Photo by Jason Crane
Gio Russonello: Our goal is always first and foremost to support those who are already doing such great things on this scene, whether that’s musicians or presenters, or journalists or anybody. We wanted to simply support and catalyze even more coverage of the jazz scene. We wanted to support all the people who are putting on great jazz shows in their clubs and in their restaurants. We wanted to support the musicians who are day-in and day-out hustling to do their craft in a way that has integrity and reaches people. All of that I think is not mutually exclusive with presenting the music in an- in a new and- and personal way for us.
Jo Reed: That was Gio Russonello. He was talking about the goals of Capital Bop, an organization he began and now operates with collaborator, Luke Stewart.
Welcome to ArtWorks the program that goes behind the scenes with some of the nation's great artists to explore how art works. i'm your host Josephine Reed.
Writer Gio Russenello and musician Luke Stewart were used to seeing each another at one or another of Washington DC's many jazz clubs. The problem was they weren't seeing too many other people, especially younger folks their age. But rather than moaning and groaning, these two enterprising mid-20 somethings took action. They launched Capital Bop. Simply put, Capital Bop is an online clearinghouse that gives folks, among other things, a calendar of jazz events in the District. Capital Bop also presents DC Jazz Loft, which are monthly jazz sessions in small off-beat venues throughout the city. Their goal is to shine a spotlight on the great music made in DC by local musicians while enticing new and younger listeners to live jazz.
But they can explain Capital Bop far better than I. Here's Gio Russonello.
Gio Russonello: CapitalBop is a website and generally an organization dedicated to promoting and spotlighting the D.C. jazz scene, which often means putting a spotlight on the clubs and the theaters that exist to put on this great music that we have in town. But it also means expanding the ways that people can listen to the live form of that music. So through our website we like to cast a light on- on those venues, those shows that are already happening, and also put out reviews of CDs and recordings made my local artists. But then on the flip side we like to have a part in expanding the ways that people get to experience the music. So we’ve over the past year and a half really dedicated ourselves to helping people think outside the box in terms of the ways that this music can be appreciated and in the process we’ve put on a number of shows of our own at non-traditional spaces, which we feel has been something that encourages a lot of people who aren’t necessarily inclined to go to a jazz club or go to a theater. It has helped them embrace the music in an unsuspecting kind of way come across it just by saying, "I wanna go out and do something different this week."
Jo Reed: Luke Stewart.
Luke Stewart: Likewise. Through people gaining awareness of the contemporary jazz scene in D.C., which is definitely among the- the best scenes in the world, let alone the United States. It sort of opens up a gateway for a lotta people in- in the work that we- that we try to do. In terms of bringing awareness to D.C.’s very rich jazz history, history in the music, from all different standpoints, approaches, all of that. And also, we’re sort of continuing a lineage of non-traditional spaces going all the way back to when jazz first started.
Jo Reed: Let’s first clear up the name. CapitalBop, you are not clearly just interested in bop.
Gio Russonello: Right.
Luke Stewart: Right.
Jo Reed: You’re interested in the spectrum of jazz.
Luke Stewart: Absolutely.
Jo Reed: Correct. Okay.
Gio Russonello: It was something of a rhythmic misnomer.
Jo Reed: CapitalBop.com, it’s a very robust website where you have a very detailed calendar. You have a blog. You have video. You have audio. And that’s one of the ways that people can see what’s going on in terms of jazz in Washington, D.C.
Jo Reed: Gio.
Gio Russonello: We just wanna make sure that people recognize that they can go out and enjoy this music at any point. You know, any day of the week, any day of the year you can go out and hear music in D.C., and it can be- it can be extremely virtuosic and exciting jazz. The thing that you mentioned about the calendar, you called it robust. What it is is it’s just a reflection of the sheer volume of stuff that’s happening in this town, because really the calendar is sort of the best metaphor for why we started the site. It’s just overflowing with shows that we get to write previews for, and I think our enthusiasm for the music comes through in those previews because we’re- we’re often talking about these musicians who live in D.C., work multiple nights a week in D.C., you can hear them at any number of clubs or theaters or restaurants and there’s never any shortage of places to go to hear great jazz. So the- the point is- is simply to have a resource that consolidates all that information and lets people know.
