Jazz Notes: Live streaming jazz gallery and Village Vanguard

Ron Scott | 7/9/2020, midnight
Just recently, The Jazz Gallery started livestreaming after a successful 10-week presence online (TJG Online Home Series) presenting a unique ...
Jazz Gallery stage Contributed

Just recently, The Jazz Gallery started livestreaming after a successful 10-week presence online (TJG Online Home Series) presenting a unique series of live performances; Happy Hour Hang, DJ Dance series, Lockdown Sessions, and Words & Music. In the midst of this coronavirus these online sets were originally set-up to retain the membership of this unique non-profit jazz organization. Since the introduction of Happy Hour Hang and the other virtual music programs the membership has increased on both a local and international level. Happy Hour presented on Zoom offers participants an opportunity to meet and chat with musicians, as well as seeing them perform.

“With the lack of live music, livestreaming is the second-best thing. But I still get worried it may affect the creativity. You can make a first impression only one time, and I don’t necessarily want people to think ‘Oh yeah, I heard Joel Ross. Yeah, he’s cool.’ Whereas if you heard him live, he’ll be amazing. The internet is very personal but it gives you an illusion of closeness,” said Rio Sakairi, artistic director at The Jazz Gallery. “It’s like throwing a ball but it never comes back. The musicians aren’t getting any feed-back while they are playing and they can’t connect with the audience during a livestream. The best thing about livestreaming is it allows musicians the chance to play together again which is great.”

A few friends called to inform me the Joel Ross Trio livestream was great. Not to mention the fact Ross is an exceptional young gun. Last year at both the Newport Jazz Festival and NYC WinterFest, he played with at least three different bands while also leading his own. Of course, this wasn’t surprising to Sakairi, one of the most influential artistic jazz directors in this country. “Now that we have online activity, we have members in Europe and L.A., Miami, Mexico, all sorts of places. So, I’d like to keep doing things online,” says Sakairi.

Sakairi has a point: livestreaming may not offer 100% performance but it is up to jazz heads to reexamine their sound systems, computers and laptops; it may be time for an update. In conversations with musicians many have invested in updating their equipment for better home performances and virtual experiences. For the best results updated equipment is required.

In moving forward Words & Music and the Happy Hour Hang will continue but only once per week as opposed to its original three days; the DJ dance party will be discontinued. “Now that it is summer more people are staying outdoors longer,” says Sakairi. “But we will continue the Lockdown Sessions that include four artists; usually three established musicians and one young artist.” For me this is the most significant and exciting musical experience online. Each artist appears from their home with a music performance video made in advance that is discussed afterwards with Sakairi and Edward Gavitt, The Jazz Gallery house manager.

Recently, the drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts included a cooking segment with his two young daughters adding their talents as dancer and pianist. He played from his latest composition “The Journey of George Floyd,” which is yet to be released. Pianist, composer Fabian Almazan was in complete solo experimentation mode enlisting technology toys I had never seen before like a omnisphere (a synthesizer programmer); and the youngster 21-year old Morgan Guerin played four instruments––soprano saxophone, drums, piano and percussion––in his video, saying he had just completed it 15 minutes before coming on. Just this series alone is well worth becoming a member of The Jazz Gallery. Watts described the series as “a great way of sharing ideas and checking out everybody’s voice.”

TJG Livestream Concert continues on July 9 featuring saxophonist Ravi Coltrane with a compelling cast; pianist David Virelles, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Jonathan Blake. Show at 8 p.m. ($10 non-members, $5 for members).

TJG Online Lockdown Sessions, Vol. 13 (every Saturday) on July 11 features the young 21-year old pianist Julius Rodriguez, pianist Kris Davis, vocalist Carmen Lundy and drummer Kendrick Scott. The session begins at 7 p.m. via Zoom, visit website jazzgallery.org for link. ($20 non-members-$10 members). For a complete listing of July sessions, visit website jazzgallery.org. The Jazz Gallery has always been on the edge of tomorrow.

It was the Village Vanguard the oldest and most respected jazz club in NYC where I first witnessed the piano genius of Tommy Flanagan. Eventually we ventured their more often on Monday nights for Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra before they became the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Those early experiences in live jazz have become marquee memories in my mind, since COVID-19 has brought live music around the world to a complete standstill. As an alternative and new normal the Vanguard, like its jazz counterparts, has taken to livestreaming which started two weeks ago. Long-time club booker Jed Eisenman noted, “I feel energized; I am pleased at the sound and how the performances look, it evokes the Vanguard.”

Even with the musicians performing live on the legendary stage it remains a challenge without them feeling the lively response of an inspired audience. “Streaming is a bridge to get us there and not lose money,” says Eisenman. “We would like to wait it out until a vaccine or we feel it is totally safe for audiences to return.”

The historic Village Vanguard was opened in 1935 by Max Gordon, who presented folk music and poetry. It became a jazz venue in 1957, that presented the likes of everyone from Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Anita O’Day, Thelonious Monk and Carmen McRae. Photographer Chuck Stewart’s most memorable photographs shows John and Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Rashied Ali standing under the Vanguard’s ripped weathered canopy.

“The Vanguard was more like a second home to my dad while he was alive,” said the club’s owner Deborah Gordon. “I’ve often thought of it as another room in our apartment. The one where I could find him when I needed to borrow a few bucks. In any case, the Vanguard is an indelible part of my life.”

There is a ritual when attending the Vanguard even before you get inside. I get an edgy feeling once stepping foot on the block (of 178 7th Ave. South). Then you see that famous awning that’s been there for ages and you reach for the ever-noticeable loud red painted door. Take a deep breath before you begin walking down that steep narrow staircase. Once you’ve descended down the jazz well, there’s the host standing at the door prepared to collect your admission but at the open door you can see and hear all the folks inside and that small but accommodating scared stage where legends made magic and now, the adrenaline rush begins, you’ve made it into the Village Vanguard, baby.

“When I sit in the room, now all by myself, I can feel its little pulse beating,” said Gordon. “I can feel the spirits who live there just waiting to be part of healing our wounded city.” The spirits are probably wondering where are all the people but rejoicing that musicians have finally returned to the storied stage. “I don’t want to book to far in the future since things can change at any minute,” said Eisenman. Currently, he has booked July and August, stating “I feel secure for those dates.” For July 11-12, performing on the Vanguard’s livestream will be the versatile pianist Eric Reed Quartet with saxophonist Stacey Dillard, bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummer McClenty Hunter; on July 18-19 trumpeter Terrell Stafford Quartet with pianist Bruce Barth, bassist David Wong, and drummer Jonathan Blake. For times and tickets visit the website villagevanguard.com.