'Round Midnight: Chat-stained

Varied jazz flourishes amid the noise

An interesting field of jazz-related musicians takes the stage at the ever-chatty Chastain Park Amphitheater this month. First up is Jazz Explosion (July 12), an all-star band capable of garnering excitement despite its name being something of a misnomer. Explode they may, but the sounds emanating from the ensemble featuring saxophonist Gerald Albright, along with vocalists Will Downing and Chante; Moore, are heavily R&B flavored. Jazz or naught, the tone of Albright's bluesy horns (alto, soprano and tenor) in sync with soulful vocals promises a solid night of slow jams, Latin and funk. Downing's smooth rendition of "The Near-ness of You" is likely to be followed with an Albright tribute to the late, great funkmeister Grover Washington. So, light that candle and prepare to groove. Spyro Gyra (July 14) has the distinction of being one of the few smooth jazz bands on the scene prior to "smooth jazz" being coined. Their minor late-'70s hit, "Shaker's Dance," was greeted with open arms as an easily digestible alternative to the harder-hitting fusion of the day. Jay Beckenstein's trademark alto consistently sets an easy mood. There are plenty of hits from which to draw, including "Morning Dance," "Catching the Sun," plus more recent, albeit similar fare.

The musical style of guitarist Brian Setzer'(July 19) may seem to have come out of nowhere, but he would likely admit to jumping on the proverbial (big) bandwagon established long ago by the swing bands of yore. Hearing his energetic guitar wailing over top of all those horns produces plenty of excitement. The big bands aren't dead, they just have enigmatic, charismatic leaders ... wearing weird clothes and playing stock blues licks.

Nepotism: It stinks. Unless, of course, you're the uncle of an R&B diva, or the daughter of one of the greatest crooners of the past century. It's all in the genes. When Natalie and Freddy Cole hit front and center (July 28), one isn't sure exactly what to expect. Will Freddy sing back-up vocals and step while Natalie shouts "Sophisticated Lady?" Doubtful. More than likely, Atlanta resident Freddy will sub for late brother Nat through a night of standard duets on the order of "Unforgettable." Blessed with pipes that resonate from similar DNA, Freddy's baritone — along with Natalie's polished alto — has the goods to provide a very nostalgic evening, indeed.

Mind if I gripe? Theoretically, Chastain Park is a great venue for jazz, but the relaxed ambiance is a catalytic culprit, promoting a general disregard for any type of concert etiquette. If a category existed in CL's Best of Atlanta issue for "rudest audience," the chatty, sometimes shouting (to each other) hoards at Chastain would consistently seize the dubious honor. For those of us who regard a certain quantity of Chastain's lineup as bona fide artists (not necessarily all of those mentioned above), the situation is highly embarrassing. Watching the seats located directly below the stage (the "pit table" section for the borderline bourgeois) reveals conduct that is often disgraceful. They sit in plain view — candles lit, food served, champagne popped, talking loudly — right up under the musicians' noses.

This is not to mention the masses in the cheaper seats who feel even more inconspicuous, anonymous or, perhaps more accurately, aren't feeling much of anything with regard to the music.

This probably sounds stuffy and elitist, but the lack of respect for artists and listeners is typical of most other "jazz venues" in the Atlanta area (I refer to Chastain as a jazz venue since I am referring to the jazz-related concerts held there). Sadly, most patrons' conduct merely underscores the role in which music has come to play in most people's lives — that of incidental, background sounds conducive to gathering and socializing. Gone are the days of the active, astute, knowledgeable listener. Hence, jazz will never be very popular music (no news here). And unlike classical music, which continues to be performed most often in concert halls — and certainly not in nightclubs (although classical musicians too must bear Chastain) — jazz music will always be subject to the harsh reality of rudeness. Conversely, the sheer, enormous power of high-decibel amplification seems to be the key to true listening pleasure these days.

Moving on: The 7th biennial National Black Arts Festival (NBAF) runs July 28-Aug. 6, including performances in dance, film, spoken word/literary, theatre, visual arts and music. Jazz pianist Geri Allen is the festival's headliner as far as the music portion is concerned, performing at Spivey Hall July 29 at 8:15 p.m. and at the Renaissance Hotel midnight that same evening. Allen is a superb, colorful pianist with her own critically acclaimed releases on Blue Note, Verve, Minor, Soul Note, JMT and DIW. Her tasteful accompaniments have enhanced a wide range of recordings, including those of Betty Carter, Charlie Haden and Ornette Coleman. Her most recent sideman effort is heard on Ravi Coltrane: From the Round Box (BMG/RCA). Allen's approach to the keyboard has developed gradually from the prickly, disjunct, outside playing of her early days to that of a mature and more lyrical stylist. She is capable of covering numerous genres while maintaining her own, easily identifiable musical identity.

Additional jazz concerts (all at the Renaissance) will be held August 1 featuring perennial favorites from New Orleans, the Dirty Dozed Brass Band (11 p.m.); and August 3 featuring Atlanta-based favorites vocalist Kathleen Bertrand (10 p.m.), saxophonist Joe Jennings & Life Force; and guitarist Jacques Lesure's Quartet (12 a.m.). For more information, check the NBAF's website at www.nbaf.org.

Incoming/Upcoming: Spivey Hall presents Kenny Barron Aug. 19. Eyedrum hosts the Arthur Doyle Trio (with James Linton-b; Scott Rodziczal-perc) July 22. The Variety Playhouse features Project/Object, performing the music of Frank Zappa Aug. 16. The Robert Ferst Center hosts Fattburger with Special EFX July 17, Gato Barbieri Aug. 4 and Earl Klugh Sept. 9. This summer's Classic Chastain series presents Tony Bennett & Diana Krall Aug. 12; BB King & Buddy Guy Aug. 19; Eddie Palmieri Aug. 9; Manhattan Transfer Aug. 11; and the Rippingtons Aug. 23.

Inside Info: Pianist Bill Anschell's trio plays Veni Vidi Vici Wednesdays and Sundays. Bassist Dennis Caiazza's trio performs at Cabernet Thursdays and Fridays. Trumpeter Lester Walker's quartet fills in Thursdays during July at Café 290. Churchill Grounds presents tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams' trio every Monday and guitarist Jacques Lesure's quartet with drummer Steve Ellington July 21-22. The Woody Williams Duo performs Wednesdays beginning in August at MJQ. Romero's debut release Cuban Jazz Funk has just been released. Atlanta-based Jam Master Records' premier fall release features trumpeter Eddie Davis. Atlanta-based vocalist Rita Graham is currently recording her long-awaited release. Louis Armstrong: The Complete Hot Five & Seven Recordings (Columbia) is due out in mid-August. Ten additional 24-bit remastered RVG Blue Note reissues are set for release in September and October, including titles by Hank Mobley and Kenny Dorham.

Speak Out: "The beginning of the end of my association with Dot [Records] was when I recorded Jack Kerouac reading his works with Steve Allen noodling on piano. The record was seen as obscene and pornographic, so they pulled it from the market." — producer Bob Thiele

Out There: Clubs/Restaurants/Venues: Chastain (404-733-4800); Spivey Hall (770-961-3683); eyedrum (404-627-8436); Variety Playhouse (404-521-1786); Robert Ferst Center (404-894-9600); Veni Vidi Vici (404-875-8424); Cabernet (770-777-5955); Café 290 (404-256-3942); Churchill Grounds (404-876-3030).

In Here: Your direct line to this column by e-mail: rozzi1625@aol.com or voice mail: 404-296-1503. Venues, colleges, radio stations, musicians and readers are encouraged to submit listings, information and perspectives.