If the jazz writer’s cliché “Summer in [insert city] got a little hotter when [insert musician] came to town” holds true, D.C. was absolutely scorching this season. District Curators’ JazzArts festival brought in its usual eclectic assortment of excellent, high-profile musicians, but it was the “Space Lives” section of the series that was the most surprisingboth in attendance and performance. While the musicians showcased by “Space Lives” are some of the avant-garde’s most celebrated, they are still little knownor appreciatedin the mainstream. But as “Space Lives” continued throughout the summer, its audiences grew with each performance.
“It started a little bit slow, but even so there were 160, 170 people for Marty Ehrlich and Muhal [Richard Abrams], and that’s larger than the audiences ever were in d.c. space,” says District Curators major-domo Bill Warrell, formerly of d.c. space. “It went from there to Sam Rivers and David Krakauer, and they were not quite a sellout, but they were over 200230, 240 range.”
Just as JazzArts kicked off its season, a collective called Transparent Productions started up.
“[Transparent] grew out of discussions among music-loving acquaintances lamenting the lack of regular creative improvised music performances in the area, and a subsequent decision to try to remedy that,” explains group member Vincent Kargatis.
Transparent’s first show, with Joe McPhee and Michael Bisio, piggybacked on JazzArts’ publicity machine by appearing in all the festival’s advertising. But where Curators is a proper business, Transparent is a “democratic, volunteer effort among the organizers,” Kargatis says. “We have no external funding and keep no money from the concerts, giving the musicians 100 percent of the door. We rely completely on the audience, the venues’ donating their space, and our donated time.” Transparent has staged three shows so far and drawn crowds ranging from 40 to 110 people.
Warrell helped Transparent not only because he appreciates the way the group operates (“that’s how d.c. space started,” he says), but because of his own love of the music. The experimental jazz scene consists of “a very small, relatively fragile group of people,” Warrell says. “But at the same time, [they’re] very dedicated. And I’m really impressed with the fact the dedication is still there and it’s stronger than ever.”
Two other groups are also promoting new music: Soundz Impossible is sponsoring the David S. Ware quartet this week (see Music, Page 44), and Mass Particles, which began as a record label (two 7-inches so far), recently put on its first show at the Black Cat, placing Companion Trio on the same bill as the punkier Crom-Tech in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 30 to 40.
“A lot of the [jazz] music in the ’60skind of subversive, anti-establishmentI think it definitely inspired a lot of the initial punk rockers,” says Jerry Lim, who plays in Companion Trio and co-runs Mass Particles with Chuck Bettis, who is even more emphatic in crediting the source of his inspiration. “To me, jazz did it first,” Bettis says. “Jazz musicians, like Sun Ra doing Saturn and other [musicians] putting out their own music and pressing up small [numbers of] copies.”
Warrell sees a shift, even if it’s still a very small one, in audience affinity for experimental music. “It’s a combined interest ofa renewed interest ofa younger group of people that are connecting with this music and the people who have always loved it that kind of went without it the past few years since d.c. space closed up. It was a real treat to bring these people back. It was starting to be a loss in my life and my career, like [it was for] the audience.”Christopher Porter