Jo Reed: Well, how did the site begin?
Luke Stewart: Well, Gio started the site actually. He, I’ll let him explain more, but he started it, launched it and at the Rosslyn Jazz Festival. He was basically passing out flyers and things and I was working with WPFW in broadcasting that event. And we had met before, hung out a couple times before, and so when he just asked me if I would like to write some articles or get involved in some kinda way, I said, "Sure."
Gio Russonello: Essentially I created the website to put a spotlight on the scene. As I mentioned, a lot of- of show presenting ourselves, but the mission originally was, and has always remained, primarily to cast a light on what’s already happening in this town. So the calendar was the hub of my idea and then around it grew, "Okay. Let’s write reviews of shows. Let’s do previews, in-depth of the artists who are coming into town to do a big show at the Kennedy Center," or "Let’s do a musician profile on this local legend." But yeah. The idea of the site was simply, "I’m tired of going to all these amazing shows in town and not seeing anybody there." For there to be more world-class musicians on stage than there are audience members, there was a disconnect that I perceived. So I said, "There just needs to be a good messenger." Partially because jazz is just a marginalized music, but also because a lotta those shows are recurring, so they’re not newsy, they don’t get a lotta coverage. But I just wanted to create a calendar that would let people understand, "This is a city with one of the most multifaceted and also just voluminous jazz scenes that there is." So as soon as I started it, Luke said on that very first day we ran into each other, And he was actually very enthusiastic about the idea, so from then on, from the very first day forward, we were partners in the whole endeavor.
Jo Reed: You were collaborators.
Jo Reed: I know you’re from Mississippi.
Luke Stewart: Yes.
Jo Reed: How did you discover jazz in D.C.?
Luke Stewart: Well, I basically discovered jazz, period, in D.C. By the time I moved to D.C. I was already an avid jazz listener, just through, record collecting and listening and all that stuff. Where I’m from is also 90 miles away from New Orleans. So in terms of jazz, I heard that sort of ragtime, New Orleans style jazz a lot. And, you know, that was cool. It wasn’t really, like, you know, touching me the way that the music that I was listening to on a CD did. So when I came here, the first time I had ever heard live bebop was at Twins Jazz. I saw the Sonny Fortune Quartet. I just remember walking in there and it being a really transformative experience for me
Sonny Fortune up and hot….
Luke Stewart: Feeling the energy, it was kinda like something out of a I guess this, like, fantasy world of jazz that I had. In terms of, you know, you go upstairs, it’s this, you know, this club, this, like, really small, intimate space. I don’t remember there being that many people there. There was maybe five or so people. But to me that sort of just added to the whole fantasy fulfillment that I was experiencing. And then just feeling the energy of the live music just was really a- a very powerful experience. And as I continue to go out because I’m a musician, I was on the- the stage side of it. I did notice that, you know, at certain events there wouldn’t be that many people, and the people that I would talk to just, like, in my peer group, jazz just wasn’t on their radar at all.
Jo Reed: Why do you think younger people have not gravitated to jazz? Why isn’t it on their radar screen? Luke.
Luke Stewart: It’s not marketed to our generation. for some reason, jazz is evolved in a sense to- to completely influence and form and shape other styles of music that have come forth out of jazz. The most recent the culturally defiant movement in music, hip-hop. There have been books written about how it’s a continuation of the jazz lineage with its use of improvisation, the rhythm. You can say that hip-hop in- in a way, is the next step for jazz. It’s almost like we’re dealing with this music so hard and it’s- it’s defining who we are so much that we, you know, anything else is almost irrelevant.
