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Jazz Is Alive Online, or My Week of Listening Virtually: Day Seven

Lee Mergner reports in on the seventh day of his immersion in online jazz performances over the course of a week

Bobby Floyd & Byron Stripling online
Bobby Floyd and Byron Stripling in a performance from Jazz Interludes produced by Vail Jazz

When I tell people that for seven days, I’m watching as many live streams of jazz shows as I can, they ask, “Where do you find the time?” Well, for one thing, nearly all of them start after 6 p.m. each day. For another, it helps to cut out TV watching, which I know may seem contradictory—eliminate TV so you can watch TV (albeit on your computer)? But anyone who’s a sports fan knows that you can kill hours watching television without even noticing the time go by. Did you know that if you watch just the actual playing of a NFL football game, it takes about 30 minutes? And don’t get me started on the teaser and segue tricks by HGTV or the Food Network, who move you right from one show into the next without you even realizing it. Hours can go by without you doing much of anything.

In addition, with many of these streams, it really wasn’t necessary to watch every moment, especially since some had the visual sophistication of a surveillance camera. It was much more important to simply listen, which meant that I (or you) could do all sorts of things during that time, as long as the volume was still cranking. What things? Well, here’s a list of just a few things I did during this seven-day online marathon:

Watched a Sunday Night Football game (with the sound off, of course)
Made dinner
Made homemade ice cream (flavors included peach, strawberry, chocolate, butter almond)
Cleaned the house
Did laundry
Cut my own hair
Read a book (Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan)
Shared posts on Facebook
Scanned family photos
Organized receipts for taxes (hoping to pay no more than $750 next year)
Paid household bills
Shopped online
Drank multiple glasses of red wine
Wrote this article and eight others
Knitted a scarf (No, I made that one up)

So don’t let a little issue like time management stop you from enjoying jazz being performed online. There’s more music available to you than ever before. And you don’t even have to pick out something special to wear. In a final article, I’ll share the lessons I learned from this experience, so you won’t have to make the same mistakes I did. Unless you want to, which is fine.

What follows is my final day of binge-watching jazz online. My apologies to anyone or anything I may have missed during this run, but this was always meant to be a sampling of what’s out there, not a comprehensive survey. I did my best to mix things up. There were also a few streams that were so lousy I felt no need to share my observations. With so many artists, organizations, and venues struggling, it just didn’t seem right to throw shade on an already dark situation.

Day Seven: Wednesday, Nov. 18

3 p.m. Adrian Cunningham for Jazz Interludes from Vail Jazz

I was tipped off to this series of videos by a staffer at the Vail Jazz organization, which normally hosts a summer jazz series, a long-running Labor Day weekend festival, and one of the outstanding jazz education programs in the country. Sans all of that happening, at least as live events, Howard Stone and his team at Vail Jazz came up with a concept for a series of short video segments with artists associated with the organization, such as Veronica Swift, Emmet Cohen, Cyrille Aimée, Wycliffe Gordon, Jeff Hamilton, Ann Hampton Callaway, and other mainstream jazz stalwarts.

Adrian Cunningham
Adrian Cunningham with bandmates in quarantine in a scene from an episode of Jazz Interludes from Vail Jazz

In the case of each artist or pairing of artists, there are multiple video segments—all professionally shot and recorded—that include interviews as well as performances. I caught segments done with the reedman Adrian Cunningham, including one that was a Christopher Guest-like mockumentary about what it’s like for a band to live in quarantine together. Funny stuff. Other episodes are more straightforward but no less interesting. This relatively small organization demonstrates that a lot can be done with video if you think a little outside the box.

Stream from Vail Jazz website.
Cost: Free

5 p.m. Sheila Jordan 92nd Birthday Celebration at Smalls

The indomitable vocalist Sheila Jordan turned 92 today and instead of sitting around her place nicely isolated in upstate New York, she made the trip down to the West Village for a set at Smalls with old friends Alan Broadbent and Harvie S. Opening the show, Jordan joked that she had a cold, “but not that one,” which of course got a laugh. But for our elders, this virus has been a very serious thing. I have to hope that she remains safe and healthy, but knowing her as I do, I knew that not much could stop her from singing for people.

