True affection and passion are too often relegated to the land of the romantic, but it also manifests in simpler ways – if you know where to look.
Consider, for instance, three men – Eli Uttal-Veroff, Brandon Scott Coleman, and Marlin McKay – standing around a couple of bins of jazz on vinyl in the corner of Wild Fig bookstore in a manner more akin to ten-year-olds poring over a vintage comic book collection. The three marvel over the selection, pulling items willy-nilly and talking in excited tones about the finds. Coleman recites lists of the players and their pedigrees, while McKay can’t believe the number of albums he hasn’t even seen yet.
Here they are, three adults with respectable musical careers of their own, unable to contain their joy at a couple possible new additions to what must be staggering record collections.
This potent blend of respect and adoration borders on worship, and it’s exactly that mix of enthusiasm and affection for the genre that they now hope to impart to the Lexington community through the Origins Jazz Series, a new, year-round series of jazz concerts in local venues.
“When people say, ‘I don’t like jazz,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘I haven’t heard the right kind of jazz,’” says Uttal-Veroff, providing a sort of unofficial thesis for the series, which aims to provide local access to multiple forms of jazz as it expands.
Uttal-Veroff credits local Lexington community leaders and current co-collaborators Richard Young (CivicLex), Donald Mason (Lyric Theatre), and Shawn Gannon (Soulful Space) for the spark that led to the series. (UnderMain is also a sponsor.) If those names sound familiar, they should – so many moving parts in Lexington revolve around those folks. They have planted the seed, and Uttal-Veroff, along with Co-Organizer Chester Grundy, members Coleman, McKay and others, have taken it and run with it.
Coleman frames the problem simply: “Growing up as a musician in Kentucky, in Pikeville, it was really hard to find jazz.”
Indeed, much of the conversation centers on the irony that there is arguably no more American form of music that exists, yet access to jazz in America seems increasingly limited.
“It’s a truly American art form. It’s several different styles of music that could only intersect here,” says Uttal-Veroff. The discussion then turns to the overwhelming reception each has received when performing out of the country. Coleman notes the royalties he receives from Spotify are strictly from foreign listeners who can’t get enough.
“The irony is that the music is revered and respected worldwide,” says Grundy. “Everywhere except here, you know, the place of its origins.”
The Origins Jazz Series kicks off at Tee Dee’s Blues Club on October 7th at 7:30 p.m. with a performance by Noah Preminger & Brandon Coleman Trio.
Preminger, 30, was the winner of Downbeat Magazine’s critics poll for “Rising Star on Tenor Saxophone,” and has been described as “ecstatic” and “incantory” by the New York Times.
Jazz as an art form is hard to come by locally, the Origins organizers note, especially for younger musicians finding their way in the genre. In America, the music has failed to command the stature it, by rights, should lay claim to, and most jazz performances still take place in bars or clubs where entrance is forbidden to anyone not of legal drinking age. This prevents younger players from seeing the genre come alive before them, and it could stifle the development of jazz in generations coming up.
The Origins Jazz Series solves this problem by creating shows in all-ages venues, accessible to anyone with a love for the music.
“You can’t grow musicality in a vacuum,” says Coleman. “Bringing these national-level artists and letting them see that and having those up close and personal experiences with them is going to be super, super valuable.”
“Part of the excitement and kind of the nobility of doing something like this is connecting Americans with their own cultural traditions,” says Grundy.
The time for such a venture is now, according to all assembled.
“We have the venues, we have the musicians,” says Uttal-Veroff. “Now we need to bring these things together.”
Exposure to national, regional and local artists is not the only impetus for the series. It’s the notion that there’s an element of live performance that can’t be replicated in a recording. It’s not enough just to listen to the albums – the music has to be experienced directly.
“There are so many things that are aesthetically pleasing about going out to see a live performance,” said McKay, who takes a moment to reflect that so much of benefit of live music comes from seeing the musicians live in the moment, as opposed to the canned and overly-perfected nature of recordings. “The beauty comes in the imperfection, and not really kind of adhering to any preconceived notions about what it should be.”
Uttal-Veroff points out that every single performance is a personal experience that is unique that particular audience, something that no one else in the world will get to experience. McKay agrees:
“To see the passion, the intellect, and all the training and everything come to fruition in one moment that everybody can see…it’s kind of like being on the other side of a famous magic trick and seeing how it all gets put together and still being amazed.”
Enthusiasm for the craft is one thing, but where the Origin Jazz Series earns extra credibility points is in both its partnership with the Xavier University Jazz Series and the person of Chester Grundy, who will be co-organizer of the series.
Grundy created and successfully ran the Spotlight Jazz Series at UK for over three decades. It was the longest-running on-campus jazz series on any college campus in the United States. The series brought to Lexington such luminaries as Sarah Vaughan, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie and more. When Grundy speaks on the “power of the shared cultural experience,” he brings decades of firsthand witness to bear.
“I truly believe there are elements of this music…there are things that can be evoked that can contribute to community-building,” said Grundy. “It’s wonderful to think that the music is in good hands.”
Tickets for the series’ inaugural October 7th performance of the Noah Preminger & Brandon Coleman Trio at Tee Dee’s are $15. $2 from every ticket sold will be donated to combat the opioid epidemic.