professor of finance and economics at Rutgers Business School, deftly shepherding grad students and undergraduates alike through the thorny pastures of real estate finance and mortgages. By night, though, he’s Jack Dupp, lead guitarist of the Porch Pirates, driving bar patrons to dance with covers of rock standards like the Go-Go’s’ “Our Lips Are Sealed” and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”

On Wednesday, he’ll have an opportunity to flex both personas when Davis/Dupp and the Porch Pirates play at Rutgers Business School’s graduate program commencement ceremony, reprising their 2023 graduation gig. 

“The business school is way out front on the frontier with this thing,” Davis said, referring to the decision to inject some fun into what can become a tedious prelude for guests arriving for the graduation. The band will play for close to an hour as the audience gets itself seated and then perform one final song as folks file out. The main difference between this year’s performance and 2023’s is less time devoted to “Pomp and Circumstance.” “We timed it last year and it was eleven minutes,” Davis said. “You’d have to be criminally insane to want to hear ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ for eleven minutes.”

When they’re not on campus, the band plays, usually once a month, at bars known for featuring music, most in northern New Jersey, including Five Dimes Brewery in Westwood, Willie McBrides in Branchburg, and The Shannon Rose in Clifton. Davis’s bandmates are Eric Bercarich, a media sales manager when he’s not playing bass; Tara Smyth, a director of procurement, on lead vocals; and Chris Reardon, a director of sales and marketing, on drums.

The Porch Pirates was formed, from the remnants of a previous band, two years ago, but Davis has been in bands pretty steadily since his undergraduate days at the University of Pennsylvania. “I grew up playing the viola and trombone,” he said. “And when I got to college, I threw away the viola and trombone and took up the guitar.”

He also took up economics, a subject he clicked with as intensely as he did the guitar. “I love economics,” he said. “I enjoy the art of simplifying very complex and sometimes emotional decisions into just a few important tradeoffs.” His first job, after completing a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Pennsylvania, was at the Federal Reserve Board, where he often advised Alan Greenspan, then head of the Fed, on matters relating to housing and macroeconomics. Today, he’s the Paul V. Profeta Chair of Real Estate and academic director of the Center for Real Estate at Rutgers Business School. He’s also a senior scholar at the Opportunity and Inclusive Growth Institute of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and independent director of the AGNC Investment Corporation. These are not jobs for Jack Dupp. 

Or maybe they are. “As a professor,” Davis said, “you have to learn to read a room. That’s a valuable skill for a musician, too. And if you really care about teaching, you don’t just read off slides, you perform.”

If you’ve seen Davis perform – throwing off muscular riffs on his guitar as he reads the room through dark shades, tossing his head back when he’s really feeling it – you get that he loves performing on stage as much as in the classroom. “I like playing music that I like, with people that I like, to a receptive audience,” he said, “and the fact that I can do that once in a while is a big gift.”