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Community News

Jim Meredith
Jazz 98.5 FM Editor

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.

Article by: Jim Meredith

Gene "King Saxe" Walker

Columbus OH

Native Columbus saxophonist Gene Walker died July 21, 2014, from several health complica-
tions at age 76.  As a popular sideman early in his musical career, a tour with fellow sax player King Curtis brought Gene the opportunity to open for the Beatles during a 1965 concert at New York’s Shea Stadium.  His career also included gigs with Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and Neil Diamond.

Though he excelled in the popular musical realm, he loved being a jazz musician.  “It was a badge he wore proudly,” said Ted McDaniel, director of the jazz-studies program at Ohio State University, where Walker earned an undergraduate degree at age fifty and where he became a member of the music faculty. 
Although diabetes and an enlarged heart slowed Walker in his later years, he continued to travel and perform at various venues.  He was well acquainted with the jazz repertoire, having included on his own recordings such standards as ‘Lover Man,” “That’s All,” “Hey There,” and “Parker’s Mood.”  

A Near East Side Columbus native, Walker’s love for the saxophone began when, as a child, he’d sneak into shows at the Lincoln Theatre and at neighborhood clubs. When asked about the key to his successful career, Walker once replied humbly, “The magic is doing what your God tells you to do.  I never became fabulously rich, but at least I’m entertaining people.” 
One of Walker’s childhood friends was the Columbus saxophonist Gene knew as “Ronnie,” but who later became known as Rahsaan Roland Kirk.  According to Kirk’s biography, “Ronnie” called up Walker one day and asked him to take him to a local music store.  At that store Kirk purchased an old saxophone-like instrument that he called his “manzello.”  Not long after that, Kirk also acquired another saxophone-like instrument that he called a “stritch.”  Kirk’s flair for showmanship, combined with his exotic instruments and a string of recordings on Mercury and Atlantic records, boosted him to international jazz stardom.  Jimi Hendrix once called Kirk “my favorite musician.”

Kirk could be said to have acquired a bigger inter-
national reputation than his childhood friend.  Yet, when jazz artists are evaluated in terms of expressive-
ness, honesty, and genuine soul, Gene Walker stands near the top.  Roxie Ball, in her liner notes accom-panying Gene’s Last Night In Manhattan cd, writes these words:  “ . . . beneath the form is the magic of Gene Walker, his soul, and his heart.  The band lives through each song and every pause, every inflection is important.  So listen well and listen often.  You will be the richer for it.”

Article by: Jim Meredith

Michael Buble'

Columbus OH 

Wednesday evening Michael Bublé made a return appearance here in Columbus.  This time instead of performing in a theater, Bublé had to hold an audience's attention in an arena.

If you think that's an easy task, try visualizing, imagining and then comparing a 2,827 seat theater, as he had appeared in earlier at the Palace Theater, to Nationwide Arena which holds up to 20,000 people when configured for a concert.  Got that visualization in your head now?

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.

Article by: Sax Johnson

Naturally 7

Columbus OH

Naturally 7 is coming to Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday, June 30, 2009, and without a doubt, Columbus, this is a group and performance you will absolutely love!  Naturally 7 is an American musical group from the New York area who has honed their craft in the American, Canadian and European marketplaces.  They have a distinct a cappella style they call "Vocal Play" and although they sing primarily R&B with extensive beat-boxing, they also put their spin on a number of jazz and pop classics.

I had the pleasure of meeting the group and catching their act when they performed at the 2008 TD Canada Trust–Ottawa Jazz Festival, where they also appeared on the same show with Gladys Knight, Wynton Marsalis, Chic Corea and his original Return To Forever members, Stanley Clarke, Al Di Meola and Lenny White. along with many other notable musicians that evening.  They were given a long and rousing standing ovation and the lines that formed to buy their CD stretched almost fifty yards in two separate lines, each!  I’m proud to say that the band members were all as down to earth, well grounded, humble, polite and as respectful as they were talented.

Their act was absolutely amazing and captivated the audience under a perfect Ottawa moonlit evening.  Their individual vocal talents shined brightly and their harmonies were right on the mark.  Even more incredible was their “Vocal Play” talent of imitating the various musical instruments in such a profound way that if you hadn’t been there to see and hear it, you wouldn’t have believed they weren’t being accompanied by a tight instrumental band backing them up.

Without a doubt, these are some bad cats and you won’t want to miss seeing their incredible performance when they take the stage on June 30 as they open for Award winning Canadian artist Michael Bublé’s “Crazy Love Tour”, presented by Nordstrom, at Nationwide Arena.  This is a must see show and well worth the time and money to see them in concert alone.  Of course, you’ll equally love Michael Bublé, so you’re in for a double treat!

As outlined in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Naturally 7 consists of Roger Thomas (musical director, arranger, 1st baritone, Rap), Warren Thomas (percussion, guitar, clarinet, 3rd tenor), Rod Eldridge (1st tenor, scratching, trumpet), Jamal Reed (4th tenor, electric guitar), Dwight Stewart (2nd baritone), Garfield Buckley (2nd tenor, harmonica) and Armand "Hops" Hutton (bass).  Former members are Marcus Davis and Andre Edwards

They spawned two Hit-Singles, a cover of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" which was an international Top-Twenty song (France, Italy) and "Music Is the Key" with German singer Sarah Connor which hit number 1 in Germany and the Top-Ten in Switzerland, Poland and Austria.

The band has now recorded four albums - "Non Fiction", the aptly titled "What Is It" which spawned the #1 German hit "Music is the Key" (a duet with German singer Sarah Connor), "Christmas - It's a Love Story", and "Ready II Fly".  The last contains the radio and You Tube hit "Feel It (In the Air Tonight)".

