Tim Roberts

By Tim Roberts

I've got a few things on my mind I want to tell you about. But I first need to make an important correction to last month's column so it won't get lost after what follows.

The October 18 show for the Bank One Jazz Cabaret Series at the Kentucky Center for the Arts will feature the Dick Sisto Quartet, featuring guitarist Kenny Poole from Cincinnati, who was here for the Bellarmine Jazz Guitar Clinic in June. Dick and Kenny will be joined by Bob Bodley on bass and Gary Claude on drums. I originally reported that Culture Shock, featuring Dick and others, would perform.

For ticket information on that show, call 584-7777.

On to business. . .

I've been covering jazz in this city for about a year-and-a-half. As I said here last December, I approach this monthly column as a writer who likes jazz. I don't play it professionally. In fact, I put down my clarinet almost twenty years ago the day I escaped (legitimately) from high school, which was less than a week after my first and only performance with a jazz band, where I tried to lay down the mellow on a tenor sax. I left music performance because I wanted to do other things. Two years later, I got a deep jazz education by hosting a recorded jazz program on WMKY-FM, the public radio station at Morehead State University.

My point with all that personal history was to show that I know about music and appreciate what musicians go through to bring their art to folks who want to listen. Plus I like telling others about your performances and other news you share with me. Hence: my monthly screed in this newspaper.

However, I've noticed my column becoming more a list of who's playing where and less an exploration of jazz in Louisville: all the personalities, professional issues they face, new projects, new lineups, jazz talent from outside Louisville stopping by to amaze us.

I hate to think I've run out of stuff to write.

To be sure, I have taken on a few more responsibilities with the LMN. I've written six of the last ten cover stories, two of which featured local jazz talent Splatch and Sandy Neumann. I find myself devoting less time to Jazzin' in those months when I have a major story due in the editor's e-mail-box. Perhaps I have been out of touch and I don't know what has really been going on.

At the same time, I know that this is an exciting time for all of Louisville Music. We're still feeling the aftershocks of the Playboy piece declaring our city as one of the Music Meccas. Among the responses: Alderman Keith Allison wants to designate a block of 4th Street as an area exclusively for entertainment, an idea first proposed by Mom's Musician's General Store owner Marvin Maxwell almost a decade ago. We also witnessed the successful City Stage series, concluded last month, where Louisville Jazz was represented well by the Ron Hayden Group, the Java Men, and Splatch.

Were you aware of how those acts were selected to be part of City Stage? Members of the group formerly known as the Louisville Music Consortium submitted a list of local bands they would like to see in a performance. Those three jazz acts showed up on most of the lists.

Perhaps those three bands are the best what's going on with Louisville Jazz. Consider: combined, they have released seven CDs, counting the two the Ron Hayden Group did with other performers. One of which was the spellbinding DisArmageddon, a jazz-opera penned by Jak Son Renfro released last autumn. From what I know, it received little attention and support from the jazz community. Too hard to swallow? Too estranged from the mainstream? Messy and disturbing? Thoughtful and passionate? "Yes" to all of the above.

Meanwhile, the Java Men have toured the Midwest and Northeast, plus they were part of the Louisiana Music-New Orleans Pride Music Conference in late April. Splatch has worked to refine its sound and to fit itself into a number of unique venues. All three bands are working hard on their exposure and paying careful attention to their music. One payoff was being part of City Stage, where people who wouldn't normally see them in their regular nighttime venues got their chance to experience them. Other payoffs will be big.

At the same time, I'm not forgetting the number of nationally-known clinics and workshops that come to town every year, nor am I forgetting Jazz Week at the University of Louisville or the acts the Louisville Jazz Society has for its First Monday series, or the Jazz Cabaret Series at the Kentucky Center for the Arts.

With some exceptions, though, most of the acts booked for First Monday and Jazz Cabaret play the more traditional types of jazz: standards and be-bop selections. Could they bring in more acts that don't play conventional lounge-style jazz? Provide more of a balance of styles? Would more people attend? Would a different audience attend?

More to the point: are we neglecting the most exciting aspects of Louisville Jazz? Are we entrenched in the safety of conventionality? Are we relying too much on our staid audiences and afraid to try something new? Hold your responses to those questions (if you have them) for now.

Other issues: One complaint I've heard that's been accepted as fact is that there's not an audience for jazz in the city. In a town where country music radio rules, that might be true at face value. But I saw Pat Metheny pack The Palace Theater. Jazz and crossover acts appear to sold-out houses at the Lonesome Pine Special. Two Jazz Cabaret shows I saw were both full. Even in the traditional venues around town, there have been nights where I've lost my seat after getting up to get something at the bar. So the audience is there. It may not be consistent, but it's there.

The only major exception is the Joshua Redman performance that was cancelled because of a lack of ticket sales. Score that in the underpromoted column and move on.

Not many venues in Louisville support or even want jazz. You could count them on both hands. The ones that do have regular jazz acts are booked solid. Would more jazz venues be a solution? Maybe we'll have more if Alderman Allison's declaration goes through.

I've thrown out a few issues here and I'm running out of space. What I'd like now are your responses. Am I off the beam? Have I missed anything? What are your concerns as a jazz musician or supporter? You can send your responses by e-mail to tim@roberts.win.net, or mail them to me in care of the LMN. You'll find the address on page 2.

I know we have the talent in this city to make Louisville Jazz an essential, exciting component of Louisville Music. Now. . .how do we do it?