Monday, January 11, 2010

home, home again

Continuing the occasional "aught to review the decade" series.

Reading Ben Ratliff's review of the NYC Winter Jazzfest reminded me of the last time I saw the event, and how much just the physical space of the scenes I've been on has changed. (I feel like the psychic space has changed too, but that's another post.) When I moved to New York in early '99, there were three big jazz festivals, and a few little ones. Now the Winterfest, which didn't exist, is the only modestly sized one left. To say the scene in New York has transformed is an understatement.

I did my most prolific gigging in New York at the beginning of the decade, and not one of the "jazz" venues I played at that time exists now in the form it did then. Not one. The Knitting Factory, and Makor moved (is Makor still there at all?), Tonic, the Internet Cafe, Detour, and a half dozen other venues elsewhere just folded. I suppose that this is due somewhat to the nature of New York, where change is really the only constant- I heard older musicians talk about Bradley's, Visiones, and other once hot venues that are no more. But there's a larger trend too- the real estate boom made Manhattan property so hot that it priced out so many clubs that in earlier times had a prayer. (See Tonic, Wetlands, etc.) Brooklyn has certainly replaced Manhattan as the hot incubator of new things.

It's certainly not my place to say if it's better or worse now that it was then- I like several of the new venues that have popped up since I left, notably Le Poisson Rouge- but it sure is different. When I visit New York now, it is very much as a tourist and not an insider, though a tourist who sees a lot of folks he knows at gigs. But sometimes I wonder, is the jazz scene in New York just another evolution, or the empire in decline?

I do have many happy memories of a decade of music in the city. My favorite gigs in NYC, more or less chronologically (this list could be ten times as long)-

Olu Dara at the Verizon Jazz Fest (formerly What is Jazz?), summer 2000

Andrew Hill sextet w/Nasheet Waits, Birdland, spring 2000

Last Wetlands jam, Black Lily w/the Roots, summer 2000

Bill Frisell/Paul Motion/Joe Lovano, summer 2000 (my first time)

Living Colour reunion concert, Central Park Summerstage, summer 2001

Masada, Tonic, early 2001

Killer Joey w/Joey Baron, Tonic, spring 2001

Wayne Shorter Quartet, Verizon Festival, summer 2001 (NYC debut)

Bob Brookmeyer and the New Jazz Orchestra, IAJE Convention, winter 2005

Tony Malaby/William Parker, Stone, winter 2006

Darcy James Argue Secret Society, CBGB's basement, spring 2007

Boston, my home now, has changed too, for better and worse. The good news is that, as I've written before, the Beehive is a great new venue that books a lot of good mainstream music, and the Stork Club just opened where Bob the Chef's used to be. (Haven't been yet) And some eutrepenurial artists continue to bring interesting concerts to Boston, notably the Bennett Alliance concert series, as well as the occasional offerings of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Gardiner Museum. But as far as venues go, that may be the only good news, and the bad news keeps coming. The Regattabar gave its booking to the Blue Note conglomerate, scaled back its booking a lot for both local and national acts, and raised its prices a lot. The venue that the ex-booker of the R-bar started in Cambridge didn't survive. Scullers is hard, risky, and expensive to get for local acts, and Ryles seems to eek by- when I was in grad school they would occasionally book the likes of Chris Potter and Bob Brookmeyer, but they haven't had any act like that in awhile. The legendary Wally's plugs on, thanks in no small part to the amazing trumpeter and genial session host Jason Palmer. The Zeitgiest Gallery gave way the Lily Pad, a nice but pay to play venue (and not cheap anymore either), and then reopened down the street in cozier (read smaller) digs. Atwoods, B-Side and several smaller bars who booked alt-jazz along with a lot of toher things, have shut down, and the Milky Way has moved to smaller digs in JP. One new jazz festival, the one and a half day Beantown Jazz Festival, replaced two long-running summer festivals sponsored by the newspapers, again a sign of the times.

One of the most promising developments in Boston was the creation of JazzBoston, a not for profit designed to promote the music and local musicians in Boston. Thus far they have created a "jazz week" once a year with some original programming and a very glossy flier to hype all the gigs in town. So far I don't see or feel any measurable impact on either the frequency or visibility of the music in town, but I hope that could change.

The good news in both these cities is that there is always an infusion of young talent who will hustle and dig to find ways to get music out there. And as long as there are big music schools, there we be a lot for the listening public. The bad news is that playing for nothing (not a great thing either) has been replaced by pay-to-play, especially if the music is free improvised or hard to buttonhole, which is a tough way to grow an audience as an artist.

My Favorite Boston(ish) concerts:

Meshell N'Degeocello, Paradise, summer 2002 (Cookie tour)

Chris Potter Quarter, Ryles, fall 2002

Fred Hersch solo, Jordan Hall, fall 2002

Steve Lacy solo, Jordan Hall, fall 2002

Danielo Perez/Steve Lacy duo, winter 2003

Joe Lovano superband featuring Dave Douglas, Mark Helias, Joey Baron, R-bar, winter 2004

Radiohead, Hail to the Thief tour, Tweeter Center, summer 2005

The Bad Plus, Regattabar, winter 2007

Stevie Wonder, Comcast Center, summer 2008

Bill Frisell 858 Quartet, Regattabar, spring 2008

Brian Blade Fellowship, Newport Jazz Fest, summer 2008

Wayne Shorter Quartet, same

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had the good fortune at being at those Newport jazz fest sets in 08. I was affected by both of them in a very visceral way.