Monday, July 27, 2009

Boddingtons Pub Ale

Boddingtons Pub Ale (United Kingdom) – 4.7 % ABV: This beer pours a nice golden color with a nice, thick, creamy, white head that lasts. Features a clean taste and aroma, and malt, hops, and caramel can be picked up in the nose. This beer is sweet with a decent bitter finish. Boddington's is well balanced, very satisfying, and easy to drink, even as it warms up.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sandaga Jazz: An unlikely venue keeps straight ahead jazz alive and well in Dallas, Texas

There's an ongoing debate in the Dallas arts scene about whether Dallas jazz remains viable, or if it is slowly drying up. There's a small jazz venue in Dallas that may well be the beating heart of straight-ahead jazz in the Metroplex. The concentration of talent at this place is amazing; it's where the best in Dallas' straight-ahead jazz community go to work on their music and develop the sounds they play around Dallas and Fort Worth the rest of the week. This place is the wellspring.

Is the Dallas jazz scene dead? Far from it, at least that's what Darryl Thomas, the owner and operator of Sandaga Jazz will tell you if you give him the chance. "The Dallas jazz scene is really more vibrant than it gets credit for," Thomas told me before a recent Thursday night jazz event at the venue. According to Thomas, the Dallas jazz scene embraces many diverse approaches: straight-ahead, fusion, smooth jazz, and rhythm and blues can all be found at several venues in the Metroplex. At Sandaga, the focus is on straight-ahead jazz and building on the traditions of jazz greats like Duke Ellington.

One of the things that sets Sandaga Jazz apart as a Dallas jazz venue is that it isn't a club or restaurant: it's a non-profit foundation devoted to the arts. According to Thomas, funding can be a struggle at times. Sandaga Jazz is a 501(c)(3) and is largely dependent on donations at the door. Sandaga Jazz was established in 1999 and grew out of Thomas' experiences with jazz in New York and Los Angeles. Thomas created the venue as a way to give his friends a place to play their music. It wasn't long after the venue was established that it began to routinely draw crowds of twenty-five to thirty people, and even larger crowds when special guests like Grammy winner Wynton Marselis sit in.

The Sandaga Jazz venue is located in the same building as Thomas' African art dealership, Sandaga Market. The art market has been in the same location for nineteen years, and Thomas bought the building eight years ago. Sandaga Market imports West African art and sells to both private collectors and museums. Behind the small showroom and office, in a large backroom, you will find a low bandstand flanked by a piano on one side and an organ on the other. Depending on what night of the week it is, you may find anything from a trio to a sixteen-piece big band playing jazz.

Sandaga fills a unique niche within the Dallas jazz scene. There are larger and glossier venues, but at Sandaga the focus is on music and the musicians who play it. Some of the best jazz musicians in Dallas come to Sandaga Jazz to hone their art and pass it on to younger musicians. "We try to bring in the best musicians we can," Thomas says, "It's about keeping the music fresh." Sandaga focuses on dance hall jazz and what Thomas calls "sit-down-and-listen jazz" played in the tradition of straight ahead jazz.

The atmosphere at Sandaga is casual, but serious and focused, especially among the musicians. The emphasis is on the music, not drinks or food. This is not the venue for you if you only like homogenized performances of old jazz standards. But if you enjoy listening to jazz musicians working out new compositions and arrangements live on stage, Sandaga Jazz might be something you need to check out.

The night I first visited Sandaga Jazz, I caught a performance of the Scott Bucklin Quintet. Bucklin's musical approach was both improvisational and collaborative. Bucklin was trying out new material for an upcoming album and passed out sheet music for his band mates. Local jazz greats Shelley Carrol and Pete Gallio tackled the new compositions with gusto. Vibraphonist Dana Sudborough sat in and also contributed new material. They were ably backed by bassist Jonathan Fisher and drummer Andrew Griffith.

I returned a few days later for the big band that plays the last Wednesday of every month. This band is a feast for jazz lovers. Organized by Brad Leali and Shelley Carrol, the lineup is heavy on brass and woodwinds, and produces an incredibly fat and luscious sound reminiscent of the great big bands of the golden age of jazz. The band's repertoire includes jazz standards as well as new material produced in the tradition of Ellington and others. This band's focus is on swing, but it also incorporates bop influence on many of its tunes.

On this particular night, local jazz vocalist Sandra Kaye joined the band onstage for several numbers. Kaye sang with the verve and precision for which she is known, her style resonating with the underlying swing of the band's performance. I caught up with Kaye during a break and I asked her about Sandaga Jazz. "Sandaga plays an important role in keeping the Dallas jazz scene strong," she replied, "no other place in Dallas is devoted to the music the way this place is."

Teaching the next generation of jazz players is a key part of what Sandaga is about. "A lot of young people haven't been exposed to good music," says Thomas, "the goal of our Youthful Jazz program is to put promising students from local high schools and colleges onstage with jazz legends." Great jazz players who have taken part in the Youthful Jazz program include Steve Turre, Wycliffe Gordon, and the late, great Marchel Ivery.

