Tag Archives: the Garage

“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!

THEY CALL IT MUSIC: “THE BIG 72” (March 19, 2010)

Last night I went to another of Kevin Dorn’s late-Friday evening gigs at The Garage (Seventh Avenue South).  The band, “The Big 72,” plays from 10:30 to 2:30.  Staying for all four sets would require a preparatory nap, something I’ve never managed to do — but I was so delighted with the music that I stayed for two sets rather than my customary one.  You’ll see why. 

Like his hero Eddie Condon, Kevin likes to employ his friends for gigs (you’d be surprised at the rancor floating around the bandstand on some gigs — not Kevin’s) and he had a particularly congenial crew of individualists last night. 

For lyricism, there’s the always-surprising Charlie Caranicas on cornet, who has a singing tone and many nimble approaches, not just one.  The clarinet master (and occasional singer) Pete Martinez was in splendid form, murmuring in his lower register or letting himself go with whoops and Ed Hall-shrieks.  I’d heard Adrian Cunningham only on clarinet before (at The Ear Inn and Sweet Rhythm): it was a revelation to hear him on alto, where he showed raucous rhythm-and-blues tendencies, bending notes in the manner of Pete Brown.  In the background, Michael Bank took tidy, swinging solos and offered just the right chords behind soloists.  He deserves a better piano, but he added so much.  Kelly Friesen, hero of a thousand bands, pushed the beat but never raced the time, and his woody sound cut through the Garage’s constant aural ruckus.  And Kevin — well, he was in his element, letting the music take its own path without getting in its way by “leading.”  His solos were delicious sound-structures, full of variety and propulsion, but I found myself listening even more to his accompaniments: the sound of a stick on a half-closed hi-hat cymbal, the steady heartbeat of his bass drum, the tap of his stick on the hi-hat stem.

Here are ten performances I recorded.  At first the Garage’s patrons were unusually chatty and ambulatory (or should I say Talky and Walky?)  but many of them noticed that me and my video camera.  Surprisingly, they executed sweet arabesques of ducking down and getting small so they wouldn’t walk in front of my lens.  Thank you! 

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, a pop tune beloved by late-Twenties jazz players (I think of Teagarden and Condon among them):

A devoted, serious reading of SUGAR by Pete Martinez:

If Louis Armstrong didn’t invent THEM THERE EYES, he certainly owned this bright, silly song (until Billie Holiday came and reinvented it for everyone):

That probing, perhaps unanswered question (before Charles Ives), HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE, played as a Wettling-Davison romp rather than a lament:

MY GAL SAL (whose title musicians happily corrupted into “They called her Syphillis Sal”):

Homage to Bix Beiderbecke — here’s JAZZ ME BLUES:

IDA (Sweet As Apple Cider) is forever associated in my memory with Pee Wee Russell, whose choruses were always unusual in the best way:

BALLIN’ THE JACK, an eternally popular “here’s how to do this new dance” song:

Finally, BLUES MY NAAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME, recollecting JAMMIN’ AT CONDON’S:

The Big 72 calls what they play music.  Or what would you suggest?

RINGSIDE AT KEVIN’S: Feb. 5, 2010

My readers will catch the reference in the title to one of the great recordings of the early LP era (some might say one of the great recordings of all time) RINGSIDE AT CONDON’S, a collection of live performances by Eddie Condon’s 1951-52 band at the club named for him.  The music is precise but utterly spirited, a collection of great idiosyncratic soloists forming a cohesive ensemble unit.

Drummer Kevin Dorn doesn’t have his own club, and he probably wouldn’t want one — but the music he and his band, THE BIG 72, played last night at The Garage (Seventh Avenue South in Greenwich Village, New York City) evoked the Condon band of the Fifties in the best way.  Not as a repertory exercise (although listeners with long memories might hear a respectful nod to a famous recording here or there during the set) but as a Condon-inspired exercise: hire the best players, let them have space to blow on good, sometimes less-heard songs, and enjoy the jazz.

The crowd did.  (As an aside, I have to say that The Garage has the most mobile — or perhaps fidgety? — audience I’ve ever seen in a club: an apparently steady stream of people who had come in for a drink, a chat, or one song, entering and leaving.  Come and meet / those tramping feet — about two miles south of Forty-Second Street).  Hear a woman in the audience, who had been dancing wildly to the music, shout out “We love you!” before the band sails into HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?