Gio Russonello: There’s a lot of complicated cross-currents obviously that affect popularity and society’s embrace of art and just any cultural phenomenon, right. But I think you can think of it like you can think of fashion, which is something that is an expression, a mode of expression for people, but it’s also highly commodified and commercialized and dictated sort of by the winds and the tides of the commercial market. Uhm.. so, you know, what people were wearing in the ‘60s had to go out of fashion, because, first of all, if your parents wore it, you weren’t gonna wanna wear it. All of those forces work together in the same way in the music world. So that one generation’s will to self-actualization and expression forces them to create new musics. And also the embrace of new technologies with which you can create music. And also the deprivation of instruments in urban areas and the ending of music education programs. All of these things have a come together in a confluence that actually results in something like funk or hip-hop or whatever the next thing will be. But what’s interesting is there might be that really hip thing that your dad used to wear that you pick it up when you turn 17 or 18 and you’re just getting over just, you know, reflexive rebellion, and you say, "That, I can really get down with that. That tie looks good on me," you know, "and it- and it says something about who I am, because my dad is also part of me," and what’s interesting about jazz is just the strength with which it’s resonating with people who go for the hip-hop, go for the- for the rock ‘n’ roll and the electronic dance music of their day, and then they also turn around and say, "But wait. This music has a broader palette. It has more colors musically than anything else I’ve ever dealt with. And in its own way, I can express myself even more robustly through this music than I feel like I can through the quote, unquote ‘contemporary’ or mainstream musics." So people are escaping these ideas that you must innovate, you must separate yourself from the past and don’t turn around and look backward. People who are great musicians and who are most, most concerned about representing themselves in the moment, are finding a way to let improvised and really dynamic music that is jazz, let that be a way for them to channel their contemporary passions. And that doesn’t mean it needs to sound like John Coltrane. It can sound like somebody who’s been listening chiefly to hip-hop. But it’s just such a- it’s just such a rich, musical language that I think people in our generation are especially finding it useful to sort of refract all of their own musical tastes through jazz.
Music up and hot
Gio Russonello: It’s a time of musical blossoming in the jazz world. So people are beginning to embrace that mentality of saying, "It better be current and it better be now," but it can also have the whole history of jazz contained within it. So we have a lotta great young musicians doing that.
Jo Reed: Let’s talk about D.C. Jazz Loft. Luke.
Luke Stewart: So the D.C. Jazz Loft, my band Laughing Man was ….
Gio Russonello: Which is a rock band.
Luke Stewart: Which is a rock band.
Jo Reed: That’s an indie rock band.
Luke Stewart: An indie rock band, yes. And we were- we were tenants of an artist base called Gold Leaf Studios. And basically it was a- a practice, rehearsal space, for many different bands over the years. And many, many artists and photographers, sculptors, lotta different people were in that space over the years. And we used it mainly as a- as an area to- to, you know, work on our material and then eventually we started hosting shows there. Whenever we started hosting shows, called it Red Door, there was a red door that you had to go into in order to get into our section of the building. So Red Door was hosting different programs. Gio and I had started collaborating. And he came by the space and with the idea that we should be doing some jazz in here, you know…some CapitalBop-sponsored events, D.C. Jazz Loft.
Jo Reed: Okay. Describe what a jazz loft is. Gio.
Gio Russonello: Couple things. Yeah. So- so a jazz loft, the idea, like so many things that we’ve been discussing, is historically rooted and it has a lotta precedent. But at the same time, it was definitely defined by its current surroundings and its place in- in the present community of- of the D.C. jazz scene. So a jazz loft is something that you could- you can trace all the way back to the Harlem of 1920s if you want towhere piano players used to get together at 4:00 A.M. after their gigs and quote, unquote, "cut" all night, meaning outdo each other on the piano and play cards and smoke cigars and play piano and it was just for themselves. But the- but the time that the jazz loft itself really became a phenomenon was in the ‘50s and ‘60s during the be-bop era when musicians almost exclusively for themselves, again, would come together after their gigs in lofts in Midtown Manhattan, particularly one that was run by a photographer for LIFE magazine who was a big jazz enthusiast and ended up taping all of the jam sessions that were hosted there at all hours. So now we have, for posterity, this incredible uh.. archive of hundreds and hundreds of hours of tape from these phenomenal jam sessions and rehearsals. So now that’s been, thanks to Duke University, that’s been archived and we have this really great historical record of jazz lofts, which are just these amazing smoky intimate gatherings of musicians. And what’s stunning about those is the amount that the music is being created on its own terms and free from commercial interests and constraints of the racism of the day that dictated a lotta the club and performing venues and also just free from the need to sell drinks or deal with uptight club owners. So the music that was being created during those times crossed a lotta boundaries, musically and culturally. And then in the ‘70s, the Loft jazz movement, if you switch the words, was actually something that came about in the free jazz scene. So people like David Murray, Sam Rivers, major figures in the- sorta the outer reaches of the jazz world, mostly in lower Manhattan, started to set up sort of something that we see a lot of today in a slightly altered form. Sort of artist-run performance in educational spaces and also rehearsal spaces. So these were lofts mostly in lower Manhattan where artists could work, could rehearse their bands and then often just by virtue of sort of the artist’s will to present his or her work, they would hold concerts too, and those would be open to the public. So actually, our lofts themselves from the very first have always had sort of more of that vibe. Of sort of the mingling of the public and the performer. It’s not all the way into the club, but it’s also not all the way into the musician’s bedroom or rehearsal space. It’s somewhere in the middle.
