Sunday, October 24, 2010

A "Life Changing Experience"

About 10 days ago, Nathaniel had a couple of days off from school, around the Columbus Day holiday. A lot of his weekend was spent hanging with his friends. On Thursday night, with no school the next day either, he called to say he and his friends, Pete and Nick, were going to a place near Pete's, together with Pete's folks, to hear some music and did I want to come along?

The draw was this: apparently, they thought my good buddy and jazz guitarist extraordinaire, John Farrar, was playing, and that there was a chance his kid brother Jay was going to show. For those of you not in the know (as I wasn't when I first started playing with John many years ago now), John's brother Jay was in Uncle Tupelo with Jeff Tweedy, and then that band broke up and Jay and Jeff went their separate ways, Jeff forming Wilco and Jay forming Son Volt, both of which bands have had enormous commercial success. Uncle Tupelo is widely credited with creating the "alternative country" genre, and although Wilco may be more generally well-known, Son Volt has a raft of absolutely dedicated fans. They record and tour frequently and have been on Letterman, Austin City Limits and so on and so on. They're big time. And Pete's family in particular are dedicated Son Volt fans, and my son is not far behind.

So I naturally accepted the invitation. Nathaniel tells me to meet at Pete's, as it's walking distance from there. I know Pete's neighborhood, and I don't remember a lot of clubs around there. Then Nathaniel texts me that it's BYOB - and the Holohan family will hook the boys up with sodas, etc., but I might want to chuck a few beers along. And there "might be" food. Curiouser and curiouser.

When I show up to Pete's, I ask his dad Michael what's the deal with this place. He seems mildly surprised I don't know about Joe's Cafe, and says to me slyly, "Well, this is going to be a life changing experience." He wasn't kidding - or far off (or should I say "Farrar off" - sorry couldn't resist).

We walk around the corner (literally) to Joe's Cafe, and Michael is giving me the scoop. Joe's is a private club run by Bill Christman. Bill is a local artist who's had this place going for a number of years. It had in previous iterations been open to the general public, but because of

its proximity to Washington University, it morphed into more of a college hang than Bill really desired. So he shut it down, then reopened it as a private club, open only to members and their guests. Bill kind of has to know you, and who you're bringing. I think Michael even went by earlier in the day to give Bill the heads up that he was bringing three 15/16 year old boys, including his son, as a way to specially vouch for them (they are cool, if I do say so myself).

Around the corner the group encounters Bill, sitting outside the club, with a sign that says "Members - $5, Guests of Members - $10."  The boys are introduced and given the all-clear. I also pass the screening process (not a foregone conclusion, mind you, but Michael said I was a good musician - I think that helped). Michael had been explaining that this place also served as a studio for Bill's eclectic art. Bill designed Beatnik Bob's Museum of Mirth, Mystery and Mayhem at the City Museum in St. Louis. And this place is like walking in to the City Museum, except imagine it in a much smaller space, but the same amount of stuff, and everything crammed together. Everywhere you look there is something really cool. The stage is like a vaudeville stage. Neon lights glow everywhere. We nestle down to great seats, and Michael shows me around. Outside, in the side yard, there is more stuff than you can possibly imagine. Think of going to Gringo Jones near the Botanical Garden, mixed with the City Museum, and a bar with a vaudeville stage. For those who grew up in Southern Illinois, remember old "Big John" in front of the grocery store, towering 30 feet in the air? Well, I found him - he's buried up to his waist in

Bill Christman's side yard, still holding his grocery sacks, but with other stuff all around his big ol' muscular arms. Don't worry - he looks very very happy to be there (at least, he still has that same big grin). Behind him there's an old elevated train car, up on tracks. It just goes on and on. Oh, and did I mention some folks were set up outside cooking up the most delicious BBQ - not part of the club, but clearly "friends of Bill" and the community - $5 or so bought a meal that was pure heaven!

So when we go back in, Michael tells Pete he should give the guys the tour, and I say yes, you've got to see this place. Nathaniel looks up and says he's been before. Michael and I are incredulous that he could have failed to mention it to me, and he says, in absolute earnestness and seriousness, "Why? It's just a place with a bunch of stuff in it." The line of the night - and pure Nathaniel, for those who know him.

So the band filters in. It turns out John is not playing at all, but it is a country group called Colonel Ford. Jay is not the main feature, but just "one of the guys: in the band, playing pedal steel guitar. (Not to worry - there was no shortage of Farrar's - Dade Farrar plays stand up "slap" bass with Colonel Ford, and is a great singer in his own right.) Colonel Ford plays country - and I mean country, complete with fiddle player Justin Brannun who had just won the Grand Masters Fiddle Contest in Nashville earlier in the month. They were playing George Jones, Buck Owens, the whole nine yards. They describe themselves as playing in the "Hillbilly" genre on their Facebook page. I didn't even know that was a genre - I guess that's what you'd call pre-Rockabilly as I think about it. Anyway, everyone had a gas, especially the boys (interesting, as this is not "their" kind of music - but they like good stuff no matter what it is).

Here's a Youtube link to a performance at Joe's Cafe by Colonel Ford earlier this year - I can tell you this video does not do justice to the visual and audio experience of hearing these guys in this venue. You can't help but smile when you're there....

Or, as Nathaniel succinctly put it on Facebook:

"Colonel Ford + Jay Farrar = Fantastic"

Indeed, a man of fewer words than his father. But he says it all.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

So What?

So you met some more jazz musicians? So what?

I'll tell you what's what - they are not just any jazz musicians. If you could name two living jazz composers, who would they be? Chances are, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter would come to mind. Kurt Elling once called Wayne Shorter one of the three greatest jazz composers ever. Not sure who the other two were, but might be Herbie and the great Duke Ellington.

What gives? My firm had purchased a table at the annual St. Louis Symphony gala. Renee Fleming was the feature solo performer. I had gotten advance word that "La Diva" was living up to the title and bringing an entourage that included Mr. Hancock. He of the Miles Davis 1960s jazz quintet (maybe the best ever). He of an incredible collection of jazz compositional masterpieces still being played regularly today (Dolphin Dance, Maiden Voyage, Canteloupe Island, Watermelon Man, Chameleon). He of the crossover hit fame (remember "Rockit"?).

So at the event David Robertson was conducting and starts talking about Renee an Wayne Shorter, how they loved each other's music, etc. I had neglected to pick up a program and was just going with the flow. But it turns out La Diva was singing a world premier of a composition by Wayne Shorter written especially for her. And of course, Wayne was there too. Also a member of the same Miles Davis quintet (I'm batting .600 now, having heard Ron Carter (bass) from that quintet - alas, that batting average won't increase, as Mr. Davis and his wonderful drummer from that quintet, Tony Williams, are no longer with us). Wayne went on to do many other things (Weather Report, e.g.). And he had his own wonderful quintet, and wrote many jazz standards - I would say from a jazz
purists standpoint, more than Mr. Hancock (Footprints, anyone?). On the album where Mr. Elling names him as one of the three all time great composers, he then sings the classic Night Dreamer, then sings Wayne's sax solo, and then Lee Morgan's trumpet solo (Mr. Elling has some wicked skills himself).

Well, you just don't see Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter everyday, let alone together. The only thing that would have made it better is if they would have played with the after-party band. But they didn't. Oh well, so what, as Miles might say. Speaking of which, here is Miles, with the great quintet (Herbie, Wayne, Ron and Tony) doing "So What" on the Steve Allen show in the 1960s: