One night, a few months ago, my wife and I were hanging out on an uneventful night. The television didn’t have anything of interest to offer, so I grabbed a record and put it on the turntable. I don’t remember who the artist was — Miles, Coltrane, or Mingus maybe — but it instantly put me in a mood. I wanted to go out, immediately! I wanted to find a low-lit room with a trio or quartet on stage playing the late-night sounds that have been romanticized for generations. I wanted to spend the next couple hours locked into the groove with them, never able to fully anticipate the danger of where they would, or could, take the song. I wanted to see a jazz show like my life depended on it.
The problem is that I didn’t know where to do that. I didn’t want to go to a restaurant, where it was basically dinner theater with a couple of guys shoved into a corner. I wanted to go somewhere where it was about the music. Somewhere intimate, dark, the occasional clink of glasses and hushed conversation, sure, but otherwise just the music. But where does that exist in Louisville these days? What has happened to our once-strong jazz scene? Gone are the days of jazz clubs — The Seelbach, along with a constant stream of choices. Now, it seems that if you’re not one of the few dozen players that are in-the-know, you don’t know. I don’t know, and I work with some of them.
As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and jazz is necessary. I may be a lifelong rock-’n’-roll guy, but I’ve always had a big heart for jazz. It felt more dangerous. The stories were more exotic. Most important, I was always aware of how it made me feel, which was entirely different from any other genre. It gave me confidence, and even bravado, but it could put a laid-back chill on any situation at the same time. Jazz gave the promise of possibility, but if I wanted to live inside of it at a live show, I had to plan for it. I had to grab a calendar, find a date and wait for it to come around. If I miss it, then it’s another wait. Jazz is like sex, and you don’t want to wait when the mood hits. The seduction must begin now!
A few weeks later, I ran into Patrick Hallahan. Outside of My Morning Jacket, he’s been one of the guys behind Butchertown Grocery and its upstairs counterpart, Lola. They had been trying to find the right mood for the space, but were still messing around with ideas. Music had been prominent, and even lots of jazz, but nothing had completely proven itself yet. The space is beautiful, reminiscent of the speakeasies and clubs from the ‘20s and ‘30s — a golden era for jazz. A room perfect to launch a partnership. So, along with WFPK program director Stacy Owen, we started dreaming up a series. As it stands, we have four of the most respected jazz aficionados on our staff, each bringing a unique flavor to the genre during our Sunday radio programming. Danny O’Bryan, John LaBarbera, Dick Sisto and Matt Anthony would each curate his own week, in his own style. Some of them will play live, some will tell stories, emcee or host. But on each person’s week, he’ll choose the musicians. Between them, they’ve hung out with so many of the legends, been nominated for Grammys, and have been the linchpins for Louisville’s jazz history for decades.
Just as important, we also want this night to be something for anyone. For whatever reason, jazz has gotten a reputation as an insider genre. An exclusive club that can be intimidating to anyone not in it. Let’s dispel that. WFPK Jazz Live at Lola is meant to be a place for anyone to enjoy music whether you could tell the difference between Thelonius Monk and Erroll Garner or not. It’s meant to tie in different scenes and bring people together. You can grab some inspiration, or just a good night with friends, cocktails and tunes. You can time travel, or just enjoy the moment. That’s what jazz has always done for me. I go back in an Ella Fitzgerald classic, or flash forward with Esperanza Spalding’s futuristic bass lines. What more could you ask for in a song? We’ll get all of that Thursday nights at Lola starting Feb. 9. See ya there.