Archive for the ‘Jay’s Blog’ Category

A BLAND DISH

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

I have yet to see anybody in their right mind, anybody, that is, who knows what they’re talkingabout, putting forth the opinon that jazz is alive and well in the city of Atlanta.

The very strange thing about Atlanta is that if anyone were to make such a statement in a public forum, there would almost certainly be no dissenting opinion.  Rather, there would be congratulations all around, passed between the members of the “jazz community” of this city.

One sees this sort of thing all the time. “So-and-so has done so much to promote jazz in Atlanta.  “Such-and-such group is dedicated to increasing awareness of the importance of jazz to this city.”  If the achievements of these supporters of jazz in Atlanta are to be judged by the reality on the ground,so to speak,  then we’re talking about a lot of delusional people who are incapable of self-examination.

To be sure, there are many jazz clubs in Atlanta. On almost any given night one can hear songs that are at least fifty years old played by indifferent musicians who know that at the end of the evening they’ll be lucky to walk out with twenty dollars in their pockets.

Or a person could go to hear something called, for some reason, “smooth jazz,” which, while it may be smooth, is as far removed from jazz as Stephen King is removed from Tolstoy. This music is played to a straight four/four beat and features improvisations that take place over one repeated harmonic tonality and rhythmic pattern and, while the performers may be very well dressed, has all the appeal of a plate of cold pasta, sans sauce.

The truth is that the many fine jazz musicians in Atlanta don’t, in fact, play jazz. They teach school.They program computers.  They watch after the children while their wives are at work.

Atlanta has a long way to go before it can be seriously considered to be an international city. But there is no question about it: it will get there eventually. And when it does, jazz will most likely not be an aspect of the cultural makeup of this city the way it is, say, in New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco or Chicago or Boston.   And yet the “jazz community” in Atlanta goes on patting itself on the back for the fine work it’s doing, ignoring or outright opposing any real attempts to put jazz music on a level that matches that of any other major city in this country.

Complacency is a dish that seems to be best enjoyed by a large group of people sitting at the same table.  It’s a bland dish, but there’s always plenty to go
around. 

NOBODY’S THERE….

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Last night, Saturday April the 26th, I played at a well-known local jazz club with my band. We really have a lot of fun playing because we do only original material, and it’s fun to play this music for people who have never heard it.

None of us expected the first set to have much of an audience. The truth is, there was nobody there. But it was only 8:30. And so we played our first set. It sounded great in there, we had the PA mixed all nice and this is such a good band, we just played and dug it.

We took a rather long break. After all, there was nobody there. The staff liked the band, and so the staff and the band were hanging out together, getting to know each other, and it was very pleasant. The staff didn’t have anything to do, after all. There was nobody there.

A group of people came in and sat down in the music room. We went back up and played our second set, and that was fun, man, playing for people. They dug it, or acted like they did, anyway they were having a good time. I was confident that the music they were hearing was good, because we are a tight band that’s been playing together for almost a year and we’ve got our tunes down.

They didn’t leave when we went on our second break so I was encouraged by that, I introduced myself and we chatted for a few moments. But then they just up and split so once again there was nobody there.

Nobody except for the staff and the band, and by this time it felt that we were almost having our own private little jazz party. I felt very relaxed. I was having a good time. I was almost glad there was nobody there.

Four more people walked in and sat close to the band. Alright! Back we came to play our last set. And of course we played great, suddenly it was all there because we were playing to people who were applauding after the solos, digging on the music and the band. And those good people stayed through the entire set, with us all the way. Those four people were maybe the best audience I’ve ever played to.

Now this is not a shabby little joint, nor is it a phony upscale “jazz venue.” No, the club we played that night is a real jazz club, a jazz spot in the classic sense, nice and simple and all about the music. And I thought: eight people isn’t much of a turn-out for a Saturday night.

I’m not trying to make a comment or offer any suggestions. I’m just telling the story of a more-or-less typical jazz club gig in Atlanta. It’s to be expected. You can almost bet your life-savings on it. When it comes to the attendance of jazz clubs in this city, nobody’s there.

JAZZ APPRECIATION MONTH

Monday, April 7th, 2008

 APRIL IS JAZZ APPRECIATION MONTH. IT’S APRIL ALREADY? HOW TIME FLIES.

This month, April, is Jazz Appreciation Month, I’m told. The Smithsonian Institute has a hand in this, I’m further told. So I started wondering about it. I thought, “Baseball is a huge industry in this country. Everybody’s making millions of dollars from it and the American people really love baseball. And the regular season starts in April. So why not make it “Baseball Appreciation Month?” I realized, of course, that nothing would ever make me care any more about baseball than I do now, which is not at all. And nothing, I mean nothing, will make the American people care more about jazz, what little they care about it in the first place.

