Tag Archives: Bourbon Street

“ASSES IN SEATS” AND THE JAZZ ECOSYSTEM

Here’s something comfortable, enticing, seductive.

It’s not my living room, I assure you: too neat, no CDs.

Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Kelly Friesen, string bass; Andrew Swann, drums.  “Sweet Rhythm,” October 26, 2008, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Tal Ronen, string bass; Mark Shane, piano; Dan Block, tenor sax.  “Casa Mezcal,” October 26, 2014, I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU:

(This is not a post about numerology or the significance of October 26 in jazz.)

Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Clint Baker, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  “Sweet and Hot Music Festival,”  September 5, 2011, TOGETHER:

Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs: Ray, piano, composer; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass, Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. “Sacramento Music Festival,” May 25, 2014, BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES:

I will explain.

“Sweet Rhythm” was once “Sweet Basil,” a restaurant-with-jazz or the reverse, in New York City.  Now it is just a restaurant.  “Casa Mezcal,” across the street from the Tenement Museum, also offered jazz as well as food.  Now, only food.  The two California festivals depicted above are only memories now.  (I could have included the Cajun, Bourbon Street, Roth’s Steakhouse, Banjo Jim’s, the Garage, the Bombay Club, Jazz at Chautauqua, and perhaps a dozen other vacancies in the cosmos — in my time, which isn’t the whole history of the music.)  Jazz clubs become apartments, drugstores, dormitories, nail salons.  Or what was once a jazz bar now has karaoke night and game night.

That’s not difficult to take in.  Everything changes.  “Things are tough all over,” as my father said.

But I’ve included the chair and ottoman because so many jazz listeners prefer the comforts of home to live music, and thus, venues collapse and are not replaced.

The expression I’ve heard from festival producers is the blunt ASSES IN SEATS. It presumes that other body parts are attached to the asses, of course.  But it’s simple economics.  When a club owner looks out at the landscape of empty chairs and tables with napkins undisturbed, when there are more musicians on the stage than there are people in the audience, you can imagine the mental cogitations that result.  This has nothing to do with musical or artistic quality — I’ve heard terrible music played to filled rooms, and once in a New York club I was the audience (let that sink in) — not even me, myself, and I — for the first few songs by a peerless band.  And if you think that musicians are a substantial part of the club budget, it isn’t so: a world-famous jazz musician told me once of being paid sixty dollars for three hours’ work, and some of my favorite musicians go from fifty-and-seventy-five dollar gigs, or they play “for the door.”

And as an aside, if you go to a club and sit through two sets with your three-or-five dollar Coke or well drink or standard beer, you are subsidizing neither the club or the music.  Festival economics are different, but even the price of the ticket will not keep huge enterprises solvent.  I hear, “Oh, the audience for jazz is aging and dying,” and the numbers prove that true, but I think inertia is a stronger factor than mortality, with a side dish of complacency.  And people who study the swing-dance scene say that what I am writing about here is also true for younger fans / dancers.

So before you say to someone, “I’m really a devoted jazz fan,” or proudly wear the piano-keyboard suspenders, or get into arguments on Facebook over some cherished premise, ask yourself, “How active is my commitment to this music?  When was the last time I supported it with my wallet and my person?”

I do not write these words from the summit of moral perfection.  I could have gone to two gigs tonight but chose to stay home and write this blog.  And I do not go to every gig I could . . . energy and health preclude that.  And I am also guilty, if you will, in providing musical nourishment for viewers through technology, so that some people can live through YouTube.  I admit both of these things, but on the average I go to more jazz gigs than some other people; I eat and drink and tip at the jazz clubs; I publicize the music here and elsewhere.

But you.  Do you take the music for granted, like air and water?  Do you assume it will go on forever even if you never come out of your burrow and say hello to it, that other people will keep supporting it?  Do you say, “I must get there someday!” and not put wheels under that wish?  Mind you, there are exceptions.  Not everyone lives close enough to live music; not everyone is well-financed, energetic, or healthy.  But if you can go and you don’t, then to me you have lost the right to complain about clubs closing, your favorite band disbanding, your beloved festival becoming extinct. Jazz is a living organism, thus it needs nourishment that you, and only you, can provide.  Inhaling Spotify won’t keep it alive, nor will complaining about how your fellow citizens are too foolish to appreciate it.

If you say you love jazz, you have to get your ass out of your chair at regular intervals and put it in another chair, somewhere public, where living musicians are playing and singing.  Or you can stay home and watch it wither.

May your happiness increase!

“‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, BOB HAVENS, DAN BLOCK, JOHN SHERIDAN, KERRY LEWIS, TOM BOGARDUS, PETE SIERS at CHAUTAUQUA (September 21, 2013)

When Jon-Erik Kellso says (a la Louis), “Now we’re going to take you down to my home town,” he is referring to Detroit (to be precise, Allen Park, Michigan) rather than New Orleans, but don’t let those Michigander roots throw you off. Jon-Erik is a connoisseur of gumbo, po’boys, New Orleans night life — he is a most reliable guide there — and he knows and embodies the music very deeply. This set from the September 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua shows this in every note (easily and creatively, working within time-honored repertoire to create lively music).

Jon-Erik’s New Orleanians were, for the occasion, Kerry Lewis, string bass; Pete Siers, drums; John Sheridan, piano; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet, and guest Tom Bogardus, banjo.  Together they created savory home cooking on five New Orleans classics in swinging, loose ways:

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

BASIN STREET BLUES:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?:

SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE:

I know I want second and third helpings of this music, so I hope you will follow me to the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party — the weekend delight formerly known as Jazz at Chautauqua.  Details at the AJP website and Facebook page and even here. It’s not in my nature to push or nag, but I know seating and hotel accommodations are both limited — so don’t be left out!

May your happiness increase!

NEW YORK, JAZZ PLAYGROUND

“There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This is one of them.” That was the introductory voice-over I remember from the fabled television show depicting New York City’s urban grittiness. I don’t know how many stories there are as I write this in July 2008, but here is my story — one man’s nearly obsessive quest to soak up all the choice live jazz possible before leaving New York for a long pastoral summer vacation. The score at the moment is (approximately) four Kellsos, two Asheries, two Aldens, one Hendricks, and so on. Tally up the totals at your own peril.

On Sunday, June 29, I took my position at THE EAR INN (326 Spring Street), knowing that the Earregulars would swing out in inimitable fashion, and a quartet of Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Block, Howard Alden, and Frank Tate devoted themselves to some surprising music: a rousing “Ring Dem Bells,” “When I Take My Sugar To Tea,” then, joined by the brilliant alto / flute player Andy Farber, who leads his own seventeen-piece band at Birdland on Sundays, they stretched out on “Russian Lullaby” and “Sometimes I’m Happy,” before ending with a jam session on “Honeysuckle Rose,” made even more brilliant by violinist Craig Eastman, Frank Tate’s talented cousin.

The music was stirring, the camaraderie was happy: I got to meet and talk with the owners of an upscale Australian chocolate company (www.chocolategrove.com), Will and Dianne Muddyman, in town to show off their products at the Jacob Javits Center. They are a lovely couple, funny and well-informed: we were trading names of Australian jazz heroes in spirited fashion.

On Tuesday, July 1, I made my way to ROTH’S WESTSIDE STEAKHOUSE (630 Columbus Avenue at 93rd Street) to hear the weekly duet — in this case, pianist Ehud Asherie and Howard Alden. Listening to their inspired teamwork, I thought often of the 1941 “Waiting for Benny” warmup session captured by Columbia’s engineers that brought together Charlie Christian and Johnny Guarneri, Alden’s single-string lines perfectly complementing Asherie’s stride and walking tenths. Their repertoire was magically wide-ranging, moving without strain from Waller’s “Viper’s Drag” and “I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby” to Monk’s “Ruby My Dear,” Morton’s “Shreveport Stomp” and “King Porter Stomp” with all their strains properly attended to, as well as a Fred Astaire cluster of “Change Partners” and “I Won’t Dance.” Barbara Rosene (high-class local talent) sat in and sang a pretty, yearning “I’m Confessin’,” and the duo offered a delightful Brazilian contrapuntal song, “Lamentos,” which was new to me (Ehud said it was a choros, although whether I am using the term correctly I have no idea).

Here, too, the pleasure was personal as well as gustatory (he steaks are excellent at Roth’s): I met the genial owner Marc Roth, a committed-to-the-point-of-piety jazz fan who donates his time and energies to the Jazz Foundation of America. It was a real pleasure to meet a club owner who sees good music as integral to his business.

Two days later, I visited Ehud and Jon-Erik again, this time for a Thursday duet session at SMALLS (183 Tenth Street at Seventh Avenue South) with the compact room filled more than usual, which pleased me greatly. As I climbed downstairs, they were floating through a truly slow “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now.” The tempo made that song (often turned into a quick-step) into a wistful love ballad. But their next tune, a “Whispering” that kept turning into “Groovin’ High,” was just as rewarding, and I noted that these two players have been more intuitively connected each time I’ve heard them — two like-minded improvisers turning into a team reminiscent of Hackett and McKenna, Braff and Hyman. It was a most rewarding hour.

