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The University of Hartford

The Year 2000: Alarming # of Jazz Locals Derailed,
But UH “J Trane” Kept a-Rollin’

By Chuck Obuchowski

    Just when we were convinced that all the talk about Y2K bugs had been a hoax—perpetrated by PC makers eager to cash in on our paranoia—along came the infamous “Connecticut Jazz Crash of 2000.” Haven’t heard of it, you say? Ahhh...those music-biz robber barons are so clever! We never even saw ‘em coming...
           
First, it was the mysterious disappearance of an avid jazz presenter in South Glastonbury. Next, record companies began cranking out Jazz for Lovers compilations by the zillions...Jazz for Snowy Days, Jazz for Idiots, Jazz for the Workplace, etc.
           
Not content with demoting the art form to the equivalent of an air freshener, the evil execs kidnapped a decent singer/pianist/interpreter of the American Songbook. After brainwashing the poor lass, they thrust her into the spotlight, accompanied by an astounding marketing blitz: she’s not just the reigning diva, not merely the most gorgeous female pianist around...she’s a jazz goddess! All praises to the Almighty Diana! Well, perhaps we should reserve a few salutations for King Wynton, too.
           
Meanwhile, back in the Constitution State, longtime cheerleaders like the Hartford Jazz Society and Connecticut Jazz Confederation grew weary and disillusioned. Memberships were Even Hartford’s prized festival team—Monday Night Bushnell Park and Greater Hartford Jazz—had gone their separate ways, and down, audiences dwindling, volunteer support frighteningly low. were plagued by rumors about financial woes and internal disputes. At least each organization was able to cast aside its troubles long enough to present an outstanding series of free outdoor concerts at the Bushnell pavilion.
           
Stephan Allison stepped down as director of the Buttonwood Tree in Middletown. By 2000, Allison had become the state’s only arts presenter to regularly showcase cutting-edge improvisational music. West Hartford witnessed the opening—and closing—of the Metropol Restaurant, which had shown promise as a jazz venue. The final blow for the local jazz scene came, ironically enough, on Thanksgiving weekend, when Hartford’s legendary Cafe 880 Jazz called it quits. But is that really the end of the story?

 Survivor Stories

            Fortunately, we jazz lovers are a pretty resilient bunch! We’re used to swimming upstream, and when we hit the rapids, as happened last year, we tend to push that much harder. Forget about those TV “survivors!” The real survivors, given the current inhospitable jazz climate, are folks like Paul Brown, who has continued to bring free concerts to Hartford every summer since 1967. WWUH is proud to have resumed our live Bushnell Park broadcasts of his Monday Night Jazz Series last July and August; the station’s jazz and engineering staffs donated their time each week to make sure this music reached our listeners.
           
Dave Liebman is another survivor worthy of note. The saxophonist has devoted his life to taking the jazz message to people worldwide, both through his playing and his devotion to education. He joined Ron Bosse and Pursuance for Stellar Regions, a WWUH benefit concert held at Cheney Hall in Manchester September 23. This event celebrated the rich legacy of John Coltrane’s work, but, in the finest jazz tradition, the participants made music of-the-moment—vibrant, daring and impassioned. Guitarist Bosse may be young, but he too qualifies as a survivor; he’s been preaching the jazz gospel non-stop since his days at Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music. In addition to performing and band leading, Bosse has led his own concert series and is currently teaching fulltime.    
           
Connecticut universities celebrated the accomplishments of two other jazz survivors in 2000. Wesleyan honored Max Roach, one of the music’s most significant drummers, at a September concert that featured the master in performance with professors Anthony Braxton and Jay Hoggard, among others. In November, the University of Hartford celebrated Professor Jackie McLean’s 30th anniversary with its Hartt School; McLean founded Hartt’s Department of African-American Music in 1980 and has been its director ever since.
           
Later that month, McLean and his wife Dollie also marked the 30th anniversary of their beloved Artists Collective, a Hartford-based teaching institute/performance venue that has received national recognition for its contributions to cultural education. Mrs. McLean’s efforts to bring the performing arts—especially jazz—into children’s’ lives have greatly enhanced the vitality of our region’s music scene during the past three decades.

           
While the current climate for live jazz in Greater Hartford could hardly be described as thriving, there are positive vibes in the air once again. The Hartford Jazz Society has found new strength by collaborating with other groups, including the Artists Collective and the Asylum Hill Congregational Church. Main & Hopewell in South Glastonbury seems to be making an earnest effort to rekindle their jazz flame. Also, in recent months, the Savannah Restaurant has been diligently building a successful weekly jazz series in downtown Hartford on Tuesday nights.

           
Lastly, there are several area merchants who deserve survivor awards for their enthusiastic jazz advocacy over many years. Ed Krech, owner of Integrity ‘n Music, Greater Hartford’s only CD/record shop specializing in jazz, has been doing his thing for a quarter-century. Besides being a longtime underwriter of 91.3 jazz programs, Mr. Krech recently offered to sponsor a jazz series at Wilde Auditorium, a stone’s throw from the WWUH studios, with proceeds to benefit our station. “Stay tuned” for further details.

           
Tom Griswold, who works magic on brass instruments at West Hartford Center’s Horn Shop, is a longtime ’UH supporter; so is Art Benson, a drum doctor/designer at Manchester’s Dynamic Percussion. Ditto for Tony Hume, proprietor of The Piano & Organ Warehouse in Bloomfield, whose keyboards are in attendance at many Connecticut jazz performances. These gentlemen exemplify the kind of behind-the-scenes dedication and passion necessary to ensure that you ultimately get to hear the music, whether in person, on recordings or over the airwaves.         

Copyright©WWUH: May/June Program Guide, 2001

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