Experienced jazz players provide workshops for the student musicians. These workshops give them a chance to talk to the more seasoned players and understand their approach to making music. What these student musicians are getting a chance to do is to work out how to use the language of musicians, how to improvise and collaborate onstage with other musicians. It also gives the student musicians a chance to play with and learn from better musicians.

Tuesday nights are set aside for an open mic jam session with pianist and composer Bernard Wright, Bobby Sparks on organ, saxophonist S'Ankh Rasa, saxophonist Jason Davis, bassist Yuji Yoshimine, drummer Gerard Bendiks, and percussionist Roger Franklin. A big band (16 pieces) is presented on the last Wednesday of each month. Every Thursday night, Sandaga's presents pianist Scott Bucklin's quintet. Youthful Jazz is presented every third Sunday of each month.

Sandaga Jazz at Sandaga Market
1325 E. Levee Street
Dallas, Texas 75207-7109

After the show, be sure to stop by the Amsterdam Bar for an ice cold beer!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Don't miss Bad Ass Jazz every Monday night at the Amsterdam

One of my favorite things to do in Dallas is to stop into the Amsterdam Bar for the Bad Ass Jazz on Monday nights. There's no cover for this weekly event, but it draws a large crowd and features key players in the Dallas jazz scene. The band is slightly different every week, but is based around the members of The Shelley Carrol quartet. The lineup can be anything from a trio up to a quintet (and occasionally a sextet). Some of the musicians I've seen at the Amsterdam recently include:
Shelley Carrol - Tenor Saxophone
Brad Leali - Alto Saxophone
Gary Granger - Drums
Jonathan Fisher - Bass
Scott Bucklin - Piano
Jay Jennings - Trumpet
Andrew Griffith - Drums
The Amsterdam is also a great place to go for a cold beer.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dallas jazz appreciation group on Facebook

I was at a jazz event last night at Sandaga's Market and I was talking to host Darryl Thomas about some of the different ways we could help to build an audience for jazz in Dallas, Texas. One of the ideas I had was to start a new Facebook group to attract people who love jazz online. To that end, I have established the Dallas Jazz Appreciation Group on Facebook.

I'm hoping that this new group will serve as a place for Dallas jazz fans to share information about jazz artists, jazz venues, and upcoming jazz events.

Click Here to join the Dallas Jazz Appreciation Group.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Happy Bullets, Amo Joy and Hardin Sweaty and The Ready to Go on July 18th

Happy Bullets, Amo Joy and Hardin Sweaty and The Ready to Go

What: Concert "super sweet and sugery fun "
Host: The Amsterdam Bar - Dallas, Texas
Start Time: Saturday, July 18 at 8:00pm
End Time: Sunday, July 19 at 2:00am
Where: The Amsterdam Bar's Patio

A little bit about The Happy Bullets:
Recording songs that combined a 1960's psychedelic nostalgia with ironic and literate lyrics, The Happy Bullets began when indie songwriters Jason Roberts and Tim Ruble met while working together at an art gallery in a suburb of Dallas. After a home recording demo was released and played on local radio, Roberts quickly recruited his wife, Andrea to learn bass guitar while lending vocal support to several of the bands more pop-oriented songs. Additional members were later added including Josh McKibben of The Sons of Sound, Rhett Jones, and Kris Youmans of The Paper Chase.

2004 saw the release of The Happy Bullets first record, Blue Skies and Umbrellas and was quickly followed up in 2005 with The Vice and Virtue Ministry, engineered by Stuart Sikes (Modest Mouse, Cat Power, the Promise Ring) and released on the upstart Dallas indie label Undeniable Records. The latter gained the band critical acclaim on the national college radio circuit and led to shared bills with Mates of State, Architecture in Helsinki, and Of Montreal.

In 2006, The Happy Bullets toured throughout the United States performing in Austin, Texas at the SXSW Music Festival, Athens, Georgia at the 2006 Athens Popfest, and at CMJ Music Festival in New York City.[1]
We look forward to having The Happy Bullets on our stage this weekend.

New beer at the bar: Hop Rod Rye!

We've been enjoying a new beer at the bar for a couple of weeks now: Bear Republic Brewery's Hop Rod Rye. This beer is a bold American IPA made with 20% rye malt. Hop Rod Rye is darker in color than your typical IPA. It boasts a huge hop aroma and flavor accompanied by a slightly sweet, malty finish. This beer weighs in with a satisfying ABV of 8.0%.

Hop Rod Rye has won several awards at beer festivals: 2004 California State Fair, Silver Medal Winner; 2002 National Real Ale Festival, Chicago, Gold Medal Winner; 2001 San Diego Real Ale Festival, Silver Medal Winner & Best of Show (Runner Up). So if you're a beer nut like the rest of us, swing by the Amsterdam and ask for a Hop Rod Rye.