And that band.  Kevin, summoning up the driving energy of Cliff Leeman, Buzzy Drootin, George Wettling — while listening to and supporting the band, varying his sound as the music demands.  Bassist Kelly Friesen, a rhythmic rock, whether walking the chords, slapping, or even bowing the bass — he cut through the chatter and lifted everyone up.  Jesse Gelber at the piano, talking to it as a man inspired, grinning enthusiastically at the keyboard.  Trumpeter and sometime vocalist Simon Wettenhall, fervent and animated but subtle, turning curves like a race-car driver.  Michael Hashim, mixing a gentle Hodges-approach with a violent rhythm-and-blues side, always enjoying himself.  And my hero of the night, clarinetist Pete Martinez, who was in full flower with his patented version of Ed Hall’s inspired rasp in his tone.  And, in the fashion of the great informal aggregations of jazz, each of them is a particularly stubborn (although mild-mannered in person) individualist who keeps his identity safe while playing for the glory of the ensemble.  What a band they are!

People in the know are accustomed to seeing and hearing this aggregation under the heading of the TRADITIONAL JAZZ COLLECTIVE.  Kevin and colleagues have taken on a new name, somewhat mysterious — THE BIG 72.  To find out what it means, you’ll have to ask Kevin at a gig. 

Here they are on Friday, February 5. 2010:

Paying homage to Bix Beiderbecke (and to Condon’s BIXIELAND sessions) they began with a quick I’LL BE A FRIEND WITH PLEASURE, capped by Simon’s derby-muted improvisation on Bix’s recorded solo:

Then, perhaps in tribute to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, wherever, who formed the mass of the audience, they launched into a rocking FIDGETY FEET:

The aforementioned question (sometimes unanswerable) that reminded me of JAMMIN’ AT CONDON’S: HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?:

Another Bix-inspired homage, although he never knew the song, composed later by Hoagy Carmichael: SKYLARK, with a rough-toned but convincing vocal by Simon:

And finally, in honor of Mr. Hall and perhaps Oran “Hot Lips” Page, here’s THE SHEIK OF ARABY, complete with verse:

I had a wonderful time listening to this band.  And — don’t keep it a secret — they have a steady gig at the Garage, late night sessions two Fridays every month.  You should see what they’re like live: I plan to!

KEEP LIVE JAZZ ALIVE!

nicksChecking this blog’s stats this afternoon, I note with pleasure that the preceding post, featuring live video of Jon-Erik Kellso, Chuck Wilson, Ehud Asherie, Kelly Friesen, and Andy Swann, has broken records.  More people have seen this post than any I’ve ever created.  I don’t take credit for this.  Credit belongs to the musicians and to Sweet Rhythm for providing a place for them to create magic on Sunday afternoons.

But I also hope that the people who, like me, are glued to their computers, actually get out and hear jazz live.  That’s one part of the punning title of this blog.  Enjoy this video.  Come up and see me sometime.  I send you a cyber-embrace and real gratutude.  But live jazz has qualities that equal and surpass the finest recordings.  And we need to support it tangibly so that it continues, even flourishes.

Club owners are unmistakably pragmatic.  They will hire those musicians who bring people into the club (people who also spend a dollar or two, if at all possible).  When the musicians outnumber the audience, club owners just turn up the sound on the large-screen televisions mounted over the bar.

So please visit the sites where jazz is being kept alive.  In a random list, they include Sweet Rhythm, Smalls, The Ear Inn, Sofia’s, Birdland, Arthur’s Tavern, Roth’s, Fat Cat, Banjo Jim’s, Cafe Steinhof, the Garage, the Telephone Bar, Moto, Harefield Road, the National Underground, Iridium, the Blue Note . . . and so on.

Nick’s, the home of hot jazz and sizzling steaks, became Your Father’s Mustache, and is now a Gourmet Garage.  As much as I admire the fresh produce and farmhouse cheddars on sale there, I would trade it all for one more thriving jazz club.  We can’t bring back the lost Edens: the Onyx Club, the Half Note, or any of the clubs once called Eddie Condon’s.  But we can keep alive what we have now.  There!  I’ve said it.  See you soon, in the flesh.