So why a Jazz Appreciation Month? I’ve been trying to find a good answer to this question, but it doesn’t seem to be anywhere. One would think, in a child-like way, that the month of April was to be set aside strictly for the consideration and patronizing of all things jazz-music. “Come on, baby, it’s jazz month. We need to be good citizens and go to Churchill Grounds.” Jazz musicians would receive in the mail a button they can wear on their jackets, so all through the month of April we’d get discounts at the stores and little old ladies would help us cross the street. Restaurants could prepare special menus for jazz musicians. On the house, of course. Parents would point us out to their kids: “Look, honey. It’s a jazz musician.” For one month, we could be APPRECIATED.

Now I don’t have any opinions about the people who dreamed up Jazz Appreciation Month. I’m certain that they meant well. And the Smithsonian Institute does have a really great museum. But the people who “appreciate” jazz do it all year ’round, and the ones who don’t will never even know that it’s jazz month, not really. “Hey, it says here on the calendar that this is Jazz month.” “Aw, they’re a lousy team. How do they rate a whole a month to themselves?”

In jazz time, every month is “jazz month,” all year ’round. It’s a jazz universe. And we don’t need a special month, or any museums, to justify our love for jazz. So for the life of me I can’t see what exactly this month is for. But I hope the people who are behind it
are at least getting paid something for their efforts. Who knows, maybe they’ll go out to hear some jazz! And at least they made it a month when the weather’s getting nicer.

Peters Street: The New Atlanta Jazz Scene?

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

Peters Street is an avenue lying just to the west of Trinity Street in downtown Atlanta, and in recent years it has seen a revival of sorts. Located in the Castlebury Lofts district, it is accessible from the major downtown freeways. It is an example of the kind of urban renewal that is taking place in cities all across the U.S. There are a few new shops and restaurants on Peters Street and there are more to come in the near future. The location is becoming more and more desirable for people who are looking to relocate into the city.

What makes Peters Street significant is that it is the only street in Atlanta that can boast two jazz clubs within walking distance of each other, Studio 281 and its newer counterpart, the Star Jazz and Blues Lounge.

Of the two, Studio 281 stands out in Atlanta as being the only jazz venue that is dedicated to what Henri Davenporte, the owner, likes to call “straight-ahead” jazz music. He refuses to allow electric basses or keyboards in his club, choosing instead to feature only acoustic jazz. His club is equipped with a well-maintained baby grand piano and a set of drums.

It’s a small and intimate place, much like the clubs that lined 52 Street in the 40’s and 50’s in New York City, clubs where the music that came to be known as bebop was developed.

But Mr. Davenport has run afoul of an attitude that is persistent in this city. His high standards have alienated many local jazz musicians, musicians who have become used to playing sub-standard, mediocre jazz in restaurants where the music comes second to the food and “ambience.” And he is extremely vocal about the high standards he adheres to when it comes to the music that is played in his establishment.

In effect, he has caused a schism in the jazz community in Atlanta. On one side is the way things have always been, the old way that has become good enough not only for the relatively few patrons of jazz in this city but for the musicians as well.

On the other side, and in much fewer numbers, are those musicians who share Mr. Davenport’s vision of an Atlanta that can create and nurture a jazz scene that would rival that of any other city in the country.

These few musicians see Peters Street, and Studio 281, as the nucleus for the rebirth of a true jazz scene in Atlanta. As the area develops, and more of the finest players, composers and jazz fans are drawn to it, we may yet see the growth of an Atlanta jazz scene that the city could be proud of. And it is most telling that there are so many members of the old jazz establishment in Atlanta who would like nothing better than to see Henri Davenporte, Studio 281 and Peters Street fail in that endeavor.

Jay on SOJA

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

GREAT JOB, SOJA!

SOJA, the Southeastern Organization for the Jazz Arts, sponsored a show on Monday night at the Star Lounge on Peters Street. Well, anyway they say they sponsored it. And there WERE members of SOJA at the show. The only thing is they weren’t doing any “sponsoring.”

At least they were generous enough to pay to get in. It didn’t seem the least bit odd to them that a member of the Atlanta Bebop Society, which is not affiliated with SOJA, was working the door that night, taking the money that SOJA recieved a percentage of. At one point on Monday night the leader of the band was reduced to handing out menus while the “sponsors” looked on. The piano on stage was…oh wait, there wasn’t a piano on stage. Now, when the Atlanta Bebop Society put on its Wednesday Jazz Nights at Club 29, we purchased a piano for the band to use. For there to be jazz there has to be a piano, a detail that wasn’t important enough, apparently, for SOJA to consider.

At least one member actually did something, getting up on stage and delivering a song, after treating the audience to an Elvis Presley impersonation. Funny. Self-congratulatory pats on the back all around for SOJA’s members then.

Sorry guys. It takes a lot more than that to sponsor a jazz event. (Hats off and best of luck to DC and his cool new club.)