Jo Reed: So explain to me what an evening is like at D.C. Jazz Loft
Luke Stewart: At the D.C. Jazz Loft.
Jo Reed:. Um-hm. Luke Stewart.
Luke Stewart: Well, basically you’re experiencing jazz in a very intimate location not venue-sized at all.
Gio Russonello: In a smallish room…
Luke Stewart: …in a very a small-ish room. a very a small-ish room. There’s no bartender. There’s not, like, a table where you sit down and you’re ordering food or drinks. There’s no waiters. There’s no bouncer …
Gio Russonello: There’s no even stage really.
Luke Stewart: Yeah, there’s no stage. There’s no one…
Jo Reed: There’s no charge.
Luke Stewart: They are suggested donation based. Money time comes in between sets when we would just go around and pass around the hat. Basically you just have the opportunity to hear live music from people who live in your proximity.
Jo Reed: And how many groups would I hear?
Gio Russonello: We did anywhere between three and five per night.
Gio Russonello: And we would always end in a jam session. There was a lot of heady energy going into the very first one we did.
Luke Stewart: Hmm.
Gio Russonello: We had five bands across a entire spectrum, from straight ahead classic hard bop to more composition-based progressive acoustic jazz to sort of hard rock fusion, free jazz stuff. And then we sort of realized three was the- was the optimal number, because you can’t really….
Luke Stewart: It’s the magic number.
Gio Russonello: It’s the magic number.
Jo Reed: It is.
Gio Russonello: So you can’t- you can’t hold a- an audience forever. But you can expose them to a range of music, different types of music, just over the course of three sets.
Jo Reed: Now, why do you think the use of non-traditional spaces? Why do you think that’s such a draw?
Luke Stewart: Well, because, like Gio said before, it’s a space firstly for musicians to feel comfortable in stretching out. They don’t come in with anything expected of them from the venue itself in terms of: "How many people are y- are you gonna come- get out tonight?"
Jo Reed: ‘Cause the pressure is certainly on the musician to- to draw crowds if they’re playing at a traditional venue.
Luke Stewart: Unfortunately, yeah. And in this- in- in the current climate today that’s--
Gio Russonello: That’s one of the upside-down uh... phenomena of commercial music presenting today.
Luke Stewart: So basically the musicians are more comfortable. That makes the audience comfortable, because they’re- that- that makes the art that the audience is experiencing all that more moving potentially, because they feel like they’re a part of something special so it automatically has this sort of novelty that exists because it’s- it’s in in- in a cruddy ol’ warehouse or it’s in- in this shack in- in an alley.
Jo Reed: Can you articulate what happens when you hear music or you see art in a place that is completely unexpected?
Gio Russonello: There’s a couple things going on. In direct response to that, I do think that jazz itself is a music that points out to us and holds up the joy of the unexpected from top to bottom, that’s what the music is about. The best jazz musicians find joy in surprise. Jason Moran, the great jazz piano player, said: "The goal of the improvising musician is to connect to every moment."
Luke Stewart: Mmm.
