February 28, 2008

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On the Scene: Jazz uncovered
Musicians find more calls for standards
By Brian Early bearly@hippopress.com

It’s not that the area doesn’t have a jazz scene. It does. Kinda.

But jazz around here is much like the music scene in general around here: it’s mostly cover songs.

Cover songs in jazz — standards or straight-ahead jazz — sound more intellectual than your average cover of a classic ’80s tune, and they are typically more complex, with improvisation that creates new songs out of old ones.

Finding jazz is fairly easy in the river cities. Hermanos in Concord has jazz four nights a week. UnWined in Manchester has it three nights a week. The Hilton Garden Inn by the Fisher Cats baseball park has jazz often as well. There’s CR Sparks in Bedford on Thursdays. In Nashua, Michael Timothy’s in Nashua has jazz every Friday and Saturday night. Manhattan on Pearl has jazz too, as well as the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

But if you’re looking for original jazz, that’s much harder to come by.

“For the most part, Manchester has a really weak jazz scene,” said Joe Deleault, a local jazz pianist. “It’s hard to get folks out to see the performers. Too many bars in Manchester book classic rock cover bands, and it’s disappointing, because I would like to see more culture in Manchester. I think the possibility is there.”

Don Davis, an alto and soprano sax player, plays with Deleault frequently, and the two have released an album together. He enjoys playing out, but often he’s competing with other distractions.

“I still haven’t played where there isn’t a TV going,” he said. “I hear people applaud, but they’re applauding because someone hit a home run.”

It’s mostly background music, there for hearing, not listening. Frequently, a manager of a restaurant where he plays will tell him to turn the volume down because of a customer complaint.

Before coming to New Hampshire, Davis lived in New York City for some years, playing regular gigs where audiences expected new music and no one told the band to quiet down, he said. In New Hampshire, they want standards.

Deleault agrees: “You can’t go really go out and blow,” he said. The best chance of letting loose is usually the last set of the night, but there are still limits.

The Dream Farm in Hollis is more focused on the musicians. Davis and Deleault played there earlier this month. The Farm has monthly gigs, some public, some private. The Press Room in Portsmouth is another place to hear original music.

While the pay at local gigs isn’t too bad, the two said, it’d be tough to make a living on it. Musicians who do make a living out of jazz in this area have to gig extensively, up to six nights a week, and be willing to travel to Boston and farther to make ends meet. Others supplement their income with music lessons or have 9-to-5 jobs and play in the evenings on the side.

The two aren’t bitter about the scene. They enjoy playing with other musicians, and even though they may need to keep the volume down, they like the creativity jazz allows via improvisation.

“I really enjoy having the opportunity to play with other great musicians,” Deleault said.

They just hope that with all the new restaurants and clubs opening up, someone might take a chance on starting a jazz club. With Boston nearby, it wouldn’t be too difficult to attract talented players.

This edition of “On the Scene” will be the first in a series looking at the popularity (or lack there of) of the different musical genres (hip hop, hard rock, blues) performed live in southern New Hampshire. Comments? Write Brian Early at bearly@hippopress.com.