By Jason M. Rubin
At a time most venues are doing without live music, the Creative Music Series is bucking the trend with free public concerts in outdoor locations throughout the Boston area.
During the pandemic, music venues haven’t been able to welcome the public in to hear live music. Alex Lemski, founder of Creative Music Series, which stages performances of free jazz and improvisational music, has countered the trend by bringing free concerts to the public in outdoor locations throughout the Boston area. The series began March 20 and continues on a near-weekly basis through the end of June. He also has plans in place for the summer and early fall.
“The concerts are free — donations accepted — thanks in part to grants from the Cambridge Arts Council,” says Lemski, who came to town in 2012 after establishing and running Creative Music Works in Denver for 14 years, and then living in New Jersey. According to the website, he started the organization in 2015 “to showcase the work of adventurous jazz musicians, a reaction to the apparent lack of invitations being extended to accomplished and even unknown musicians to come play in Boston.”
In addition to the Cambridge Arts Council grants, Lemski relies on his own contributions and other grants to present the shows and pay the musicians. After all, even when clubs were open, free jazz attracts a niche audience — those who make it and promote it do so for their love of the music and belief in its importance, not because it leads to a life of riches.
“The Lilypad in Cambridge had essentially been my base up to now,” says Lemski, “but it looks like they won’t be opening until the fall.” And while there are plenty of jazz musicians in Boston, he notes that “there are not too many practitioners of the free here.” As a result, there are some musicians who appear in multiple groups and shows across the series schedule.
The next three shows are as follows:
- Saturday, April 3, 4 p.m., at Watertown Square (Veterans Memorial): Eric Zinman Quartet featuring Zinman on synthesizer, Ellwood Epps on trumpet, Glynis Lomon on cello, and Matt Crane on drums and percussion.
- Saturday, April 17, 4 p.m., at the Veterans Memorial in Watertown Square: Ellwood Epps and Togetherness, featuring Epps on trumpet, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Jorrit Dijkstra on saxophones, Nathan McBride on bass, Curt Newton drums, and Crane on percussion.
- Saturday, April 24, 2 p.m., at Sylvester Baxter Riverfront Park I Assembly Square, Somerville: “Mystic Music on the Mystic River,” featuring Crane on drums, Forbes Graham and Stephen Haynes on various horns, and Ben Stapp on tuba.
The remainder of the currently scheduled shows are a quintet led by Dijkstra in Jamaica Plain on May 1; a group led by guitarist Eric Hofbauer in Watertown on June 4; Bishop leading a quartet in JP on June 12; and bassist Brittany Karlson leading a group in JP sometime during the weekend of June 25. For more information, check out the Creative Music Series website and watch for updates.
While free jazz — which often eschews tonal structures and rhythmic consistency in favor of spontaneity and sonic exploration — might not be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s no better way to test the waters than by taking in free outdoor concerts by talented musicians. COVID-19 safety protocols such as social distancing, face covers, and maximum attendance limits will be enforced at each performance. For music lovers who have been going through withdrawal because of the lack of live music and musicians eager to find opportunities to earn money performing, Lemski’s Creative Music Series is a lifesaver.
Jason M. Rubin has been a professional writer for 35 years, the last 20 as senior creative associate at Libretto Inc., a Boston-based strategic communications agency where he has won awards for his copywriting. He has written for Arts Fuse since 2012. Jason’s first novel, The Grave & The Gay, based on a 17th-century English folk ballad, was published in September 2012. His current book, Ancient Tales Newly Told, released in March 2019, includes an updated version of his first novel along with a new work of historical fiction, King of Kings, about King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Jason is a member of the New England Indie Authors Collective (neiac.org) and holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.