More Advocates

In last week’s post I mentioned a few venues, extant and defunct, that exemplify some ways that musicians have advocated for their colleagues. Chez Hanny, Small’s, Puppet’s, Konceptions at Korzo, Zeb’s, Perez Jazz, The Stone, The Reunion, Somethin’ Jazz, and Keystone Korner were the ones included. (Connie Crothers’s living room concerts and The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society were also featured but, as far as I know, the former isn’t a regular series and the later isn’t run by a musician.) Of course, there are many, many other venues that were left out of the discussion. I’d like to add a few more names to this list. Some of them I’ve written about in past posts and some are new:

The Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis. Originally called The Place to Start, this spacious establishment was opened by Naptown promoter Fernie King in the mid 1980s, but went out of business in 1991. Trumpeter David Allee reopened it a year later. For years his father, pianist-composer Steve Allee, was featured with his big band on Sunday nights. Now the club is dark on that night, but tomorrow (April 6) the club will host the band’s 19th anniversary concert. The Jazz Kitchen boasts an impressive menu that features half-pound burgers which, for reasons I can’t begin to imagine, are not available when national acts are performing.

The Blue Wisp in Cincinnati. The Wisp was opened in 1973 by Paul Wisby, an employee of General Motors who was forced into an early “retirement” because of a disability. Wisby passed away in 1984 and his widow, Marjean, took over the club and ran it until she died in 2006. It looked like the club’s incarnation as the premier jazz venue in the “Okiana Triangle” (an area marked by Indianapolis in the north, Cincinnati in the east and Louisville in the south that includes the shared borders of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana) was in danger due to back taxes and unpaid bills, but bassist-lawyer Ed Felson took up the task of keeping the doors open and the stage booked. Like the Jazz Kitchen, the Blue Wisp offers an eclectic assortment of “upscale bar food.”

The Jazz Standard in New York City is one of the premier live music venues that—even though it is part of the Danny Meyer restaurant empire–is actually run by jazz musicians. I’ve heard that the club was inspired by a relative of Meyer’s who plays the drums. The sound is very good and the equipment on-stage is well maintained. The menu leans heavily into barbecue.

The Pizza Place in Yonkers is run by a Berklee College of Music graduate Ron Masciandaro. The room’s acoustics leave something to be desired, but it’s located within a hundred feet of the Metro North station and, although it is a pizzeria, the food is really very good.

Savannah Jazz in San Francisco is owned by guitarist Pascal Bokar and features live jazz Wednesday through Sunday. It’s a very spacious room with an elevated stage. In the past, the club featured a who’s who of Bay Area jazz instrumentalists. Lately, however, the rotating part of the club’s schedule features mostly vocalists while the regularly featured acts are a weekly jam session (Thursday) and a “Swing Party” (Wednesday) that includes dance lessons beforehand.

These “mainstream” establishments are for-profit operations and, while they represent examples of artist-to-artist advocacy, their bottom line is about filling seats and selling food and/or booze to a paying audience. This kind of artist-based advocacy follows a long tradition of entrepreneurially minded musicians forming their own businesses to present work by artists they believe worthy of wider recognition, which often includes themselves. Small’s, Konceptions at Korzo, and Somethin’ Jazz are extant examples of this model. Chez Hanny, Zeb’s, Perez Jazz, and Connie Crothers’s living room concerts nuance their advocacy by removing the need to engage their clientele in repast and libation for profit, although repast and libation is available as part of admission.

John Zorn’s performance space, The Stone, presents another approach to artist-based advocacy where a close-knit or highly select collective of artists manage a common presenting concern for the musicians they advocate for. Based loosely on the raw space model of The Kitchen, The Stone offers a raw space with the basics for music presentation (sound amplification, a piano, etc.) that can be configured according to the artists’ tastes and/or needs.

Probably the most visible success story of the collective-based performance space is Roulette, which moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn last year. Its 7,000 unfurnished square feet of includes a stage suitable for theatrical productions and a mezzanine. Its advocacy now extends beyond the marginalized. Last year’s Vision Festival was hosted there and a celebration of Yusef Lateef’s 75th year as a professional musician will be celebrated there tomorrow.

Brooklyn is also home to the Douglass Street Music Collective, a tight-knit group of artists who manage a humble space near the Gowanus Canal. Their booking policy differs from The Stone’s curatorial method in that only members can use the space. But non-members can pitch projects to the collective’s roster, which can be found on their website.

Not quite a collective, but also not quite a club, is Brooklyn’s ShapeShifter Lab. Founded by bassist Matthew Garrison (the son of John Coltrane’s bassist Jimmy Garrison) and his partner Fortuna Sung, ShapeShifter’s raw space measures 4,200 square feet and includes an extensive backline that can accommodate just about any performance group. The seating includes tables where one can bring drinks and snacks purchased in the venue’s bar area. Probably the most interesting aspect of ShapeShifter’s presentation, and one that places it firmly on the cutting edge, is the option of having your performance broadcast on their internet stream (something Small’s Jazz Club offers as well).

Another performance venue, the Yippie Café in Manhattan, also offers live internet feeds, although its performance spaces are much smaller and constantly under development. The management’s political views are non-mainstream and obvious. The management at Yippie considers the venue to be a place for political activism and prides its connections to proponents of the 1960s movement from which its name is derived. Jazz has been a focal point for politically inspired advocacy from James Reese Europe’s Clef Club to producer John Hammond’s work for the American Socialist Party to the Philadelphia Clef Club, so it is fitting that the Yippie Café includes jazz as part of its weekly schedule.

The website for ABC No Rio describes the establishment as “a collectively-run center for art and activism.” Founded in 1980 on New York City’s Lower East Side, ABC No Rio is a base for art projects that are cross-/multi-disciplinary as well as cross-/multi-cultural in scope. Its origin is The Real Estate Show, an attempt by a group of marginalized artists to homestead an abandoned city-owned office building for use as a gallery and performance space after an unsuccessful year-long campaign to rent the space. Woodwind player Blaise Siwula books the COMA (for Citizen’s Ontological Music Agenda) series there Sundays, which traditionally includes two sets of featured artists followed by an open jam session. Another space, the Jazz Gallery, has been seminal in the careers of emerging artists like Jason Moran for over a decade.

I know this list of venues dedicated to artist-based advocacy is nowhere near extensive and I hope that readers might feel inspired to include additional names and locations in the comments section of this week’s post. While such venues and collectives might seem trivial to today’s “mainstream,” their future impact on American music is guaranteed and, therefore, vital to it.

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