Jazz 98.5  FM WSAX-LP
ed Stories

Jim Meredith
Jazz 98.5 FM Editor

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Who’s Who – An historical perspective of jazz in Columbus

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“The community came to the Lincoln for the latest films, vaudeville, and her signature specialtyjazz.  From the 1930s to the early 1960s, the King-Lincoln District was known nationally as a major jazz center, and the Ogden Club (later renamed the Lincoln Ballroom) on the second floor of the building
became one of the most popular venues in the country for live jazz. Since downtown hotels served "whites only," traveling African-American musicians and performers were housed in King-Lincoln hotels, many just blocks from the Lincoln.  Ironically, the racial intolerance which put these musicians in such close proximity to the theatre is believed to have ultimately graced the Lincoln with appearances from legends such as Count Basie, James Brown, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Etta James, and Columbus native Nancy Wilson.”

In the years to follow, yes, during Ms. Wilson’s tenure in the Columbus area, Columbus was a different town.  Jazz music lovers could venture out and capture great live jazz and other music at places like the following:

The Novelty Food Bar               The St. Clair Hotel

The American Legion Hall         The LVA Club

The Pythian Theater                 The Downbeat Club

The Pine                                 The Lincoln Theater

McOwn's Lounge                     The Great Southern Theater

The Tippin Inn                          The Bottoms Up Club

The Railroad Club                    The Underground

The 502 Lounge                       The Masonic Temple

The Empress Theater                                                  

Indeed, it was a different time.  One thing that many people may not remember, and something that I deliberately omitted from the list above, is that the list doesn’t include a somewhat forgotten venue.  Because of the times, it made it necessary for African Americans living in the Mt. Vernon Avenue and Long Street area to take a major step in creating an additional place for recreation and live music entertainment by establishing and building their own country club.

Just outside the Columbus proper, residents of the community purchased land in what is now Gahanna and built the Big Walnut Country Club.  More information about Big Walnut will perhaps appear in
a separate article, but remember the name.

Jazz In Columbus Today

So, where are we today you ask?   The pioneering artists and greats of our past that are not mentioned in this article paved the way for the following artists to become successful and flourish.  Their contributions have not been forgotten or ignored.

Columbus remains a vibrant city, still churning out great jazz musicians however, not unlike many cities around the country, Columbus does not have the support structure to maintain an equally vibrant quality nightlife that perpetuates jazz music and its jazz musicians.  Fewer venues translate to fewer performance opportunities, fewer patrons, a reduction in fees available to pay the musicians, no commercial radio stations and the advertising revenue that supports them and ultimately, these factors may result in less to no jazz.

Current Venues

The current venues that offer jazz, primarily do so on specific days or evenings.  Many are restaurants and not necessarily dedicated to providing jazz as its primary form of live music entertainment.  On some evenings you can expect to find other music genres being offered and the groups playing them, so don’t make an impromptu stop expecting jazz without first contacting the venue.  The list of venues that support live jazz in the Columbus area includes:

 The Lincoln Theater
 The King Arts Complex
 (Pythian Theater)
 Shadowbox Live 
 Backstage Bistro
 Aladdin Shrine Center
 The Worthington Inn LaScala
 The Refectory Park Tavern
 Bungalow Jazz
 (private residence)
 Barrell 44 (formerly The
 Bexley Monk)
 The Top Dick’s Den
 J Liu
 Clintonville Woman’s Club
 Sidebar 122 Restaurant
 Rumba Café
 Mitchell’s Ocean Club 
 Barcelona Restaurant
 Hyde Park Grille
 de-Novo Bistro & Bar
 Vonn Jazz*
 The Brownstone* 

*  Closed and no longer doing business

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Michael Buble'

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Wow, he pulled it off!  Bublé came, he sang and he conquered the audience, the large expanse of the arena and delivered his sophisticated, modern, upbeat, stylish, cool and slick new approach to covering and making jazz standards his own.  He made most people feel at home or in an intimate setting as opposed to being in an arena.

The crowd was comprised of the young and the old but make no mistake, it was filled with admiring women who came to see and hear Michael Bublé sing of love, romance and to sing to them.  And almost like the atmosphere found at a rock concert (except with a more sedate and sophisticated crowd), with Michael's encouragement, people respectfully danced, sang along and stood up through much of the concert.

He started the concert off by suggesting his appearance be considered a party and then went on to suggest starting things off in a depressing way.  It wasn't depressing and you knew it was going to get lively.  Is he the heir apparent and new torch bearer of the crooner crowd of old?  Again, I'll let you be the judge.

Crooners, singers that sang love songs and romantic ballads such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin and many others, lived in a different time and place in our recent past.  It was the 1920's through the 1960's.  World Wars had been fought and people's values were a little different.  Musicals were in vogue, radio was king and television was new.  Movie stars were considered glamorous and Rock and Roll hadn't taken the country by storm.  Entertainers almost always wore suits and in many cases, tuxedos.

