Jazz and the underground loft scene

Hugo Claudin from Mexicains Sans Frontieres recently gave me a cool break down of the jazz underground in New York, from back in the hey-days of the early jazz movement.

The story parallels much of what is happening in today’s music scene… the proliferation of digital technology and social media has been a big leveler of the playing field for many great bands that would otherwise have been ignored. On the other hand, it also allows for more people to take advantage of the precious few (and dwindling) venues out there for live music.

With the above mentioned issues facing independent musicians (and many more issues not addressed by me), and the inspiration of the great jazz masters’ example of d.i.y. venues, Hugo has spent the last 6 years putting on great shows at his loft, Mexicains Sans Frontieres. Bringing not only great jazz, but modern avant garde music, and even great art shows to Grand Rapids in a modern day version of the underground loft scene.

Longrun Development of the Universe Trio at Mexicains Sans Frontieres

The development of the jazz loft scene came about because jazz musicians faced a lot of challenges in the early days.

Sometimes the jazz club owners took advantage of the musicians (some things never change!), making it hard for them to make an honest living.

Sometimes the police, in an effort to harass the “dope fiend” jazz musicians, would confiscate the musicians’ work cards, making it impossible for them to land a paying gig in a unionized scene.

Sometimes the musicians just couldn’t land a decent gig due to any number of circumstances. Maybe they played nearby too recently (this is a clause in many contracts musicians have to sign in order to play venues, even today). Maybe a gig was cancelled at the last minute and it was not enough notice to land another legitimate gig.

And of course there were the obvious societal pressures and racial barriers dividing musicians and paying fans.

The answer: Musicians and fans started an underground scene… in their lofts, ironically. Travelling musicians could land a decent gig, not get ripped off, make new friends by meeting other musicians and fans, and get their music heard.

Michael Vlatkovich Trio

This is exactly the prototype for the early rock and roll musicians, and later punk rock and hardcore scenes developed in this d.i.y. method.

Thanks to the resources available to us today, a decent web presence and a little organization is all it takes for people to continue this tradition in an effective manner. All across the world small underground venues are flourishing in this great tradition. Support them as often as you can and help keep the tradition alive.

Mark Helias



About analogmutant

art, music, food, movies, citizen journalism, activism, and whatever else i am into at the moment...
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