Tim Roberts

Jazzin'
By Tim Roberts

Jazzin'

By Tim Roberts

We've burned off another one. 1999 is quickly running out of daylight. Yeah, sure, it's the month of Solstice and we will be gradually gaining daylight toward the end of the month. Tell that to the line of cars heading to and from dozens of Shopping Mall - Strip Center Wonderlands in the dark at 5:30 in the afternoon.

Regardless of how dark it gets outside, inside we look back on the previous 11 months and either bathe them in nostalgic sepia or throw them under a glaring, cold interrogation lamp. The clichés tell us this is a time of reflection on the accomplishments, near misses, rainouts, and belly flops of the year, which is what I customarily avoid in this column each December. This year, though, there are enough highlights (and otherwise) to present a short review. I'll not gloss it over with sentimentality, nor will I do a squinty analysis and pull every inch of it apart with a pair of zircon-encrusted tweezers. Instead, I present a collage of events and short commentary.

The jazz year in town was loaded with its regular events that are as reliable as the recipe for grandma's apple pie: Jazz Week at U of L, the Bellarmine College Jazz Guitar Clinic, the Summer Jazz Workshops, Jazz at the Water Tower, Jazz in Central Park, and, of course, Sandy Neumann's weekly Jazz Jam at the Rudyard Kipling.

We started off the year with the opening of Mason's, an upscale restaurant on Frankfort Avenue, and its ambitious showcase of new and original jazz every Saturday night. Splatch was a regular act. Bloomington's BeebleBrox paid a visit, as did El Buho and Similar Nature. The concept, and the restaurant, quietly dissolved like newsprint in a hard rain. The building that housed it, which once also housed the bread-bowl souphouse named Gipper's, now contains just another bar on the street I like to call Bistro Alley, with screaming neon beer lights in the window and a plastic banner advertising happy hour specials hanging across the front. It was an honest, hopeful attempt to combine elegance with daring. I think the same thing was said of the Titanic.

One other restaurant on that same street was host to the end of one of this city's most popular and innovative jazz groups. The Java Men held their final performances as a band on April 19 at Clifton's Pizza. Craig Wagner and Ray Rizzo have both taken jobs with Days of the New. Todd Hildreth has continued performing jazz by adding his talents to Etrio. There were two unforgettable moments of the show. The first was when Todd held back a sob when he thanked his two partners before their finale, "Jimmy the Spock," from their debut release A Letter to St. Paul. The second occurred several minutes afterward when they received a long, loud standing ovation after it was finished.

The Java Men are missed, but apparently they're not out of our collective ears just yet. Readers of a competing publication have voted them the Best Jazz Band in Louisville, even though they haven't performed together in nine months. In the short summary of the category, the consistently insightful and concise Marty Rosen is forced into uppercase fury, declaring, "They DON'T EXIST ANYMORE, GET IT!?!?!"

Bobby J. and the Flying Martinis came in second in the poll, with the Dick Sisto Quartet in at third.

The Mercury Paw on Main Street - with its brick interior walls, floor lamps, large iron chandelier, and mosaic-tiled foyer giving it the appearance of an urban hunting lodge - featured music styles that ranged from thrash metal to jazz, sometimes on the same bill. The Chicago Underground Duo appeared there in March. The Java Men had played there a few times. It closed in mid-summer. Its locked iron-gate façade now joins the others along the north side of Main between First and Second - locked and loaded with ghosts of live performances.

Cecilia, Kentucky resident Michael Thomas released The Way I Feel, a smooth-jazz CD. Regular readers of my missives know my feelings about that sub-genre of music. Yet Michael cracked through my cynicism by presenting some superb, tight playing along with support from veterans Darryel Cotton and Bobby Lanz. Meanwhile, Joee Conroy was stretching the jazz envelope in performances of his many esoteric, cerebral jazz outings in Ut Gret and the Urban Bush Ensemble. Plus teaching young folks in the city about jazz got a big boost when Hugh Petersen received a $3,000 grant from the Kentucky Council for the Arts to work with the River City Drum Corps.

If music training for the young got a boost, so did training for the college-aged. The seven-year-old Jazz Studies program at the University of Louisville got a jump on notoriety when world-renown improvisation teacher and New Albany resident Jamey Aebersold lent his name to it. The Jamey Aebersold Jazz Studies Program is now attempting to create an endowment to keep the program growing and interesting. The endowment will be used to establish a Visiting Artist Jazz Chair and provide instruction on instruments currently not offered. The endowment has many levels, ranging from $100 to $10,000 and higher. Other levels are available. If you're interested, call Mike Tracy at the U of L School of Music at 852-6032.

Thanks to reader Hank Blandford. He passed along a short email about how he stumbled into Tomaso's, an Italian restaurant on Fourth Street, where Kinko's used to be in the small shopping center across from U of L. Apparently there are weekly jazz sessions there in the evening. Mr. Blandford, visiting from Frankfort, was there on a Thursday night when a group of student players and others gathered for a jam after 9:30 p.m. He called it "the best free night of listening I can remember." I haven't had a chance to check it out yet. But if you get there before I do, save me a seat.

Lil Gascoyne of the Louisville Jazz Society reports that the next LJS show will be on Sunday, December 5 at 4:00 p.m. at the Comedy Caravan, featuring The Four Freshmen. Future shows will include British guitarist Dave Cliff, performing with Ty Wheeler and Jonathan Higgins. Still in the works is a "Trombonanza" for February 6 at the Comedy Caravan.

Thanks for parking your eyes here for a few minutes each month. Happy Holidays to you and your families. See you here in January, 2000.

"Jazzin'" columnist Tim Roberts refuses to say the phrase, "Where has this year gone?" during December. Send your jazz-related dispatches to tim@troberts.win.net, or to his attention to the editorial offices of Louisville Music News.