[JPL] Bohemia in Brooklyn
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Tue Aug 19 09:33:38 EDT 2008
Bohemia in Brooklyn
by Jennifer Odell
Listen to music by Brooklyn-based jazz artists at www.utne.com/Brooklyn.
For more than 50 years, Manhattan was an epicenter of jazz. The music
especially thrived in areas where crime and abandoned buildings kept the
cost of living low for artists like Charlie ³Bird² Parker, who rented an
apartment at 151 Avenue B.
On a recent rainy Friday night at a café in Park Slope, Brooklyn, as
listeners packed in to hear new music by the bassist Todd Sickafoose
(www.cryptogramophone.com), it was clear that the musical map of New York
City is shifting. The band, mostly Brooklynites, comprised some of New York
City¹s most popular young players, including saxophonist John Ellis and
violinist Jenny Scheinman. Against the sonic backdrop of a coffee grinder¹s
whir and before a mixed crowd of music fans and laptop-engrossed java
drinkers, Sickafoose led the eight-piece group through a dreamy series of
billowy tunes that alternately swung, grooved, and crooned. The vibe was
relaxed, experimental, and bohemian.
As luxury condos sprout up in the Alphabet City neighborhood Bird once
called home, artists have been fleeing to find cheaper rents and more room
for artistic expression.³None of us really can afford or even want to live
in Manhattan,² says saxophonist Andrew D¹Angelo, who has lived in Brooklyn
for about 15 years.
D¹Angelo recorded his latest album, Skadra Degis, for Skirl Records
(www.skirlrecords.com), a Brooklyn-based, artist-run label focusing on the
avant-garde music that is often referred to as ³downtown jazz² because it
once flourished at now-closed clubs like Tonic on the Lower East Side. Many
former ³downtowners² have made their home in Brooklyn, D¹Angelo says, and
³it¹s no wonder that some of the performance opportunities have followed
Jazz has existed in Brooklyn for decades, but this new crop of performance
spaces, record labels, and jazz-oriented artist collectives is starting to
give the borough the kind of reputation for jazz that SoHo and the Village
once had. While cover charges at storied Manhattan clubs like the Blue Note
and the Village Vanguard soar, Brooklyn venues like the Tea Lounge, the
French-themed Barbès, and Williamsburg¹s Rose Live Music offer some of the
city¹s most innovative new music for half the price or less, moving the
local music community south and east.
The changing nature of the music business is another factor driving the
nucleus of new jazz away from Manhattan. ³Most of us believe that there is a
specific lifestyle attitude related to jazz and improvisational music and
linked to Brooklyn,² says bassist Alexis Cuadrado, a charter member of the
Brooklyn Jazz Underground (www.brooklynjazz.org), a collective of 10 local
independent bandleaders. Members work together to ease the burdens of
booking tours, marketing, and recording their work.
The collective also operates an independent artist-run label, BJU Records.
³Artists retain ownership of their recordings and buy in to BJU Records¹
community,² explains collective member and violist/violinist Tanya
Kalmanovitch. The artists benefit from the label¹s national publicity,
distribution, and sales services.
The group has filed for nonprofit status, which will allow it to apply for
grants to fund performances and provide educational programming to
underserved local communitiesan approach that is consistent with the BJU¹s
³flexible, community-oriented, do-it-yourself approach to the business of
artistic life,² Kalmanovitch says. The Juilliard-trained strings player has
also been working with another Brooklyn organization, the Douglass Street
Music Collective, which launched with a festival of new music last spring.
There¹s an explicitly global sound in much of the music. About half the BJU
members incorporate elements of their heritage into their music, from Sunny
Jain¹s pan-Indian concepts to Kalmanovitch¹s jazz-infused cover of a Russian
folk tune. Barbès often features the Peruvian garage-folk of Chicha Libre,
the co-owners¹ band. At a recent show at Rose Live Music, vocalist Samita
Sinha mixed the classical Hindustani music in which she was trained with
elements of jazz.
Even with the benefit of Brooklyn¹s current music scene, John Ellis posits
that in order to make a living playing jazz, a musician in any of New York¹s
boroughs must think creatively, taking on international tours and commercial
gigs and other sources of income.
³The myth of New York as a center of art endures,² notes Ellis, who worries
about the fractured nature of New York¹s jazz community in general. ³But the
reality is that it is not possible to live a bohemian lifestyle in New York
City unless you have some special arrangement. I just asked [saxophonist]
Joel Frahm this same question,² he adds. ³He just moved to Brooklyn after 20
years in Manhattan. He said, Brooklyn feels like Manhattan used to feel
when I first moved to town.¹ ²
Jennifer Odell writes for Down Beat, Relix, and People.
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