Michael Bublé is not a crooner of old.  He's the new generation, the now generation with a different style, character and charisma.  During a moment at his concert, he acknowledged his respect and admiration for those that came before him but admitted he admired Michael Jackson more.  He is not trying to emulate Sinatra or any of the other singers of that period.  Rather, he's creating his own style and thanks to him, he's keeping the big band/crooner style alive and introducing it to the new generation that never got the opportunity to know and appreciate the music and artists from that era.

He showed us his sense of humour (spelled for any Canadian readers) as he often joked with the audience and made fun of himself and his band members.  He worked the crowd like the polished professional he is.  He let his band show their stuff and he showed an even more humble, compassionate and respectful side to his persona when he thanked everyone for paying good money during these economic times to come see him.  He said he practices that thought every day and would return to Columbus as often as the fans would have him.  In fact, he acknowledged the thought that he didn't take any of the fame, success and adulation for granted and hoped he could still be doing this ... "when I'm an old fart."

Towards the end of his show, he left the stage and walked to the 'front of house' area (middle of the arena), to sing to fans sitting far from the stage.  It was a great gesture and very much appreciated.  Michael Bublé is a brilliant and talented performer.  He's as talented a performer as you'd ever want to see.  Who better to carry the torch into the future?  

The show opened with the Vocal Play seven man group, Naturally 7.  From the comments heard around the arena, the crowd didn't know what to expect but comments made during and after the show made it quite clear that the group gave a strong and powerful performance.  One patron was overheard commenting that the group was a perfect opening act for Michael Bublé.  It was obvious most of the folks in the arena felt the same way as they gave the group a boisterous standing ovation at the end of their performance. - END

Article by: Sax Johnson

The Golden Era

Columbus OH

I developed a taste for jazz during a period of time I call ”the golden era.”  I recall the days when a trip to a Columbus, Dayton, Yellow Springs, Cincinnati, or Lexington record store was sure to present that difficult dilemma:  the need to decide what I could afford to buy this time and what to leave behind, hoping that it would still be there when I had more cash on my next visit to that area.  Realize, my “golden era” took place during the mid 1970’s, the era of the twelve-inch vinyl LP.

The scratch-free seventy-five-minute CD was still far beyond what anyone could imagine.  In those days the thrift stores were favorite places for me to spend a few moments, seeking that unrecognized treasure that could be had for only fifty cents--if I could tolerate a certain amount of LP surface noise.  Non-commercial FM radio was had planted the jazz seed in my heart.  Richmond, Kentucky’s, WEKU and Yellow Springs’ WYSO were particular favorites, introducing me to names that were otherwise unknown to me:  Deodato, Jimmy Smith, Chick Corea, Bill Watrous, the Brecker Brothers, Billy Cobham, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Weather Report, just to name a few.

This music had a certain hipness to it, making me feel as if I had discovered something that the general public neither recognized nor understood.  While “Dixieland” was a label many people used to describe their concept of ”jazz music,” my newly-discovered jazz was electric and more modern-sounding.  The August 8, 1977 issue of Newsweek magazine put Herbie Hancock’s picture on the front cover, accompanied by the caption, “Jazz comes back!”

It’s easy for me to declare that no era—present or future—could ever match the magic of my “golden era.”  Most of the record stores I recall from those days have closed.  [Does anyone other than me recall the “Peaches” chain?]  Today Columbia and the other large record companies do not regard jazz recordings as profitable.

The Manhattan Transfer’s Cheryl Bentyne recently told me that no member of that group—individually or collectively—has a current recording contract.  The Manhattan Transfer has been making records for forty years!!  I can recall no more than once or twice that an American Idol contestant performed a jazz vocal on that show. Yet, such facts notwithstanding, I still stubbornly insist that this era can be another “golden era” for jazz lovers.

Today’s Internet makes much more free music available than was the case when I had to turn the tuning knob with a surgeon’s sensitivity in order to bring in a distant radio signal.  In a sense, the Internet is a huge record store.  While actual bricks-and-mortar record stores are much less plentiful than in past days, they can still be found.  Columbus’ Used Kids records [North High Street, across from the OSU campus] deserves our support.  Thrift store browsing can still turn up the occasional rare treasure, especially if you still have an old-style record player.

Perhaps most significantly, we who reside in or near Columbus are blessed with an abundance of live jazz during the warm months of the year.  While most of the summer concerts feature various local musicians, it’s important to realize that many of our local players can hold their own when compared with today’s better-known stars.  If you are a dyed-in-the-wool jazz lover, take a few moments to introduce a friend to your favorite kind of music.

Musical pleasures are enjoyed much more when shared.  An invitation to a record store visit, a YouTube listen, or a picnic lunch at a summer festival can be a means by which that friend begins to understand why you’re always listening to “that music” through your headphones or while in your car.  2015 can be recalled as a “golden era” for someone who is newly discovering the treasures of jazz. - END

Article by: Jim Meredith