A Birthday Week to Remember
Updated: Oct 20, 2022
Submitted by Jim Woodford
[catch his radio show at 89.5 WDPS FM on Wednesday from Noon - 1:00; also broadcasting on the internet at wdpsfm.com]
The first week of August 2022 has been a great jazz week. If you catch my show upon occasion then you know that I close my show with the following “food for thought”:
Jazz can inspire
And give your mind a workout
So from now to the next time
To you I implore
There’s jazz music out there
Get out and explore
You may also know that I promote first Tuesday jazz, first Wednesday jazz and a first Thursday jazz jam. Well this week I took my own advice. I attended Jimmie’s Ladder 11 for Dave Greer’s Classic Jazz Stompers, first [and third] Wednesdays at Café Vivace in Cincinnati for the Blue Wisp Big Band and then the first Thursday jazz jam at Wholly Grounds down on Wayne Avenue. AND, as a precursor to this first week in August, on July 29th, 2022, I finally made it down to Schwartz’s Point on Vine Street in Cincinnati after all these years on a Friday night! This came about after having received notification that Jim Leslie would be playing drums for/with the Pat Kelley Trio and a bass player with which I was unfamiliar. All went very, very well.
Honestly, I’ve always wondered (worried?) about parking at Schwartz’s Point – it’s called “Point” for a reason, the club literally sits where Vine Street and East McMicken Avenue meet in a “V” or a point. It is in the Over the Rhine district so there is no parking lot – I did find a spot to park and my car was still there when I left the club. Jazz fans have been going there for decades so no reason to think that the night I attended would be any different. In fact, it is just a couple of blocks from where I taught college classes for years near Findlay Market. If you’ve never been to Findlay Market I recommend you go check it out, it is quite an experience. Just make sure it is open – stopped off with my granddaughter once while at the college but the Market was closed.
Schwartz’s Point is a small intimate club and there is really not a bad seat in the house. Everyone was friendly and the music was a good as I expected, maybe better as the bass player, Matt McCoy was excellent. However; the unexpected bonus for me was that when I decided to leave, a very familiar voice spoke to me – someone I had not seen or heard during the two year pandemic quarantine, Mike Sharfe! I admit it, I couldn’t believe it but learned in conversation that Mike and Jim had played a gig earlier in the day just down the street. Turns out the trip was more than well worth it. I also got to talk with Pat Kelley and Jim Leslie at the break, along with Mike Sharfe, an exclamation point to a long overdue visit to Schwartz’s Point.
I normally check out jazz at The Hidden Gem in Centerville on Sunday nights from 7:00 – 9:00; across from Hauer Music on OH 725 but stayed home this night, 7-31-22. My youngest grandson was to be visiting because his Mom and sister had some “school is starting soon” shopping to do. So this night belonged to family and not jazz but Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday were looming down the pike.
First Tuesday jazz is Dave Greer’s Classic Jazz Stompers at Jimmie’s Ladder 11 down on Brown Street. I walked in to find four musicians on stage, rather than the usual six or seven, Eric Grieffenhagen and Chris Moore were the usual suspects. There was a former member I had not seen for a very long time sitting at the keyboards, Ted Des Plantes, always a treat. But as I took my seat at the Bar for dinner and beverages, I had to squint my eyes to make sure I was seeing who I thought I was seeing up on stage with the upright bass, Lou Lausche! Do not know how long it had been since I had heard Lou – what a treat, had just been thinking about him recently and wondering where I might be able to catch him playing. I can assure you it was not as a sub in the Jazz Stompers but there he was. Eric played several reed instruments and I learned that Chris Moore can not only play the coronet but also the valve trombone – the two of them were on fire and very ably backed by Ted & Lou, plus I got to interact with each of them during the breaks. The evening was much more than I expected but for very different reasons, a trip I am very glad I made on this night of surprises.
First Wednesday jazz (and third Wednesdays) is the renowned Blue Wisp Big Band holding court down at The Café Vivace in Cincinnati. Man I had forgotten just how good that band really is! Trumpet player Hank Mountner was the spokesman for the band this night [apparently traded off some nights with drummer Jim Leslie] and the band was cookin’ all night long. Arranger, bari-sax player, Larry Dickson had some great arrangements for the band and played just as well. Many in the crowd were enamored with the piano playing of Steve Schmidt and I learned that the bass player “with which I was not familiar” from Friday night at Schwartz’s point, Matt McCoy, is the bass player for the Blue Wisp Big Band, filling in for Mike Sharfe who is on hiatus from the band. In times past I would probably name all the members of the band but this night I chose to sit, listen and enjoy. I did hear some excellent solos from John Zappa & Kim Pensyl on trumpet and an enjoyable solo from trombonist Clarence Pawn. The audience also learned that young trombonist Spencer Merk won an international trombone solo competition recently, wow! And lest I forget, Hank Mountner played a beautiful solo at one point and then later lit things up in a style I have come to enjoy over the years. Had not heard the Blue Wisp Big Band since before the two year quarantine and the performance this night [8-3-22] was simply excellent.
First Thursday jazz jam is down at Wholly Grounds on Wayne Avenue in Dayton. However, this first Thursday was planned for attending Salsa at the fountain in Cincinnati with my daughter. Unfortunately, rain had been forecast for the evening so my plans changed back to what I usually do, First Thursday Jazz Jam at Wholly Grounds. Kelli Campbell hosts a jazz jam this night thanks to Amy Williams, owner of Wholly Grounds. One tends to find Keigo Hirakawa on keyboards, Eddie Brookshire on bass and Noah Ramirez on drums but this night found Shohay on drums, Connor Smith on bass and a young man named Moses on keyboards [we later learned he was a student of Keigo Hirakawa’s and entering 9th grade in high school – say what? you heard me right, 9th grade in high school] There were lots of jammers but I am going to focus in on three of them, King Koeller on tenor sax, Dr. Ken Taylor on trumpet and flugelhorn & Gary Onaday on trumpet. I could give a brief dissertation on each of these musicians but suffice it to say that all three have drawn crowds for their own gigs, so we were quite fortunate to have that much talent on the front line and Moses kept up with every song all night long without missing a beat, sometimes adding some of his own! You never really know what you are going to get at a jam session and this one was noteworthy! Of course Kelli provided some excellent vocals to many of the songs (she does not sing on every song).
Then to round out the first week of August, 2022, I did make it to the Hidden Gem in Centerville. Normally a Bill Burns combo graces the stage but Bill was off playing with Northern Kentucky Symphony paying tribute to Stephen Sondheim so he had tagged King Koeller to help him out. King Koeller was fronting the rhythm section of Jim Leslie on the drums [3rd time charm?], Mike Sharfe on bass and Brian Cashwell on keyboards. Yes folks, I did finally get to hear Mike Sharfe work his magic. There were lots of jammers but three of note were Dr. Ken Taylor on trumpet and flugelhorn, Kelli Campbell on vocals [the very same First Thursday jazz host] and Connor Smith on bass. The jam went until 9:30 and even had a conga player for the first time since I have been attending. An unexpected treat of the evening was Mike Sharfe on 6 string bass, Jim Leslie on drums and Brian Cashwell on keyboards as they dazzled the crowd with When Sunny is Blue. It was another excellent King Koeller jazz jam and a good way to end my birthday week! There really is live jazz out there, get out and explore!