Coming Attractions: Beyond Jazz Week 2011—The Usual Suspects

By J. R. Carroll

Jazz Week 2011 just wrapped up on Sunday, May 8, but for the music clubs, educational institutions, and arts centers that devote all or at least some of their schedule to jazz, every week is Jazz Week. Following up on the first article in this series of three, we’ll turn our attention here to the bedrock of the Boston jazz scene.

For those with a proactive interest in jazz, the venues here–many of which participated in this year’s festivities–will be familiar. Some have excellent food, some don’t. Some have full bars or beer and wine licenses, some don’t. Some have free parking, some don’t. Most have cover charges or ticket sales, but some will, on occasion, host or sponsor events that are free to the public. All of them are vital to the cultural life of the Boston area.

Music Clubs

Housed in hotels on opposite sides of the Charles River but with thematically similar names, Scullers (at the Doubletree Suites in Allston) and the Regattabar (at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge) bring in nationally known performers as well as some of the more prominent Boston-based musicians. The remainder of May at Scullers sees Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and his innovative Afreecanos Quartet (saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum, bassist Childo Tomas and drummer Marque Gilmore) on Thursday, May 12, and, on Thursday, May 26, the triumphal return of the Either/Orchestra from their second visit to Addis Adaba, this one honoring the music of Armenian-born Ethiopian pioneer Nerses Nalbandian; both shows start at 8 p.m. Though the Regattabar will be hosting private parties many evenings in May, the mesmerizing but indescribable (King Crimson meets Morphine meets Steve Reich meets Frank Zappa meets … ???) Garage a Trois (saxophonist Skerik, keyboardist Marco Benevento, vibraphonist Mike Dillon and drummer Stanton Moore) will turn it up to eleven on Friday, May 20, and on Saturday, May 28, Alex Alvear and Mango Blue recap their mid-winter CD launch; both groups will have performances at 7:30 and 10 p.m.

Trumpeter Greg Hopkins

Bandleader Greg Hopkins
Photo by Farnsworth Blalock

Casual and more locally focused, Ryles in Inman Square in Cambridge and the Acton Jazz Cafe out on Great Road in Acton are sustained by friendly contingents of regulars who reliably turn out for their favorite performers from (mostly) the Boston metro area. Ryles’s World Wednesday series this month features a solid lineup (the BC Quintet on May 11, Gonzalo Grau’s Plural on May 18, and Bernal/Eckroth/Ennis on May 25), and the club also hosts a 65th birthday celebration for trumpeter Greg Hopkins and his Nonet on Friday, May 20; all these events are at 9 p.m.

The major event at the Acton Jazz Cafe is, disconcertingly, an all-day fundraiser on May 21 for the cafe itself; an indicator of how this institution is valued is the impressive number of musicians (e.g., drummer Kenwood Dennard and guitarist/vocalist Thaddeus Hogarth in the video above) donating their time to help keep the wolves from the door and the music flowing for another year.

Also located in Inman Square are the cytokinetic siblings spawned by the old Zeitgeist Gallery. The Lily Pad occupies the former Zeitgeist space on Cambridge Street, while Outpost 186 is tucked into the back of a building a block down Hampshire Street from Ryles. Outpost 186 tends to be strongly focused on the more experimental side of improvised music, while the Lily Pad features a more eclectic schedule, but both provide alternatives to the more mainstream offerings of the larger full-time jazz clubs. The rest of May 2011 brings two interesting New York bands to the Lily Pad (a CD release for trombonist Joe Fiedler on Saturday, May 14, 7:30 p.m., and a visit by drummer John Hollenbeck and the Claudia Quintet on Friday, May 20, 9 p.m.), along with a welcome return engagement for the New World Jazz Composers Octet on Sunday, May 15, 8 p.m. Outpost 186, meanwhile, hosts bassist Bruno Raberg and his new Indo-Jazz fusion project Garuda on Thursday, May 19, and New Haven’s Broadcloth Trio on Wednesday, May 25; both performances are at 8 p.m.

