Archive for June, 2008

The Real Smooth Jazz

Friday, June 20th, 2008

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For me, the only smooth jazz is the one with a sultry jazz vocalist causing the audience to hang on to every note.  That is what is happening at Churchill Grounds every Tuesday during the Danny Harper jam session.  The show is full of great local talent in the band and out front on vocals.  Led by noted Atlanta-based trumpheter Danny Harper, who was a student under jazz legend Donald Byrd, the jam session has become the testing ground for musicians young and old to sharpen their talents in front of an appreciative audience.  It’s not uncommon for even national and international jazz stars to stop by while in town to play during one of the sets. 

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The night I was there we got a heavy dose of some really nice vocalist.  There was a great rendition of “Georgia on my Mind”, with a jazzy twist of coarse.  This is always a crowd pleaser.  There was some really good scatting.   Not every one can pull this off successfully.   Most of the songs were standards with one exception being an original piece performed by a spoken word artist name “Focus”.  The title of his piece being “With the Price of Gas”.  How timely.   

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The really cool thing about this jam session is it feels like a family type atmosphere.  All the musicians know each other and they treat the audience like old friends.  No stuff shirt types here.   BestofAtlantaConcerts.com did jazz trivia and gave away concert tickets during the break.   It added an interactive element to the evening that changed up the pace in positive way.  The ambiance is dark and cozy.  I noticed several younger couples on dates.  The show went till almost 1am.  Only the bravest of souls were still there by then.  The music was hot till the very last note.

In all, I would highly recommend Churchill Grounds’ Tuesday night jam session with Danny Harper.  It’s a hip jazz spot that has a little something for everyone.  Smooth vocals for the average music lover and great musicianship for the die-hard jazz lovers.  It’s the jazz spot in Atlanta.

New Local Music Venue

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

The East Atlanta Icehouse Cometh
Originally posted on April 27th, 2008 on Drive a Faster Car

While glancing through the new Creative Loafing, I happened across this help wanted ad:

“New music venue, East Atlanta Ice-House, currently hiring all positions. Apply in person at 543 Flat Shoals Ave., 12-5pm M-F.”

Which is slightly ironic as I had completely glossed over this article in CL a couple of weeks back.  Either way, the empty shell of the Echo Lounge is set to be reopen as a new venue & restaurant called the East Atlanta Icehouse.  The name derives from the fact the building originally used to store ice back in the 20’s.  They plan to “host a variety of home-grown and worldwide musical styles, as well as a diverse roster of live dj’s.”

According to their website and MySpace page, they should be open in May.  In fact, they already have a show booked on May 7th with Hal9000, Young Antiques & The Hitchcocksand another show on May 18th with VieTNam and The Subliminator.  Not sure if and when they’re going to start booking national acts (one local promoter I spoke with said he has no plans to work with them), but at least this town will have another 500 – 800 capacity venue.  ‘Cause we definitely need it. 

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.

Atlanta Music District

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

Try this. Google “Atlanta Music District”. If you Google it with the quotes you get nothing, no maps, no articles, not even blogs or forums about Atlanta’s Music District. Obviously, that means Atlanta does not have a music district. But it also means we are not talking about developing a music district.  You can find information about an entertainment district or Atlanta clubs, but no area of town where a person can walk from venue to venue to venue checking out live music.

I personally know of a few of areas that could be on there way to becoming Atlanta music districts.  There is Peters Street located in the Castleberry Hill District, North Highland Ave. located in the Virginia-Highland area, and of course Underground Atlanta.  I’m not really going to talk much about Underground, because that area is a whole blog of it’s own, plus if you Google Underground Atlanta you will find more than enough information and discussion about the area.  However, Studio 281 and Star Jazz and Blues Lounge are located on Peters Street and Blind Willies and Dark Horse Tavern are located on North Highland Drive and they all feature great live music and local talent.

With it’s restaurants and bars North Highland Avenue is a great area for locals especially those live in the Virgina-Highland area and can simply walk to North Highland.  And for those who don’t live in the area with places like the Druid Hills Prebyterian Church parking lot, parking is not a big problem. 

Peters Street is prime for college students from the surrounding schools and visitors staying at any of the near-by hotels or visiting the Centinial Park Area. Ideally, hotels in the area would run shuttles to drop patrons off on Peters Street.  That seems like a viable option right even with Peters Street only having a couple of live music venues because in additonal to the live music venues there are other clubs and restaurants on Peters Street, but the parking situation is not ideal.

That being said my real question is “Why isn’t there an Atlanta Music District?”.  There is plenty of local talent and very viable areas and venues.  Aparently, venue owners are choosing to either not feature live talent or to locate themselves away from other live music venues.  What is the reason for this?  Maybe no one sees a benifit to having an Atlanta Music District.  Personally, I think it would be great to have an area that featured Atlanta and international musicians.  A place that visitors will see as uniquely Atlantan and make special trips to visit.  With us being the home of an international airport and growing as rapidly as we are, it does not seem that far fetched that we could become a real international live music destination.  The question is “How do we manifest our potental into something real?”.  That’s the question I am leaving on the table for you, Atlanta’s live music fans, artist, and venues.