Tag Archives: Cajun

“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 ON CARMINE STREET

This morning the wind chill was minus-four.  I don’t dare think about the economy.  So news of a new jazz gig is very exciting.  This scoop comes to us from Marianne Mangan, one of this blog’s two roving correspondents:

gvbistro“Next week the Greenwich Village Bistro (212.206.9777) will host clarinetist Sam Parkins and pianist Pete Sokolow twice in two days.  In addition to their Wednesday 12:30 – 2:00 lunch gig with Jim Collier’s Gotham Jazzmen (also featuring Peter Ecklund), Sam and Pete will be appearing on Tuesday night, December 30th, with Ronnie Washam and Friends — the other friend being bassist Dave Winograd.  Fans of the Cajun will remember Ronnie as a first-rate vocalist, lovely of tone with an unfailing connection to both the music and the meaning of a song.  This foursome has appeared at the GVB already and it’s said that even the young waitstaff knew enough to pay attention to their music.

This may be the start of an every-other-week engagement, but Tuesday, December 30th at 9:00 is a good time to start making it a habit.  The Greenwich Village Bistro is at 13 Carmine Street, between Sixth Avenue and Bleecker Street.”

Readers who remember the fabled Cajun (between 16th and 17th Streets on Eighth Avenue) before it was eaten by “progress” in 2006 will remember Pete Sokolow, enthusiastically swinging with a thunderous left hand, Leroy “Sam” Parkins, a wonderfully hedonistic clarinetist, and Ronnie Washam, “The Chelsea Nightingale,” who sang with drummer Bob Thompson’s Red Onion Jazz Band.  Pete can do a hilarious version of Fats’s “Your Feets Too Big” in Yiddish and drive a band with authentic stride piano; Sam is a deep musician, whose blues come from inside.  And Ronnie.  Her favorite singers are Lee Wiley and Ella Logan, and she honors them.  Not, mind you, by imitating them, but by getting inside a song as they did.

Jazz musicians, these days, have their own CDs that they bring to the gig.  But Ronnie has a new one — LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME — recorded with a wonderful little combo (Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Hank Ross, piano; Conal Fowkes, bass; Bob Thompson; drums).  She comes through whole from the first note, and her colleagues are especially receptive.  You could call 212.243.7235 for ordering information — or, better yet, you could buy one at the gig.  Don your down coat, go downtown, and prepare to have your spirits lifted!