From Jazz to Vibes, the Many Sounds of Omaha Omaha, Nebraska, has rhythm. Jesse Stanek, a music writer for the Omaha Reader, introduces Debbie Elliott to singer Simon Joyner, jazz duo Kevin Pike and John Kotchian and vibes player Luigi Waites.

From Jazz to Vibes, the Many Sounds of Omaha

From Jazz to Vibes, the Many Sounds of Omaha

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Omaha, Nebraska, has rhythm. Jesse Stanek, a music writer for the Omaha Reader, introduces Debbie Elliott to singer Simon Joyner, jazz duo Kevin Pike and John Kotchian and vibes player Luigi Waites.

Mr. JESSE STANEK (Music Writer, Omaha Reader): One of the neat things about covering music in Omaha for me has just been the amazing variety.


That's Jesse Stanek, a music writer for the Omaha Reader. We called him up and asked him to give us a tour of the local music scene. It's part of our spring fever-inspired effort to hit the road and explore the rhythms of the country from the confines of our studios here in Washington, D.C. Here's a little geography for those of you who aren't sitting in front of a map. The only thing protecting Omaha from Iowa is the Missouri River.

Mr. STANEK: After you cross the river, you pull into the older part of town, the downtown area, and you'll notice these old buildings with old advertisements painted on the side and it does give Omaha kind of a historic feel.

But in Omaha you have this unique ability to go, say, a half hour in any direction and be in the middle of nowhere. Where you're surrounded by rolling fields and farm houses and cows and the whole nine. And I think that sharp juxtaposition of rural-urban has kind of informed this city and in turn informed a lot of musicians that come out of this city and just art in general.

(Soundbite of song Dreams of St. Theresa)

Mr. SIMON JOYNER: (Singing) I got sick in the rain on some holy day dreaming of St. Theresa

And I lost all your pills after they spilled out of the bottle to my possible future.

Well, I'm not surprised, you've always gone blind.

Anything requiring surrender.

ELLIOTT: Now that was Simon Joyner singing Dreams of St. Theresa. Jesse Stanek, tell us a bit about this guy. That was kind of a haunting sound, I think.

Mr. STANEK: Well, and I think a lot of times the depth with which Simon writes will leave people kind of feeling that it is kind of haunting and that he is kind of dark. I think to me, he's always been more of a novelist, almost, than a songwriter. He's just got a great knack for developing complex characters and showing you some sort of internal or external struggle. And Simon has kind of always been important to Omaha but he was one of the first guys in the late 80s and early 90s who really just kind of came into these open mike nights and painted with his own brush. And it was so powerful that I think he really, really influenced some of the younger songwriters who are now making a name for Omaha.

ELLIOTT: One of those songwriters, perhaps the best known, is Conor Oberst. The 20-something fronts the indie rock band, Bright Eyes, and has been called a foxy young Bob Dylan by Rolling Stone. Although Oberst has packed up and moved to New York, his record label, Saddle Creek, is based solidly in Omaha. But there's another sound coming out of this city that doesn't involved any singers: jazz. One album, Fractured Intuition, was recently released by Omaha musicians Kevin Pike and John Kotchian.

(Soundbite of music from Fractured Intuition)

Mr. STANEK: I think Kevin and John are unique in that they're kind of a part of this younger crowd, where you maybe would expect them to be out in a garage wearing a flannel shirt, screaming, but they chose to really discipline themselves and study jazz and have just done some amazing stuff with it.

ELLIOTT: Is there much of a jazz scene there in Omaha?

Mr. STANEK: There is. You don't necessarily see a lot of the younger folks playing it, but Omaha has a rich history as far as kind of being a stopover ground for a lot of these guys like Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, way back when. And North Omaha has a real, real rich heritage when it comes to jazz. And there's a couple of guys that were a part of that that are still playing. One would be a guy named Luigi Waites who plays the vibes around town.

(Soundbite of Witch Hunt by Luigi Waites)

ELLIOTT: That's Witch Hunt performed by Luigi Waites. He's played regular Sunday night gigs since 1976 at Mr. Toad in Omaha, Nebraska.

Jesse Stanek is a music writer with the Omaha Reader. Thanks for taking us on this musical tour of Omaha.

Mr. STANEK: Thanks for having me.

ELLIOTT: Special thanks to member station KIOS in Omaha for production help.

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