Archive for March, 2008

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.