Chris Byars and John Mosca, enjoying performing for a festival crowd.
Chris Byars and John Mosca, enjoying performing for a festival crowd. Patrick Jarenwattananon
For the third installment of brief notes from a week spent seeing as much jazz as my schedule permitted in New York City (see: part one and part two), I thought I'd crunch some costs by way of preamble. See, I recently met an older jazz fan in Chicago who told me he used to see three shows a night. And his story motivated me to see if I could a) do something similar and b) do it affordably.
I conclude that it's certainly still possible, and relatively cheaply at that if you know where to look. I went to separate gigs, all of which I would recommend, which cost me $7, $10, $5, $6 plus a minimum, $0 and $0, respectively; there are a handful of worthwhile gigs every night in that general price range. But I also went to shows where the cover charges would have been $10, $20, $25, $30, and $35 plus $5 minimum, had I not been compensated for them with my media credentials. Five shows would have cost me $120 before factoring in drinks and transportation. Put another way, I went to see six great shows for the price of one late Sunday night set at the Blue Note.
This here is part of why jazz struggles with its audience development. Young people, who generally do not have lots of disposable income, are blown away by the cover charges (and minimums) at jazz clubs and concert halls: why take a risk on jazz when you can usually see acclaimed indie music acts that your friends might actually have heard of for a fraction of the cost? (Meanwhile, few people publicize smaller gigs in ways that non-aficionados would even hear about in the first place, as evidenced by the sparse turnout at most of them.) I'm not saying that artists don't deserve to be compensated richly for their work, but I am saying that young people can't make a regular habit out of jazz concertgoing if jazz concerts continue to be unaffordable. There has to be a better way to make money for everyone, or the jazz world is in for a shock when the boomer audience stops going to shows.
Enough of this. On to the blurbs:
Friday, Oct. 9
Chris Byars Quartet
Bryant Park Fall Festival
Jazz heads know George General Gryce, better known as Gigi, as the saxophonist and composer who wrote stylish tunes in the 1950s before mysteriously dropping off the scene completely. Generations of elementary school students at P.S. 53 in the Bronx once knew a Basheer Quisim, a stern general music instructor so beloved that they renamed the school after him when he died. Neither community ever knew that Gryce and Quisim were the same man. Thanks to saxophonist Chris Byars' band, one of several sent by Jazz At Lincoln Center's Rhythm Road program to present American musics in far-flung foreign countries, tens of thousands in Middle Eastern, South Asian and North African countries learned about a Muslim-American jazz musician and an inspiration to his community.
Byars has already made one album of Gigi Gryce's music (Blue Lights, from spring 2009) and is coming out with another in spring 2010. Of course, Gryce is but one of many inspirations in Byars' bag: lost masters like Lucky Thompson and Teddy Charles also figure into his arranging pursuits, and Byars writes new music too. Much of it was on display to an appreciative crowd of at least a thousand on the last night of the free, outdoor Bryant Park Fall Festival. Byars played solid, swinging mainstream jazz with a texturally edgy pianoless quartet (his alto sax, plus John Mosca on trombone, Ari Roland on bass and Stefan Schatz on drums). But he earned applause even before he started blowing when he told the audience the life story of Basheer Quisim, nee Gigi Gryce. Then he played Gryce's ballad "Evening In Casablanca" — somehow appropriate for an mild fall evening in New York.
For passionate saxophonist Laurandrea Leguia, two first names are better than one.
For passionate saxophonist Laurandrea Leguia, two first names are better than one. Patrick Jarenwattananon
Friday, Oct. 9
Gabriel Alegria Sextet
Tutuma Social Club
Gabriel Alegria's sextet plays four nights a week at the same place. Four nights a week! I can think of no other jazz group in a similar situation. It's the sort of stability musicians crave: getting so many opportunities to develop rapport with your closest collaborators, and getting to present it to audiences too. The resultant tightness of the band was obvious even to my friends at the event — people who don't regularly see jazz music by any means.
Life is good when you're the musical director and house bandleader at an Afro-Peruvian venue in New York.
Life is good when you're the musical director and house bandleader at an Afro-Peruvian venue in New York. Patrick Jarenwattananon
The story behind the venue Tutuma Social Club is so good that it's almost unfair to summarize it so briefly. It must suffice for now to say that a New York pizza restaurateur's daughter saw Alegria's band play in Peru, fell in love with Afro-Peruvian music and food, and decided to open her own upscale Peruvian establishment in a small basement in the East 50s. She also hired Alegria, who is from Peru but has long been based in New York, to book Afro-Peruvian music six nights a week. Meaning: no cover, no minimum, lots of ceviche, even more cajon.
So what is Afro-Peruvian jazz? In Alegria's hands, it's something like modern postbop, but filtered through the percussive sieve of acoustic guitar, drum kit, handclaps, cajon, cajito, a donkey's jawbone (really) and tap dancing. (It's also mic-ed far too loud for a thunderous 6-person band in a tiny venue, but that can be fixed.) It's music that makes Peruvian folk songs sound like jazz ballads and grooms standards like "My Favorite Things" with a foreign makeover. And it all makes for a powerful concept, well worth looking out for when it surfaces anew on record. (The sextet already has one album out, 2008's Nuevo Mundo; happily, Alegria announced that it was soon to record again.) Or, of course, you could see the band play live for free.
You guyz: Dafnis Prieto is really good at drums.
You guyz: Dafnis Prieto is really good at drums. Patrick Jarenwattananon
Sunday, Oct. 11
Dafnis Prieto Si O Si Quartet
There are jazz drummers who make a lot out of a little: Vernel Fournier's work with Ahmad Jamal comes to mind; more recently, so does Kobie Watkins using a basic kit with guitarist Bobby Broom's trio. And there are jazz drummers who make a lot out of a lot. Dafnis Prieto came to the Jazz Standard for a four-night run with his Si O Si Quartet — the same group which recorded a fantastic live album at the same club in January — armed with a maximalist's kit: two rack toms, at least five different types of cymbals, plus wood block, cowbell and whistle. He also had soprano and tenor saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum play shakers and melodica, bassist Charles Flores play both acoustic and electric, and pianist Manuel Valera playing a grand piano and a keyboard. Clearly, he wanted all the textures he could get.
Prieto's compositions tend toward harmonically simple but rhythmically intricate and metrically irregular affairs. They work in part because Flores is unflappable, Valera is a a polished virtuoso and Apfelbaum has spent his whole career playing over beats from around the world. And Prieto holds it together with colorful, gonzo, frantic-yet-failsafe drumming, both in taking solos and timekeeping. On a two-part tune ("Bla Bla Bla" and "Bla Bla") he called a musical dialogue between New Orleans and his native Cuba, he introduced a fractured second-line beat to an Afro-Cuban odd-meter groove; he never skipped a beat. But one of the most impressive moments from the show came away from the drumset. "When I had nothing to do, I used to do stuff like this," he said, standing up at the microphone. He then beat out a 3-2 clave pattern and tore into a spitfire vocal improvisation that drew more than a few outbursts from the crowd. It was a lot from a minimal setup, and it was just as jaw-dropping as anything else he did that night.
Prieto's vocal improvisations are boredom-busters turned into an art form.
Prieto's vocal improvisations are boredom-busters turned into an art form. Patrick Jarenwattananon