Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Life is Impermanent...


I had planned to do my second post about a local wine bar, Vinodivino, which featured jazz from the Jed Levy Trio on most Wednesday and Friday nights. Notice I used the past tense. As of last week, this was an ongoing gig. As of today, that gig is no more.

For about one and a half years, you could enjoy great wine with great music from Jed, along with a rotating group of talented pianists and bassists. In the beginning, the trio played mainly the Great American Songbook and jazz standards, along with a few of Jed's own fine originals. Over the months, the gig morphed into an unofficial workshop for the tweaking and perfecting of the new music. And every week, you could generally find me sitting at the table directly behind the one used by the musicians.

It got to the point where I was treated like a non-playing member of the band, rather than just a fan. During the set breaks, the musicians and I would talk about music, politics, current events, general likes and dislikes, and details of our lives. Any walls between listener and performer were completely dissolved. We became like a family initially formed through our mutual love of jazz, and as a result, I also came to know some of these artists' parents, spouses, children and close friends.

Another wonderful benefit was that I developed "educated ears." The music became more alive for me. Watching and listening very closely twice a week for so many months opened up a fuller awareness of the nuances and subtleties of whatever was being played. Furthermore, I became more cognizant of the individual approaches to solos: the differences in touch and tone or improvisations based on different chords and modes, plus a whole slew of other things that seemed like magic to a non-musician like me.

Fortunately, even though this venue is gone, I am still in contact with many of the musicians and since I can catch them playing at other gigs, the music continues. It's just that there was something special about having it right here in my neighborhood, going on while the citizens of Astoria went about living their daily lives which I witnessed through the wine bar's windows. That somehow made the jazz more grounded for me, not a rarified artform meant to be isolated, but something that interacted with and enhanced my world. No concert hall or basement club can ever duplicate this.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The First Post


For decades I have been very serious about my love for jazz. Now I'm not talking about the watered-down smooth variety or the embalmed big band creations that cater mainly to non-adventurous audiences. The jazz I'm referring to is a living music that is still being created anew, even in this age of corporate pop and rap, by performers who want to express themselves without just copying what has been done before. Their influences encompass more than the expected varieties such as swing, bebop or fusion and include world music and rhythms, instrumental classical and opera, or even folk music and bluegrass. They dare to go at times beyond the Great American Songbook and reinterpret, through the filter of jazz improvisation, music by nontraditional sources like The Beatles, Van Morrison, Blondie, Nirvana and Coldplay. They write their own original compositions and create unique charts that redefine what jazz standards should sound like. And through some miraculous force that has blessed my life, I have had the privilege of experiencing the live music of such iconoclasts in venues as small as wine bars and as large as concert halls. In many cases, these artists have even become my friends and acquaintances.

Through future posts, I'll attempt to introduce you to many of these talented instrumentalists and vocalists. Some of them are young enough to be my children. Others have been around for many years but may not have gotten the attention they deserve. However, there is one thing they all have in common: each one is unique, and they truly love the music they have dedicated their lives to. I hope their stories will make you anxious to listen and learn more.