ON THE BEAN: Jason Palmer will turn the heads of skeptics who think "jazz" is a kid from Berklee playing too many notes.
It's Jazz Week time again — that time when the Boston jazz community looks to expand its minority-appeal music to a larger public. It recalls that moment æons ago when Bill Cosby, filling in for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, introduced Sonny Rollins. As James Isaacs wrote at the time, Cos, then the spokesman for Del Monte, presented Sonny as if he were urging a lima bean on an implacable child.
"The message everyone wanted to get out this year," says Pauline Bilsky, executive director of JazzBoston, the non-profit group behind Jazz Week (April 25–May 3), "is that jazz is many kinds of sound and many kinds of experiences, and it does something for everyone at every time of life and in every circumstance. And it isn't just for insiders, and you don't have to know a whole lot about it to enjoy it. And we wanted to convey the idea that jazz is fun, because too many people have lost sight of that."
Oh my. I get it, I really do, but part of me can't help feeling: "No, really, it's no fun. Go away and leave me alone. I'll go check out Dave Bryant and Bern Nix with 25 other people at Outpost 186 and you can . . . do whatever it is you do."
But JazzBoston is nicer than I am, and so is Jazz Week. This is the third year for the event in its current guise. JazzBoston does not produce concerts. It's simply a coalition of fans, musicians, club bookers, presenters, and publicists whose goal is audience development: raising awareness of jazz through educational programs and its Web site. So if you're booking or playing jazz of any kind April 25–May 3, you can be part of Jazz Week and jump on board with JazzBoston's marketing efforts — which include highlighted listings on its Web site, inclusion in its elegant brochure, and various boosts from sponsors like the Phoenix/WFNX and WGBH.
Jazz Week (based on an eponymous event presented by the Jazz Coalition back in the '70s) has had collateral benefits. Different venues — bars, restaurants, clubs — are asked to try jazz for a week, or even a night. In return, they benefit from the added signage and general hoopla. In some cases, a one-off turns into a policy — jazz year-round, whether five nights a week or a Monday jam session.
This year, JazzBoston is using Jazz Week to launch its "What's Your Jazz?" initiative. That came out of a meeting last November at the Boston Public Library to which JazzBoston had invited not just the usual suspects but folks from across the spectrum of the arts community, among them representatives from the MFA and the Gardner Museum. Bilsky: "The #1 conclusion was that we needed to send a new message and reach new audiences, that jazz needed to be presented differently." People suggested a "Got Milk?" kind of idea, and long-time wise man of local jazz marketing, Scullers booker Fred Taylor, came up with the "What's Your Jazz?" line. Bilsky is hoping the initiative will attract e-mails and video responses and help generally raise consciousness about jazz.
A Jazz Week sampler
JAZZ MEETS SALSA | Villa Victoria Center for the Arts, Boston | April 25 at 8 pm | There's no easier way to convince yourself that jazz is "fun" than to spend a couple of hours shaking your butt to Afro-Latin dance rhythms while soloists blow the roof off the joint. Dance lessons are included; music is by pan-American jazz avatar Alex Alvear and Manguito.
MUSIC INN | Boston Public Library, Boston | April 28 at 6 pm | The Lenox summer workshop documented in this film by George Schuller was the jazz version of Tanglewood. Ornette Coleman, Ran Blake, John Lewis, Jimmy Giuffre, and George's dad, Gunther, all traded roles as students and teachers. Blake and Schuller père will be on hand to discuss, and — hint! — five minutes in the presence of these two is enough to make you want to find out everything you possibly can about jazz.
DAVE BRYANT/BERN NIX QUINTET | Outpost 186, Cambridge | May 2 at 8 pm | For years, keyboardist Bryant and guitarist Nix were cornerstones of Ornette Coleman's Prime Time Band. Check them out if you want to hear why the best of the jazz avant-garde is as focused as it is ferocious.
JASON PALMER | Wally's Cafe, Boston | May 2 at 9 pm | Trumpeter Palmer is the perfect guy to introduce you to legendary jazz hangout Wally's — thoughtful, deep, he'll disabuse you of the notion that jazz is just a kid from Berklee playing too many notes.
Whatever. In the meantime, there are more than 200 events posted as part of Jazz Week this year at more than 80 venues, with, Bilsky points out, a greater diversity that takes in everything from "Jazz Meets Salsa" at Villa Victoria to the avant-garde at places like Outpost 186 and the Lily Pad. Given the crashing economy, Jazz Week has also made inroads with special deals and free events. There are even special Jazz Week menus at area restaurants. And, yes, if you go see Cindy Blackman at the Regattabar on Tuesday night and ask yourself the obvious question vis-à-vis Jazz Week, Blackman, and the Regattabar, Bilsky has an answer: "It's true that a lot of this would be going on anyway, but even that is just the point: it might be going on anyway, but people wouldn't know it. Like trees falling in a forest."