What makes a good music venue?

I’ve been thinking about the common characteristics of my favorite music venues. The venues that I like to play, and the ones that I like to go to for listening, all have a great vibe, but what is it specifically that makes the vibe great?

One might think that, for a listener, things like good sight lines and comfortable space to sit or stand would contribute to a good venue, and many of my favorite listening venues have these characteristics. But I have at least one favorite that has really terrible sight lines to the stage, and it isn’t particularly comfortable, especially in the New Orleans summer with the a/c out. Why do I like to listen to music there?

The main reason is that they program good music. (duh) I always know when I walk in the door that I will hear something interesting. It won’t always be from a bag that I necessarily dig, but it will always be spirited and honest. The place makes the musicians feel free to do what they need to do, and go where the moment moves them. You know the performers aren’t “behaving” because of the venue. Great performers can do their thing in any venue, but the artistic comfort a performer gets from a performance space can really contribute to magical performances.

As a performer, I love the places that are comfortable. Physically comfortable is good, but socially comfortable is what I really mean. There are some places where I feel welcome, even when I don’t know the people. Of course the clubs that I play frequently have bartenders and other staff that I know by name, and that know me. The places where the bartender/staff treat me with respect and make me feel welcome, even for my first gig at the club, are usually good venues because the vibe makes me want to play. You can tell if a place is really about the music by the way they treat the musicians.

What makes you enjoy a music venue? Please leave a comment and let us know. If we can identify the good venues, and the characteristics of good venues, we can enrich the music scenes where we listen and play.

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Aardvark Jazz Orchestra

I love the chain of events that can lead to discovering new music.

A few weeks ago NPR did a story about a trombonist named Jay Keyser. I’m not exactly sure what the story was about. I didn’t hear it. The story was discussed on the trombone-l mailing list, but I didn’t really read the discussions. Dave Gibson did, and he ended up in contact with Jay Keyser. Jay sent Dave a couple of CDs by the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, which is one of the groups Jay plays with. Dave was telling me about these CDs, and the fact that they were nothing like what he expected. They were way farther out. That made my ears perk up. It also made me go to iTunes and buy an Aardvark Jazz Orchestra album. I chose a 1997 release called Psalms & Elegies.

One of the cools things about buying music on iTunes is that you have to deal with the music almost solely in terms of the music. There are no liner notes, no personnel list. No clue to the performers’ intentions other than the sounds they made. Listening on those terms is a great way to remove prejudice and preconception.

Throughout Psalms & Elegies the AJO makes great use of variations of space and color. It is a large ensemble, but they often pare down to small combinations and very effectively add and remove voices so the listener gets very organic transitions from spacious open sonic landscapes to densely intense ones. The large dense sections are also very powerful because of their comparative scarcity in relation to the more sonically spacious sections.

The various colors of the orchestra are also used successfully. Contrasts between brass and woodwind choirs, and the presence or absence of overt groove are common devices on this album. On the almost 30 minute “Psalms” the singer does very modern classical sounds and then later goes bluesy. There is wandering free stuff and fairly straight ahead swinging, and pointillistic squeak and squonk both with and without backbeat.

Even on the parts of the album that don’t have overt grooves being played, I find myself moving my body. There is a sense of pulse that moves throughout the music, even when it isn’t directly articulated. I think that is one of the things that draw me to this. I have a hunch that some of their other albums may be very different from this one. I’ll have to check a few out and confirm that hunch.

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Welcome to Scratch My Brain

Welcome to Scratch My Brain.

There is a lot of very cool art in the world. Music. Literature. Visual Art. Theater. Unclassifiable weird stuff. A large portion of the most adventurous and moving art being made will never be written about in your local newspaper or most music magazines. News of this art spreads from person to person, and through local scenes of open minded people, and adventurous listeners, readers, and art fans.

I have invited several people with great taste and an enjoyment of art that pushes boundaries to post here and share the things that move them. Hopefully some of those things will move you too.

To get the ball rolling, I want to point you to an article written by Dave Taylor and published in the International Trombone Journal entitled “Risk.” I know a trombone journal article usually wouldn’t scratch many brains, but give this one a shot. Dave Taylor is a fascinating cat, and a wonderfully varied musician.

The first paragraph of “Risk”:
Gil Evans and I were walking in Venice one night. He told me that Duke Ellington told him: “If you keep yourself open, you never know who will come along, pull your coat, and take you left.” This article is a personal journal about how I have always believed in this principle.

A pdf of the entire article can be found here.

See you soon, and as Father Valente would say, “only listen to good music.”

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