Inside D.C. entertainment

Correction:

The original version of this post incorrectly stated that tonight's show at 443 Eye St. NW is affiliated with the D.C. Jazz Loft series hosted by Capital Bop. Tonight's show is an independent production by the Red Door Loft.

Luke Stewart on the Red Door Loft and the jazz underground

January 4, 2011 - 01:30 PM
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The Red Door Loft
Tonight, The Red Door hosts an appearance by David Ornette Cherry. (Photo: Kyoko Takenaka/CapitalBop.com)

Among D.C.'s aging scenesters, the warehouse space at 443 Eye St. NW may always be thought of as the Hosiery.  A decade ago, the art studio in pre-condo Mt. Vernon Square hosted dozens of openings, parties, and shows, including a 2003 performance by a weird up-and-comer named Devendra Banhart. Among the Brightest Young Things crowd, 443 Eye St. may still be associated with Gold Leaf Studios, the name it inherited when the space changed hands in 2007 and became infamous for late-night parties that attracted more rich GW kids than a Potbelly Sandwich Works.

But these days the studio space has another name – and a new tempo. Tonight, The Red Door Loft at 443 Eye St. hosts an independent jazz show with David Ornette Cherry, son of Don Cherry. 

I spoke to organizer Luke Stewart about tonight's show, the barriers in D.C.'s jazz underground, and what happens when you put a free rock band on a jazz bill. (Here's a hint: The room does not become more full.)

What is the D.C. Jazz Loft?

My friend Giovanni Russonello and I came up with the D.C. Jazz Loft as a way to present jazz in D.C. like the [1970s] loft scene of New York, where artists opened up their spaces for musicians to come play after a gig, rehearse a group, or present new music in an intimate setting. We wanted to take that concept and apply it to the D.C. jazz scene.

Update: Stewart has clarified that tonight's concert is not affiliated with the D.C. Jazz Loft. It is an independent production hosted by The Red Door Loft.

What can people expect to hear tonight?

Tonight we have David Ornette Cherry, who is the son of legendary trumpeter Don Cherry. His music is groove-oriented and extremely funky, but in a Live-Evil sort of way. The opener will be my group OOO (Tri-O Trio) plus Leo Svirsky, a gifted pianist now studying composition in the Haag. We play fire music.

Underground music, from go-go to hardcore punk, thrived in D.C. during periods of urban decline.  But what about during a boom like we're seeing now?  As the local economy grows, could that have an impact on "the underground," and jazz in particular?

It is no secret that jazz has been marginalized to the point where if you aren't Wynton Marsalis or a living jazz legend like Sonny Rollins, you are in the "underground" by default. There is a dichotomy between the jazz played at Blues Alley or the Kennedy Center and what is played at alternative spaces like the now-defunct D.C. Space and Cafe Nema.

The economy definitely has something to do with the number of places there are to play, though. Rising rents force historic venues to close.  Now, even though there are more skilled musicians than ever (people with masters and doctorate degrees in music), there are fewer places to play.

But D.C. has an advantage over New York due to its lack of cutthroat competition. It is more of a community here. People support each other in finding gigs, wherever they might be.

So you think the underground — be it jazz, punk, go-go, or whatever — is still thriving in the D.C. area?

The "underground" in art will never die. As long as there exists people who create outside of even the pursuit of the status quo, there will always be alternative venues and performances in the city. Not everyone can play at the 9:30 Club — not everyone wants to. Some people would rather play in an intimate setting where people will enjoy the music more.

Why would an artist choose to perform at the D.C. Jazz Loft?

In my experience, people are pretty much willing to play anywhere. But the loft is especially enticing because the jazz scene has been without it for a long time. Also, the jazz loft brings together audiences and musicians who would otherwise not cross paths. For instance, in December we brought together the U Street All Stars, who are mostly straight-ahead performers, with free jazz groups. In the larger jazz world, the straight-ahead and free jazz audiences have been at odds for a long time, and in my opinion there is no need for it at all. That polarization is beginning to subside, but the feelings are still there, especially when talking to some older people in the music.

Tell me more about the first D.C. Jazz Loft show last month.

The show was great. We had five different groups of completely different approaches. It attracted a more varied audience than I've seen in D.C. Everyone was genuinely impressed with the music and I think everyone left a little more enlightened. My group OOO opened, playing a mix of prepared and unprepared improvisations. Then Bobby Muncy and his quintet played a great set of original bebop tunes. Then Matta Gawa played their free rock set, which comically cleared the room. People thought they were too loud, but those who stayed were impressed.

Elliot Levin came down from Philly and played a set joined by myself and a great drummer named Louis Rozier who has played with Cecil Taylor and other avant legends. The headliner was the U Street All Stars, made up of some of D.C.'s best young bebop musicians playing a set of standard jazz tunes. It turned into a jam session during their set as musicians in the audience came and sat in. Definitely a memorable night, and a personal highlight of the year. (Watch video from the show.)

I met you through your rock band, Laughing Man. Is there any crossover between people who come to Laughing Man shows, and the people who have or will come to the jazz loft shows?

This is one of the greatest accomplishments for me in this loft venture. I think that too often the local indie scene is centered around mediocre rock, without any regard for other types of music. I love seeing people from that scene see a different kind of music in a place where they would expect to see a grungy garage band. It kinda ups the artistic ante, but also presents a new audience for D.C. jazz musicians. It is people like Laughing Man fans who I especially want to reach, to further open their minds.

For more information about jazz events in D.C, visit CapitalBop.com. To hear funky, progressive, hard, straight, and free jazz sounds, listen to Stewart's radio show on WPFW, Wednesdays every other Wednesday from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Stewart says: "Make sure you become a member supporter... if people do not step up, WPFW will end up as C-SPAN2 radio, or worse."

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