Jordan told the audience how pleased she was that her daughter Tracy was there, adding, “There are two things I love—my daughter and Bird and jazz.” Technically three things, but no matter. It was obviously a real treat to see a legend like Jordan do her thing live with a band and a small (and hopefully healthy) audience. The look of the stream from Smalls hadn’t changed any; it’s still very lo-fi, with three stationary cameras. This was definitely one stream that you could just leave the sound on for and go about your business.

Sheila Jordan
Sheila Jordan (photo: Peter Clampitt)

Jordan, Broadbent, and Harvie S performed for about 75 minutes, with the singer sitting out for a brief section of instrumentals midway. There was a chair onstage, but Jordan didn’t use it. She sang standards such as “Autumn in New York” and “Slow Boat to China,” as well as “Sheila’s Blues,” the famous autobiographical number in which she recounts her whole life story and weaves in some present-day thoughts.

At the end, Spike Wilner, the owner of Smalls, had a birthday cake brought out. After everyone (including Jordan) sang “Happy Birthday,” someone yelled, “We love you, Sheila.” She quickly responded, “You can’t love me any more than I love all of you. Thank you for keeping the music alive.” A sweet sentiment, but I think that for a long time the music has kept us alive. Thanks in no small part to innovative artists like Jordan and undaunted venues like Smalls.

Stream on smallslive.com.
Cost: Free

8 p.m. Nicki Parrott with John Clayton for Jazz Cruise Conversations Live

Nicki Parrott performs with the Frank Vignola Trio on the Gallow Green Stage at the 2016 New York Hot Jazz Festival

I didn’t save the best for last, but the last stream I viewed is, coincidentally, close to my heart. This online conversation series presented by Entertainment Cruise Productions seeks to emulate the 1:1 conversations that happen on The Jazz Cruise, often with artists interviewing each other about their lives and music. I help coordinate this series, which has already featured John Pizzarelli with Ken Peplowski, Joey DeFrancesco with Alonzo Bodden, Kurt Elling with Shelly Berg, Ann Hampton Callaway with Kurt Elling, and several others.

For tonight’s episode, John Clayton hosted fellow bassist Nicki Parrott, and the two made it a real conversation about the challenges and rewards of playing bass. They also shared their experiences with Ray Brown, a mentor to Clayton and an influence on Parrott, who took a lesson from the legendary bassist when she was just 20 years old. Parrott and Clayton had a nice rapport and they even took questions from people like Elling, Callaway, and René Marie.

The interviews in this series—which streams every Wednesday and is repurposed for the Jazz Cruise Conversations podcast—are done Zoom-style with occasional photos/graphics, audio clips, and videos interspersed. In tonight’s installment, after talking about non-musical interests explored during the quarantine, the two shared how much they enjoyed cooking and then showed a brief clip from an online cooking “show” that Parrott did called Chez Nicki Jams, in which she demonstrates a recipe for one dish and, while waiting for it to cook, performs a little bass and/or vocal bit. One past episode featured a live Before & After session for JazzTimes with Peplowski listening to cuts picked out by Berg, who did manage to stump the very knowledgeable clarinetist and saxophonist with a few tunes. Look for that in JazzTimes’ magazine or website in the future.

The series is going on hiatus until 2021 but will return with dozens more conversations beginning in early January. You can see previous episodes on The Jazz Cruise’s YouTube page.

Stream on Facebook and YouTube pages of Entertainment Cruise Productions.
Cost: Free

Read Day One report here.

Read Day Two report here. 

Read Day Three report here.

Read Day Four Report here.

Read Day Five report here.

Read Day Six report here.

  Originally Published