Two other clubs feature jazz on a weekly basis, but only on a single evening. Methuen’s Sahara Club hosts a regular Tuesday night series; of note this month is the appearance by guitarist Mark White and his sextet (vocalist Cinzia Spata, trumpeter Ken Cervenka, pianist Scott deOgburn, bassist Winston Maccow, and drummer Ron Savage) on May 17 at 7:30 p.m. On Thursdays, the live music (and Russian cuisine) is in Brookline at Vernissage; May 12 features the unusual Bulgarian-born pianist/accordionist Plamen Karadonev at 8 p.m.

Johnny D’s has anchored the music scene in Somerville’s Davis Square for many years and, while it leans more toward roots music, it typically offers several evenings a month of jazz (often with an experimental bent) and world jazz fusion. During May 2011 they’ll host Nation Beat, where America’s South meets Brazil’s Northeast, on Thursday, May 12, at 8 p.m.; a Latin double bill of Manolo Mairena and Jeremy DeJesus on Friday, May 13, at 10 p.m.; and a rare visit from the powerhouse New Orleans trio of organist Joe Krown, guitarist/vocalist Walter “Wolfman” Washington, and guest drummer Johnny Vidacovich on Friday, May 20, at 9:45 p.m.

Finally, though we tend to take them for granted (unless we’re performers ourselves), let’s not forget the weekly jam sessions. Probably the most venerable of these are the sit-in sessions at Wally’s Cafe in the South End on Saturdays and Sundays at 6 p.m. Sunday is also the day for the afternoon (at 4 p.m.) and evening (at 7:30 p.m.) jam sessions at the Acton Jazz Cafe. And on Tuesdays the Amazing Things Arts Center hosts a jam session at 8 p.m.

Educational Institutions

Performances sponsored by or otherwise connected with the Berklee College of Music occur almost year-round. Concerts in the Berklee Performance Center generally require tickets (prices vary widely), and the student-operated Cafe 939 usually has a cover charge for its events, but concerts in on-campus performance spaces are typically free and open to the public, as are open-air events during the pleasanter months. A notable example of the latter is the upcoming performance on Saturday, May 14, at 5 p.m., in Derby Square, Salem (MA, not NH) by the Berklee World Jazz Octet, a student ensemble co-directed by pianist Alain Mallet and drummer Jamey Haddad.

Jazz performances at the New England Conservatory are somewhat seasonal; from mid-November through mid-December and from early April through early May, concerts by faculty-led student ensembles happen frequently in Pierce Hall, with the jazz orchestras moving to the larger Jordan Hall. The several residencies that take place during the academic year typically conclude with the guest artist(s) leading and performing with a student ensemble. Faculty members also give solo and ensemble recitals from time to time. Virtually all of these events are free and open to the public.

While Berklee and NEC are the cornerstones of jazz education in Boston, outstanding work has been done at Harvard (Tom Everett and the Harvard Jazz Bands just celebrated their 40th anniversary), MIT, Tufts, the Longy School of Music and other colleges and conservatories in the area. Check their calendars for upcoming events.

Arts Centers

While the frequency of performances varies, community arts centers play a vital role in keeping jazz before the public, particularly in locations away from the Boston-Cambridge axis. These include the Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham, the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, the Arts at the Armory series in Somerville, the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center in East Cambridge, the Plymouth Center for the Arts on the South Shore, the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts in the South End, and ZUMIX in East Boston.

While many of these have come to the end of their spring schedules, a few do have noteworthy events in May. Manolo Mairena and Curubande are at the Amazing Things Arts Center on Wednesday, May 18, at 7:30 p.m. Guitarist Larry Baione and his quartet play at the Arsenal Center for the Arts on Monday, May 23, at 7:30 p.m. On Friday, May 13, at 8 p.m., the Alto Army (five, count ’em: Ken Field, Jorrit Dijkstra, Sagit Zilberman, Valerie Walton and Hilary Noble ) marches into Somerville’s Arts at the Armory. Bluesman Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson visits Rockport’s Shalin Liu Performance Center on Friday, May 20, at 7 p.m., and the same evening at 8:30 p.m. Afro-Danish saxophone master John Tchicai performs at East Boston’s ZUMIX.

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