On July 12, 2007, they performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival, together with artists like Al Jarreau and George Benson.  In July 2008 they performed at Quincy Jones' 75th Birthday concert in Montreux and the audience's reception of them attracted the notice of Tavis Smiley, who subsequently invited the group to perform on his television show.

In May, they made their national U.S. Television debut on Ellen and joined Michael Bublé for a guest appearance on The Today Show.

More recently they opened for Jay Leno in Las Vegas and performed at NARM.

On February 4, 2009, they performed "Fly Baby" for the 2009 TED Conference.

On March 18, 2009, they appeared on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," performing "Wall of Sound".

On June 6, 2009, they appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition and performed "Feel It (In the Air Tonight)"

On July 10, 2009, they appeared on The Late Late Show singing with Michael Bublé and performed "Stardust"

On November 20, 2009 they performed Feel It (In The Air Tonight) on Children In Need 2009.

Article by: Sax Johnson

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

Columbus OH 

I was commis-sioned to write this article relative to exploring the historical perspective of jazz in Columbus and where it is today. From my own personal knowledge about the past, the present and my vision of the future, I concluded there is a tremendously important story to tell here but, it would require more information than this small article could contain.

Columbus has a storied and vibrant history of providing jazz music to the world.  Columbus has also given of itself.  The same holds true in giving many of its favorite sons and daughters to the music genre we love and call jazz.  The musicians who have contributed to this magnificent art form are not only talented, but good wholesome, humble and respectful souls, as one would expect coming from the Columbus area.

Make no mistake, Columbus is not New Orleans, St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles or New York but it cannot be forgotten or be denied as having produced a plethora of jazz musicians that helped shape and twist this genre to make it what it was yesterday, what it is today and what it will be tomorrow.

To many, when Columbus is mentioned, the legendary and talented, unmistakable voice, grace and style of Nancy Wilson comes to mind first, along with such names as Rusty Bryant and Hank Marr.  However, there were many talented jazz musicians that came before Ms. Wilson and the other aforementioned musical giants.  This article will not include those that came before but, because of them, scores of others have followed and they deserve more than a mention.  Yes, we could say that Ms. Wilson and the recent others mentioned, are and were certainly leaders of the pack, and deservedly so.  I salute you before going any further.

The history of America where African Americans are concerned and the physical, social, political and economic roads traveled to get here helped shape and make Columbus a crossroads for music.  Whether this is true because of Slavery and its consequences, the constitutional amendment of 1896, Plessey vs. Ferguson that made separate but equal the law of the land, the depression, World War I or II, the 1954 Brown vs. The Board of Education, Topeka Kansas, decision that reversed the notion of separate but equal being constitutional, the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, or the exodus from the south to find a better living environment and work in the North, for whatever the reason, Columbus had many venues that supported and hosted jazz, specifically in the Black community, on the financially and vital thoroughfares bordering, adjacent to, or along Mt. Vernon Avenue and Long Street.

Further in support of this notion, as taken from information contained on the Columbus Lincoln Theater website defining the history of the Theater, it is written that,  “In the 1930s and '40s, downtown Columbus' near east side was home to an affluent African-American business and entertainment district, known today as the King-Lincoln District.  At the time, segregation actually fueled the commercial and cultural development of the area, as African-American consumers could only patronize the African-American businesses in the neighborhood.  As a result, a thriving, self-sufficient community developed which celebrated its cultural heritage and created its own opportunity.”

“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               The Idle-A-While Bar

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

The city is certainly making an effort to support the
art form through programs or groups such as the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, through the Jazz Arts Group and their youth related school jazz programs that helps fill the pipeline of new students learning the jazz music genre and art form.  Here are those that have flourished, survived and/or, are up in coming:

Tomorrow and Conclusion

The stark reality is that in my opinion, without the continued education of the public that listens to and enjoys jazz, the number of enthusiasts, fans, musicians and venues may continue to dwindle.  The art form of jazz will not die but, when one considers that jazz has splintered into over 30 various sub-genres, whether as a result of the individual musician’s playing style, and/or the music industry’s intentional or unintentional effort to separate, define or redefine the various nuances, rhythms and styles of the music, keeping the public interest and enthusiasm becomes an even more difficult task.

Today, there are fewer venues hosting live jazz music as a staple.  In Columbus today, there is no commercial jazz radio station.  When you factor in the decline of the number of radio stations that carry jazz as a format, thus reducing the number of places where people can listen to jazz via the radio medium and, you also factor in the loss of venues that specifically offer jazz as its regular and primary format that features jazz in a true jazz club venue environment, you can quickly see and understand the decline in the number of places that give home to jazz musicians to practice and hone their craft, and/or win over new supporters and fans.  It also doesn’t help that music education in our schools has been reduced or discontinued.

For readers that are not aware, there is a community radio station that stood up, changed its format entirely dedicated to jazz music, branded itself as such, and now carries the torch as the only jazz radio station in Columbus.  That radio station is Jazz 102.1 FM, WCRX-LP.  They’re currently on the air 12 hours a day from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily but deserve to be heard.  More information about the station is available at www.myjazz102.com.  Help support their effort to keep jazz music on the radio and feature your local Columbus jazz musicians.

We need more venues and radio stations to carry this wonderful music if the art form is to flourish and survive.  Do your part.  Support local jazz music, the musicians, the venues and the radio stations, and jazz will live on as more than a memory.

Article by: Sax Johnson