Even though roots/Americana and jazz tend to be made, promoted and appreciated in different worlds, I’ve always thought of my love of both as complimentary – not contradictory. Legendary songwriter Harlan Howard famously referred to country music as “three chords and the truth.” So doesn’t that make jazz “100 chords and the truth”? Jazz may use more harmonic colors to get to its end result, but aren’t both trying to speak to the heart?
Actually the best short definition of jazz I ever heard – one that also echoes Mr. Howard’s take on country – is the title of an Oliver Nelson album called Blues And The Abstract Truth. The blues are familiar to almost every American, so they’re the ultimate starting place for a journey into jazz. And in the word “abstract” we confront the reality that most jazz is instrumental. So where country music can assert itself with words that haunt your heart, jazz is a more impressionistic language of emotion. It’s sound, rhythm, timbre and energy filtered through individual minds and souls, working in democratic equilibrium. Too often newcomers listen in vain for a hummable melody, when they might shift their point of view a bit and listen for texture, revelation and expression. Who is that artist playing that horn or piano or drum kit? Well, they’re telling you.
I say all this by way of inviting you to the first-ever Music City Roots Jazz Night. We’ve been talking about it for a long time, and at last we pulled it together, landing a dream team. We have four acts that truly tell the story of Music City’s jazz scene in 2013, plus one out of town friend who’s folk music owes debts to the same blues traditions that undergird jazz.
The night will start with Rahsaan Barber & Everyday Magic. Saxophonist and composer Rahsaan is a Nashville native son who grew up with, trained with and played with his twin brother Roland as the very gifted and enthralling Barber Brothers. Now Rahsaan leads his own straight-ahead jazz band and runs his own promotion company Jazz Music City. Thus did Rahsaan drop his solo debut album in 2011, earning praise nationally. In Barber, you’ll hear an artist schooled in classic jazz but one who relishes hip-hop, soul and other genres as well. As a musician and entrepreneur, he’s going to be a big part of Music City’s future.
To embrace the vocal side of jazz, our invitation went out to another Nashville native who’s made a national name while staying true to her city. Annie Sellick exudes grace, style and savoir faire, as her smoky pipes enliven standards or new work. I’ve enjoyed her in many different settings from the great jazz brunches at Bosco’s to winter nights by the fire at the departed Cafe 123. Being an Annie Sellick fan is just be part and parcel of being a denizen of Music City. She’s bringing along one of her regular collaborative partners – the Hot Club of Nashville. Built around the guitars of Annie’s husband Pat Bergeson (an alum of MCR’s guitar night) and English multi-genre master Richard Smith, the Hot Club takes inspiration from the legendary Django Reinhart as well as golden age Nashville, when Chet Atkins and Hank Garland sought out jazz jam sessions as a break from country sessions. Annie & The Hot Club is pure, sweet chemistry.
Our show closer has become one of the best known instrumentalists in American music over many years as a band mate of Bela Fleck and more recently Dave Matthews. Saxophonist Jeff Coffin is a strikingly individual player with an open mind and the incredible technical skills to pull off his wild and exciting ideas. His band is called the Mu’Tet, after the mutations he seeks in his musical excursions. His latest is captured on the album Into The Air, which picks up the torch of jazz fusion as it sounded in the early 70s when Weather Report was among the best known bands in America. This will be a massively powerful ensemble, with a scion of the Weather Report legacy playing bass – Jaco Pastorius’s son Felix. Plus our pal Roy “Futureman” Wooten on percussion and other notables. It’s a rare opportunity.
Coloring even further outside the lines will be returning MCR artist Ryan Cavanaugh, the nation’s new top dog of jazz banjo. How perfect to celebrate a signature instrument of bluegrass and Nashville in a radical new setting. Instead of a traditional band, Ryan will pair up with keyboard innovator Tyson Rogers for a spare banjo/keyboard duo. Anybody who picked up that East Nashville Christmas anthology we collaborated with last December will know about the Cavanaugh/Rogers take on “My Favorite Things.” It’s quite amazing, and they should be playing it on Wednesday.
And while David Jacobs-Strain is more typically what we trade in at MCR, his folk blues draw from the same traditions that gave jazz its start in life. DJS is a frequent guest on our show and a favorite among the singer-songwriter set. His new album Genesco is going to make a lot of new fans. He’s also a stunning acoustic guitarist with chord ideas that will make the jazz cats take note.
So if you’re already in the jazz cult (I fear we’re so small and loyal that the word applies) then I know you’ll do everything you can to make it out or watch our stream. If jazz spooks you for whatever reason, then all the more reason to come. Jazz is not just many things. It’s everything. There are more sounds and moods and tones than can be found an any other genre. Some is noisy and deranged; some is as easy going and tuneful as a Patsy Cline song. It has no one or five or one hundred sounds. It’s quite literally as diverse as the human spirit, because it’s intended to be the sound of the human spirit communicating and creating in real time. Otherwise known as music.