Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reflections on jazz clubs

I often fantasize that if time travel were possible it would be great to go back to the late 40’s/ early 1950s in New York – think of the jazz scene! Miles, Dizzy, Bird, Billie, Monk, Horace and on and on – plus everything would be fresh and new, men in suits and chicly attired ladies….as far as the social progress and the smoke laden rooms – that would leave a lot to be desired but really musically…out of this world.

An American friend twigged this idea in my brain – why not write about how the club experience has changed over the years and since I wasn’t around back then, dear reader I am going to write what I know…I’m sure at that time it was probably not as acceptable to venture into these places on your own as a woman…thank goodness times have changed.
The first jazz club I went to wasn’t a club per se but the Palms Café – a downtown Edmonton restaurant where the music was presented by the Edmonton Jazz Society. Before long the society got their own permanent home - the Yardbird Suite – and that sort of spoiled me for whatever followed – great acts – local, national and international, run by enthusiastic people, staffed by volunteers – of which I was one – it was far from the tiny, smoke filled venues you see in the movies – in fact one of the most exciting developments back in the 80s was the Friday non smoking nights – seemed like such a radical idea at the time.Who would have thought it would become  standard? I also got used to very knowledgeable and appreciative audiences – being given “the glare” if you were conversing too loudly during the sets – except on blues nights and then it was pointless.  There was a real sense of ownership and the Yardbird not only survives but thrives to this day – numerous renovations and improvements happened – largely under the stewardship of the late great Paul Wilde and it’s one of the best places anywhere to listen.

As per usual a number of venues usually restaurants tried out the jazz policy with mixed success – Earl’s Tin Palace stood out for me because of the Jump Orchestra featuring one Tim Tamashiro – yes that Tim of CBC radio - was one and of course Sid Estrin’s place the Hotbox. When I  first moved to Toronto venerated places likel the Montreal Bistro were still in operation and of course the Top of the Senator – Lothar kept a strict “quiet” policy which I appreciated and wonderful visiting musicians and the Top of the Senator provided the New York style ambience in addition to the frequent American artists.  Before my time there was George’s Spaghetti House, The Colonial, Café des Copains – now the Reservoir Lounge, thankfully still programming jazz and in recent years  Opal Lounge – conveniently located in my neighbourhood but has come and  I’ve discovered Tequila Bookworm has discontinued their programming so I need to venture farther afield.

One of the questions you get asked at reception at Jazz FM is where can I go to hear some jazz downtown. The Rex is of course the go to spot – programming jazz  seven days a week, there is also Azure Lounge – Thursday thru Saturday, the Reservoir of Course and then  one has to make a bit of an excursion to Chalkers in North York, The Old Mill  in the west, ditto Gate 403, Ten Feet Tall in the east and many places which offer jazz a night or two a week.

What is missing for me – although I love our local and Canadian musicians, is the opportunity to hear some of the stellar  acts from further afield especially other than in a big concert hall or during festivals. I personally enjoy the intimate experience of the club – the chance to meet these great musicians plus there is also the opportunity in many cases for local musicians to perform with the visitor –enriching their experience. While I don’t miss the smoking - I really miss an attentive audience and a warm welcome. On a positive note it is nice to see a wide variety of people in the audiences including small children. Here’s hoping for some brave souls to test the waters again soon….

Readers I would love to hear your thoughts on the situation and the future of jazz clubs as well as your fond or even not so fond reminiscences of your favourite boites.

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