Usually I talk here about the jazz scene at large or the stuff happening locally that is outside of my own personal musical pursuits. However, this time I’m going to be selfish and talk about how February 3 is the five year anniversary of the jazz concert series I host and produce called “Is This Jazz?”.
Back in 2011 I had just graduated university, started a full time groundskeeping job and was trying to figure out where to go with my music. There was a smattering of gigs around town playing standards, but being a composer I was looking to play original material for people who might dig it. Unfortunately the scene didn’t have many offerings and I was left searching. So eventually I figured that if an opportunity wasn’t there already, I was going to have to make one. While looking around I remembered playing AS220’s gallery on Empire Street with a band of mine and recalled clicking with the space. Knowing that they welcome an eclectic collection of groups to perform, I emailed the booker at the time, Maralie, and asked if we might be able to put together a regular showcase for original jazz. On February 3, 2012, at AS220, we hosted the first official ITJ with locals A Troop Of Echoes, Lilly Masse & The Suite Unraveling from Brooklyn, and Boston-based guitarist Eric Hofbauer. The first show had some slight bumps but an audience showed up, the players were burning and those who came walked away grinning while their ears rang.
It would take another couple months and some maneuvering to schedule the second show, but we were able to bring in rising Brooklyn saxophonist John Ellis and his band Double Wide who were in town getting ready to play Newport Jazz Fest’s main stage the next morning. The audience was a good mix of those with insider jazz knowledge and those willing to open their ears, so having this particular ensemble — with their down-home, fun sound but virtuosic writing and playing — allowed us to open up to a wide range of listeners and helped solidify in my mind that jazz is a music for everybody, and that we’d have to be the cats to show ‘em.
From there it became a bimonthly concert series at AS220 with a few random shows around town for good measure. Over the five-year span we’ve hosted the legendary George Garzone & The Fringe and revered musicians such as the Becca Stevens Band, Ideal Bread, Rich Halley, Battle Trance, Rallidae, Ed Tomassi, and hosted local luminaries Greg Abate, Joe Parillo, David Zinno, and Jared Sims. That’s not counting the plethora of incredible local players who have performed, collaborated and evolved alongside us, all of whom have helped define and push the series since our first shows.
In that spirit, to mark this occasion we will be hosting another one of our “Hanging With The Locals” shows in which we will be inviting a few musicians who have meant a lot to us over the past five years to come sit in with the band and showcase some of their best material. For this edition, our house group will be friends of the series Four Agreements, featuring guitarist Clay Nordhill, keyboardist Tom White, bassist Sam Kurzontkowski and drummer Paul DiMartino. Afterward we will open up the stage for a jam so all those who wish to play will be able to come through, sit in and create some more killer music to help celebrate.
I wanted to share this because of how indebted I feel to all who have helped in this effort over these years. It has been a privilege to witness on our stage some of the most adventurous, stirring music that Providence has ever seen and to be part of this incredible community of local musicians, artists and enthusiasts for so long. It is truly due to all your dedication and support that this series marches on. Thank you for giving this music a home here in RI.
Happening Around Town:
The John Allmark Jazz Orchestra; Mondays @ The Met (Pawtucket)
Is This Jazz?; first Friday, bimonthly @ AS220 (Providence) isthisjazz.tumblr.com
Joe Potenza; Fridays @ Rosmarin (Providence)
Groove Merchants; Mondays @ Fifth Element (Newport)
Wednesday Night Sessions; Wednesdays @ Arias Lounge (Providence)
Jazz Jam; Tuesdays @ Ten Rocks (Pawtucket)
Groove E Tuesday; Tuesdays @ Murphy’s Law (Pawtucket)
Parlour Jazz Jam; third Sunday each month @ The Parlour (Providence)
World Class Jazz Night; Thursdays @ Norey’s (Newport)
Matunuck Beach Hot Jazz Party; Thursdays @ The Ocean Mist (Matunuck)
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Ben Shaw is a local composer, performer, writer, and podcaster. Dig into his works at ahueofshaw.tumblr.com or find him on Twitter @ahueofshaw.