Gio Russonello: And I found that to be so beautiful, because that is- that is what we- what we achieve when we- when we listen to jazz even. If you’re an engaged listener who’s giving yourself the credit and the opportunity to really enjoy it, you’re connecting to every single moment. You’re not saying, "Oh, this is the same chorus, the same three-chord chorus that came up a minute ago, and I get to sing along again because I remember how it was last time." And that’s wonderful and that’s a- that’s an emotional resonance that pop music gives us. But at the same time, jazz doesn’t really do that. Even when it does repeat a chorus, there’s an improvisation from Coleman Hawkins on down that twists it and turns it and changes it. And that’s why this music is- is human. Right. Just like a space that’s not clean and not where you sit down and be quiet and listen to the music. This part in the back is where you stand and this is where you put your coat. Whereas jazz is not about that, jazz is about spontaneity above all else. And then the other thing I would mention what’s cool about the Jazz Loft is we’ve always made it a very hospitable place for musicians to come and listen to each other. But at the same time, we’ve brought in audience members. And we’ve always had a strong cohort of people who are just casual listeners. So it’s sort of like having that conversation with the musicians and realizing, "They’re not speaking a language that I can’t understand." It’s like you have these musicians appreciating and feeding off of each other, both in the audience and on stage, but then you also get to bring in these people who, for the first time in their life, get to sort of see the music from a musician’s perspective. It’s like a- a forbidden gathering that you don’t necessar-- just like the space itself, that you don’t necessarily feel like you ought to be privy to. Like, "How did I get in here? How did I have the right to- to see it through these eyes?" You know what I mean? And it’s like, "Well, because the music is just, it’s for everyone," you know. You’re in the family now when you’re at the Loft, you know.
Jo Reed: And have you been drawing younger audiences to D.C. Jazz Loft?
Luke Stewart: Absolu--and that’s- that’s one of the things about the audience at these particular venues is that a lotta times these- these venues have attracted a- a younger audience just because of the programming that t- that typically goes in these venues, typically, you know, more of the DIY aesthetic goes into this, so you get a lot of, you know, twenty-somethings. That was actually one of the things that was so- so powerful about the first few lofts, was that we were basically almost infiltrating into this other world. Bringing this music that isn’t on our generation’s radar for- for a lotta people. And we were implanting it right right in this space that’s associated with indie rock bands, associated with neofolk movements and we were putting jazz, like, right in their face basically. One of the greatest compliments that we got was people would come up to us and say, "This is the first time I’ve ever seen jazz live," and they would be, you know, our age or younger.
Jo Reed: And you’re in your mid-twenties.
Gio Russonello: Yes
Jo Reed: You have a very small staff.
Gio Russonello: <laughs> Yeah. Well, we are the staff.
Luke Stewart: <laughs>
Jo Reed: Yeah. I’m lookin’ at it. Where did you get the money to keep this going?
Gio Russonello What money? This is not a- this is not a highly monetary enterprise yet. <laughs> Luke is essentially a volunteer, entirely. I have been a volunteer in pretty much every way except that when-- sometimes we’ll sell advertising for the website and that’ll help recoup a little bit of the expenses and the time that I’ve put into maintaining the site.
Jo Reed: Did you use Kickstarter?
Luke Stewart: Oh, that’s just for the festival.
Gio Russonello: When we present major live events, which we do essentially once a year at the D.C. Jazz Festival, we do a series of shows. We’ve just completed our second annual. sort of, we call it the D.C. Jazz Loft Series as the D.C. Jazz Festival. We will get big donations from supporters, individuals and also through a Kickstarter campaign and it will help us fund working with not necessarily bigger venues, but a variety of venues that are of this sort of aesthetic that we like. It’ll also help us- the money will also help us bring in bigger acts. and it will help recoup some of the time and effort that we put in.
Jo Reed: Now, when did CapitalBop start?
Gio Russonello: September of 2010.
Jo Reed: And you’ve been at D.C. Jazz Fest for two years already?
Gio Russonello: Um-hm.
Jo Reed: That’s pretty quick.What do you bring to D.C. Jazz Fest and what does D.C. Jazz Fest bring to you?
Luke Stewart: Firstly, D.C. Jazz Festival brings to us in uh.. firstly advertising. Lots and lots of really great advertising. Great work that they do. And secondly, they provide us with a lot of support in the way of mentorship. In terms of presenting on that scale of an operation with l- you know, an internationally-renowned and known festival. Basically the D.C. Jazz Festival approached us because they saw that we were getting the young audiences, which is the audience that they have a hard time attracting. And so we bring them that. We also bring them varied programming. The D.C. Jazz Festival tends to cater to certain approaches to the music, certain audiences. So we present music that is- that- that’s sort of reflective of what’s going on now in jazz. The sort of really revolutionary sounds of today.
Jo Reed: Gio.
Gio Russonello: We provide them with an expanded view of what jazz is today…
Luke Stewart: Um-hm.
Gio Russonello: …by really bringing them a number of musicians bo- both locally and nationally who are as jazz as Luke said, on the cutting edge of today’s innovations in jazz. We provide them, like he also mentioned, with an entrée to younger audiences and just certain different types of audiences who might not otherwise be paying attention to the jazz world in D.C., let alone the festival itself. And then I think the third thing is what we’ve already discussed in-depth, which is that we expand the D.C. Jazz Festival’s notion and the notion that the D.C. Jazz Festival espouses, of what it means to present jazz and where jazz belongs. We present jazz during the festival at a number of venues, uh.. none of which ever would be part of the festival without our without our involvement.
Jo Reed: You take a very democratic view of jazz.
Gio Russonello: We do.
Gio Russonello: We do. Exactly, a populist one.
Luke Stewart: <laughs> Yeah.
Gio Russonello: And we do strive to find sort of off the beaten path venues, spots that never really have hosted jazz before.
Jo Reed: What’s next for jazz?
Luke Stewart: What’s next? Well, I mean, jazz is <laughs> jazz is next.
Gio Russonello: Is next.
Luke Stewart: That’s right.
Jo Reed: It’s next.
Jo Reed: What’s next for CapitalBop?
Gio Russonello: Uh.. following what’s--
Luke Stewart: Mmm, yeah.
Gio Russonello: --next in jazz.
Gio Russonello: We wanna continue to present we wanna continue to innovate naturally, which is the impulse of every great jazz musician. And we wanna make sure that- that our innovations have to do with how we serve as messengers. So that we’re bringing the people the word of the music in the best way possible. Whether that’s incorporating more video, incorporating more audio, making our site better, letting people interact more with the site, post their own video that they might’ve taken at performances. You know, we have a- a lot of ambition in terms of amping up the- the quality of our of our online product. At the same time, we wanna make sure that we get into every nook and cranny of D.C., and and continue to sort of liberate the idea of- of how the music can be heard and presented. So that’s what next is continuing to break down the barriers between jazz and different spaces, so that it can reach as many different people with as many different viewpoints as possible.
Jo Reed: Anything to add, Luke?
Luke Stewart: I mean, that’s pretty much it. Just continue what we’re doing uhm.. in terms of the coverage of the- the jazz scene, continuing with our D.C. Jazz lofts.
Jo Reed: And that’s every wee- every month?
Luke Stewart:Every second Sunday.
Jo Reed: Every second Sunday of the month.
Gio Russonello: There you go.
Jo Reed: Okay. Well, Luke Stewart. Gio Russonello. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. And thanks for all the good work for jazz.
Luke Stewart: Thank you.
Gio Russonello: Thank you.
Jo Reed: That was Luke Stewart and Gio Russonello...of capital bop. To find out more about jazz in Washington DC, go to Capitalbop.com
You've been listening to Art works produced at the national endowment for the arts,. Adam Kampe is the musical supervisor.
All the music we used today was recorded live.
We heard Luke Stewart and his jazz group, OOO Trio and The Kris Funn Trio performing "A Change is Gonna Come" They were recorded at DC Jazz Loft.
Our thanks to the musicians and Capital Bop.
We also heard an excerpt from the Sonny Fortune Quartet playing "In Waves of Dreams" from a live recording at the Sweet Rhythm. Used courtesy of Sonny Fortune.
The Art Works podcast is posted every Thursday at www.arts.gov. And now you can subscribe to Art Works at iTunes U -- just click on the iTunes link on our podcast page. Next week, we learn about the healing power of art for service members suffering from PTSD with veteran and author, Ron Capps.
To find out how art works in communities across the country, keep checking the Art Works blog, or follow us @NEAARTS on Twitter. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I'm Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.
Capital Bop expanding the DC’s jazz audience in unexpected places. [32:22]