HOW WE STARTED CLUBSCENE
This writer's project was a product of two jazz advocates decoding something needed to be done to get people out to support our music.
Steve Kullowatz, who recently passed away, much too early at the age of 58, and who had once been the JSO's President, was a dear friend and avid fan of all kinds of music. His special love was jazz music of all kinds, and he and I shared many evenings going out to hear jazz and noticing that when we responded properly to the playing, the band played better, and the audience became more engaged.
The tradition in modern jazz performance, is an active integration of players, audience, room, food, refreshments, and the social experience (sometimes the political experience) and even the weather, of the particular day of the performance. When the audience is not present, or the show is not well attended, the musicians can react in a variety of ways. Sometimes they use the opportunity to rehearse some new material, which can be interesting, or they encourage some of the less experienced players to ‘blow'. Most often, the level of play and polish are diminished, and the small audience is discouraged, and decides that nothing is happening, so they leave for greener pastures. However, when fans show up, and engage with the players, magic can and frequently does happen. If the ensemble is particularly savvy about self promotion, and they mobilize their fans to attend, the connection is very strong and the players are encouraged to get to the task of creation.
In early spring, 2006, Steve Kullowatz and I found that there was a chance to stimulate this connection, by making the experience of being in the clubs more accessible; imagining that many fans were so used to watching TV, or listening to recorded music, and that the social connection of live music was out of their normal habits. Many might enjoy it, if only they knew what it was like.
So, we started to write articles to be posted on the Jazz Society of Oregon website, and we coined the name, Clubscene, in reference to the monthly magazine of the JSO, Jazzscene. (See the jazz society website at http://www.jsojazzscene.org .) The old stereotype of the jazz club was just not true of most jazz venues, and we wanted to share that knowledge with the many people who seemed to care about jazz, through their membership in the jazz society, or their support of the local jazz radio station, KMHD.
We began writing reports, not critical reviews, of performances, featuring descriptions of the music, the performers, the venues, and the ambience. We tried to get a team together of writers for this purpose and it was a big hit. It was easy to find four or five avid jazz fans who wanted to write and to encourage the jazz club performances. It Worked! People were coming to the website in droves to read our reports, and many more came out to support the musicians.
Here's a little example from the first report by Steve Kullowatz:
LV 'S UPTOWN - Fri. March 17 th 2006
Darrell Grant Duo
Darrell Grant is known to many Portlanders (and beyond) as a classy, stylistic jazz pianist with an enthusiastic approach to every tune. I hadn't seen Darrell perform in many months, and the eve of LV's first anniversary seemed an appropriate night for another injection of Grant's soul-warming music. This night he was accompanied by Eric Gruber on acoustic bass in excellent fashion. These guys have been performing together for some time now and it shows in their seamless interchange of solos and fantastic timing over complicated stretches. Gruber's solos were spot-on, inventive, and a beautiful fit with Grant's keyboard magic.
Darrell's tune selection was impeccable, as always, offering up Killer Joe, Just Friends, Sophisticated Lady, Rain Check, No Greater Love and Upper Manhattan Medical Group to get the night rolling. Even though jazz fans will recognize all of these selections, Darrell has a way of bringing them new life with a creator's touch, putting his indelible signature on every tune. I had forgotten what a pleasure it was to hear him play. I won't wait so long next time.
LV 's Uptown is located at SW 3rd and Lincoln and offers the double bonus of no cover and no smoking, plus -- free parking. The atmosphere is comfortable, service helpful and friendly, crowd fairly knowledgeable and appreciative, and a good vibe all around. LV 's also kicks off a bit earlier than most clubs, with gigs commencing at 7:00 and going till 10:00 , Fridays and Saturdays. You can check their schedule for upcoming events on the JSO jazz calendar page .
And here's one by the illustrious Pam Jones:
The Blue Monk - Friday, March 24, 2006
Devin Phillips & New Orleans Straight Ahead
Devin Phillips is a treasure and we're lucky to have found him. Actually, he found us by being the first musician from New Orleans to respond to the Portland Jazz Festival and Azumano Travel's invitation to come to Portland after Hurricane Katrina. He plays tenor and soprano saxophone and opened for the jazz festival with a moving solo of Amazing Grace.
I went to see Devin Phillips & New Orleans Straight Ahead at the Blue Monk and it was filled to capacity. And it's no wonder. Devin plays with intensity and focus that belies his 24 years. He takes his work seriously. But he has fun, too, facing his band mates, acknowledging them when they're playing an especially exciting solo. His group is usually a quartet, but he occasionally adds another horn. His band is comprised of fellow New Orleans drummer Mark DiFlorio, who was called upon to play with Nicholas Payton during the Portland Jazz Festival, and pianist Andrew Oliver, who's from Portland and attended Loyola University in New Orleans from 2002-2005, and is finishing at PSU. Andrew was phenomenal and had people asking, “Who IS that kid?!” Bassist Eric Gruber took the place of Nobu Ozaki, who recently returned to New Orleans . Eric meshed well with the group and one of his solos hushed the audience. They played a swift, breathtaking, My Favorite Things, and a sweet version of The Girl from Ipanema. Devin's Afro Blue on soprano sax was just gorgeous. They closed with The Ballad of Chet Kincaid, a charming tune co-written by Bill Cosby and Quincy Jones.
Devin honors his roots, keeping the New Orleans music alive, and played Armstrong's Royal Garden Blues, and a fiery version of a traditional, Wade in the Water. He also dedicated a song to Alvin Batiste, his teacher at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. Devin is a remarkable musician, but remains humble and thanked Portland for welcoming him, saying, “If the rest of the world was like Portland , it would be a better place.” Let's get out and support him and hopefully, he'll stay!
The Blue Monk books top local talent and occasionally, nationally recognized artists. The range of music is broad and draws all ages (+21). The club is downstairs and smoke-free. It's a comfortable place to meet up with friends or to make new ones, making it easy to become a regular there. $6 cover.
(Sadly, Blue Monk no longer features exclusively jazz on the weekends, and we have one fewer jazz venue to go to. Jim.)
If anyone wants to be a writer for the Clubscene writers' group, please contact Pam Jones at email@example.com, or myself, Jim Corcoran at firstname.lastname@example.org . We have a few parameters and we'd like to make sure the content is reportage not criticism. Pam or I will be doing the editing. The writers' team is now seven or eight members and we would enjoy sharing this work with another writer.
Please support our efforts to re-energize the JSO, and let us know how the Clubscene project works for you.
October 21, 2007