Oh — and the personal angle? When I walked in, I heard a pleased voice (in an accent that wasn’t Queens) say my name, and I turned around to see a beaming Will and Dianne at the bar. We had an even more lively chat afterwards — with hopes for a more leisurely encounter in the future.

We didn’t hear any live jazz on July 4 — but since Louis thought that day was his birthday, it has the status of a sacred day.

On Saturday, July 5, the Beloved and I went to the JAZZ STANDARD (116 East 27th Street) to catch the early show of what was billed as “Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross Redux,” featuring one of the elders of the tribe, Jon Hendricks — now eighty-six, dapper and bouncing in a yellow blazer — his daughter Aria, and the anchor of the trio, Kevin Burke Fitzgerald. At eighty-six, Hendricks manages vocal calisthenics with the skill and wit of a man one-third his age. He led the trio rather than keeping up with it. Aria has a lovely, supple vocal instrument and a dynamic stage presence; Fitzgerald not only sang his parts wonderfully but stopped the show twice, hilariously impersonating a muted brass player, then an arco bass soloist — magical impersonations, theatrical as well as musical. He’s a true star and he deserves to be widely known.

Sunday, July 6, was a Kellso-and-friends doubleheader. I found my way to a new spot in the Broadway restaurant district, the sympathetically-named BOURBON STREET (346 West 46th Street), where the band was scheduled for their first brunch appearance (12-4). All the omens and portents were good: the restaurant is a huge space, two floors with high ceilings, marble floors, and a wrought-iron balcony. This isn’t simple decoration: the band was positioned on the second floor, playing without amplification, and their sound was brilliantly resonant, the room “live” the way such places used to be. The quartet was an uptown version of Kellso’s gifted crew, with Dan Block on clarinet and tenor, John Gill on banjo, guitar, and vocals, and Kelly Friesen on bass. And I got to sit with Doug Pomeroy, renowned audio engineer and deep-dyed jazz listener, so that we could trade inside stories.

Musically, it was one of those extra-special occasions where the jazz was quiet but rose to new heights on every song, from a hymnlike “Old Fashioned Love,” to a floating “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me,” and intense explorations of “Wabash Blues” and “Apex Blues.” Jon-Erik and Dan are profound soloists and deeply attuned team players, filling gaps, finishing each other’s sentences. Kelly Friesen nimbly managed to bring together the great slap-bass he learned from Milt Hinton and witty bebop references. John Gill provided his own recogniable pulse, wonderful chord voicings — and his own Bing Crosby-inspired versions of “When You’re Smiling,” “an uptempo “Pretty Baby,” “Sweethearts on Parade,” and — for a socko finish, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” The Irish connection? One of the owners, Brian Connell, hails from Blanchardstown, a Dublin suburb, and we traded local lore. I hope that the place prospers as a site for live jazz: the acoustics are wonderful, the food delicious, the staff cheerful.

After a brief interval devoted to non-jazz realities, I drove downtown to The Ear Inn for a hail-and-farewell* Sunday night with The Earregulars — Jon-Erik, trombone marvel Harvey Tibbs, bassist Pat O’Leary, and guitarist Chris Flory — joined for the second set by Dan Block, on his third gig of the day. If the mood at Bourbon Street had been distinctly New Orleanian, this band had its heart firmly set in late-swing-early-bop (think 1946 Savoy, Keynote). Perhaps without any hidden egocentrism, they chose songs for the second set that had their first word in common: “I Never Knew,” “I Want A Little Girl,” “I Would Do Most Anything For You,” a heartfelt “I Only Have Eyes For You,” featruing Dan, Chris, and Pat, and “I Want To Be Happy.” A closing “C Jam Blues” broke the pattern but was a delicious slow-rocking exploration. I got to chat with Jackie Kellso and the young trombonist Emily Asher (known for her work with the ensemble “Mighty Aphrodite,” which lives up to its billing) — another pleasure.

I don’t know if I could keep up this pace on a regular basis — occasionally my eyes threatened to close of their own accord, and I did go outside and stand on the street between sets to gulp some air — but my jazz marathon was richly rewarding.

Never fear, though, loyal readers: I will be posting on this blog wherever I go.

*I was doing the farewelling: happily for New Yorkers, that band will continue even when I’m not there.  Reassuring, that.