While the free and improvised jazz scene in Atlanta has taken a hit over the last five years, fans of straightahead and contemporary jazz will be relieved to know that the more accessible (some say more palatable) form of the music is still alive and boppin' ITP. Churchill Grounds is thought by many to be the definitive Atlanta jazz club, but just southwest of downtown exists a spot where the divey ambiance may actually be a better fit for the musical aesthetic. Welcome to "the 51" at the Elliott Street Pub.
"The room has a feel that really brings it out of the musicians," says pub co-owner Mike Jakob. "After telling them the stories of who used to play down there from the '50s to the '80s when it was [former jazz club] Dee's Birdcage, they feel they have to really play." Under its current ownership, Elliott Street Pub has been around since 2006, factoring heavily into Castleberry Hill Art Walks, Flux nights, and even Falcons home games (it's just around the corner and down the street from the Georgia Dome), but the fairly recent collaboration between the pub and local guitarist/promoter Jacob Deaton has garnered new attention for the bar, sandwich shop, and music venue among the Atlanta jazz community.
Underway this week at "the 51" is the one-year anniversary of the Deaton-curated Sounds from the Underground jazz series, featuring Grammy-winning saxophonist Mace Hibbard, Eric Fontaine with strings, Christopher Alpiar, Kenosha Kid, Stephen Wood, and others. Many of these musicians have been playing "the 51" more and more over the past year (second and fourth Mondays of every month). "Elliott Street is a great venue to play since it has ... the feel of your friendly neighborhood bar on the upstairs, which attracts a built-in crowd of a good cross-section of inhabitants of Castleberry Hill, while the basement has the feel of a serious listening room, isolated from chatter upstairs," Fontaine says. "What is really nice about the Sounds from the Underground series is that it is booked by a fellow gigging musician, Jacob Deaton, and half of the audience is musicians, so it is really by musicians, for musicians."
Having performed and recorded with the 4th Ward Afro-Klezmer Orchestra as well as many other groups of various musical styles, saxophonist Fontaine plays "the 51" tonight (Thu., Feb. 14) with a string section featuring violin, cello, and bass. On the same bill are pianist Stephen Wood and the fantastic Ayah Drummers with Kinah Boto. Friday night features Mace Hibbard's quintet doing mostly original tunes, including plenty from his recent recording Time Gone By. Hibbard's alto resonates with tones of Cannonball Adderley, while his band is reminiscent of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers at their tightest - classic quintet style with sax, trumpet, piano, bass, and drums. And finally, on Friday and Saturday nights, Deaton hosts jam sessions at midnight.
Check out Sounds from the Underground's YouTube channel for a preview of this week's music.
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