One new venue offering multiple ways to celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) this April is Filament at the Vanderelli Room, “a grassroots-oriented performing arts space and listening lounge” operated by Gerard Cox within The Vanderelli Room art gallery in Franklinton, just west of Downtown Columbus. Filament will be holding a JAM Celebration on Friday, April 20th from 8 to 11pm – see below and Facebook for more info. Of course, the venue has many more great performances coming up, including And Then Came Humans and more on April 21 (info), Dan Wenninger & Heat Transfer and more on May 5 (info), Chatoyant/Spectrum 3 on May 26, “Like 88 Tuned Drums” Cecil Taylor Tribute on June 1 and the Brandon Coleman Trio on June 27. Filament also presents engaging ongoing series like Phil Maneri’s “Phil @ Filament” each Wednesday night, Second Saturdays afternoon collaborative shows, and a new monthly Thursday series from Lisa Bella Donna starting April 26th. Stay tuned to the Filament and Vanderelli Room Facebook pages for updates. Cox was kind enough to answer my questions about JAM, Filament’s JAM YouTube playlist (link below), and the venue, so keep reading to learn more.
What do you have planned for Filament’s JAM celebration on the 20th?
Gerard Cox (GC): Good live music and giveaways! Danny Bauer, Zakk Jones and Max Marsillo will be playing a set of Monk, Duke, Coltrane, and some originals and throughout the evening we’ll be raffling off some classic jazz LPs and some newer-release jazz CDs. If we have a quorum there will also be an open jam after the guys have played their set. We have a house drum set and a house piano and vibraphone. Next year we plan to have more than just the one day of celebration but the building has been rented out by a theater company this April so scheduling has been a little tricky. Also for musicians and artists reading this, this event is happening the same night that the 614 Connect event is going on in the Vanderelli Room. 614 Connect is a mixer for the creative community here, so it could be a great two-fer: make some interesting new connections with other artists and then check out the new Filament performance space.
What purpose and value do you think JAM serves to the jazz community?
GC: I think on the most basic level jazz deserves to throw itself a party. It’s such a beautiful legacy and cultural heritage and worth making a point to specifically acknowledge. However, it is not unlike Black History Month in that technically, “every month should be jazz appreciation month.” Still, it’s a rally of sorts, and maybe some momentum or feeling re-energized is comes out of it each year that wouldn’t necessarily transpire otherwise. It’s also an opportunity to reflect about everything that’s happened and to be grateful for the rich history of the music, grateful for all of the luminaries and for all of the people who’ve had to make sacrifices on behalf of this music, and to be grateful about the very fact that this art form even exists because I don’t think it was some kind of basic human inevitability – much more the outcome of a chain reaction of specific historical events and specific cultural developments. It is a distinctly American art form that has been led by the pioneering contributions of some truly luminescent African-American musicians.
I understand you’ve created an epic jazz YouTube playlist in tribute to JAM. What inspired you to create it?
GC: I think YouTube is actually a pretty amazing resource for being exposed to the depth and breadth of jazz. I’ve been clear on this for a while, noticing how people would upload LPs that are out-of-print and might otherwise not be heard, how they’d upload great documentaries and interviews like “Jackie McLean on Mars,” and not to mention so much of the concert footage that has been uploaded – a good amount of which is pretty unusual footage. The only thing is that unless you have a mind to finding all the jazz gems on YT, you’re not necessarily going to run into them. Yes, you can go down the rabbit hole of suggestions on the sidebar, and I have indulged many a time – but the algorithm they use is pretty hit-or-miss; sometimes the suggestions are great, sometimes they’re whatever.
While plenty of other people have made jazz playlists, they’re most often just centered around a particular artist, band, label, or subgenre. I decided that what was needed was a playlist that actually attempts to represent the entire scope of jazz history, and not just all the typical highlights/50 greatest albums fare but a lot of albums, documentaries, and interviews that some musicians and super fans know about but many would not even know exist. For the most part the playlist is chronological and attempts to flesh out all of the major movements within the music through representative artists – some well-known, some not so well-known. I used the playlist not only to highlight the greats we all know but also to try and shed light on some artists that I think more people should know about, like Elmo Hope or Frank Strozier or Marzette Watts. I tried to adequately cover everything, even things that I don’t personally relate to or care for all that much, and so if there are omissions they are not by design but just simply forgetting to include something. Certainly there are also things that I emphasize that another curator might not do so or vice versa. I don’t think it’s possible to be completely detached from your personal taste in making such a list, but I feel like the list I came up with is pluralistic and that there is plenty of interesting stuff for any fan or musician to delve into there.
It has been quite an undertaking – there are 500 videos including full albums, individual tracks, concert footage, interviews, and even some oddities, and I would guess I’ve spent at least 15-20 hours working on it. My inspiration? It’s the kind of thing honestly that I would have loved to have access to when I was in my 20s first getting deep into jazz – a kind of motherlode of jazz document, where the whole landscape is really laid out and there for you to explore. You have to remember too, it’s only a couple of decades ago when if you wanted to watch jazz concert videos, you had to buy a VHS tape for 29.95 or something ridiculous like that. I still have a few of those! And being able to hear out-of-print LPs without spending a fortune? No chance. It’s really pretty crazy how YT has democratized the jazz archives.
Also it should be noted this playlist is by no means a static thing. I intend to continue to add selections to it and welcome suggestions for content from people.
How do you think Filament performances have gone so far? Any particular stories of memorable shows/experiences?
GC: Great – they’ve been pretty well-attended for the most part and we’ve gotten a lot of compliments about how the room sounds (which is actually the most important thing to me), and how we laid it out and furnished it, and I think we’ve had a good range of music thus far. The Brandon Coleman Trio sounded just wonderfully crisp in that room, and we’ve had one notable art happening where Mario Bosca and AJ Vanderelli did an improvised collaboration that resulted in an 8-foot tall painting now permanently on display outside our door. One cool sort of validation is that we have some regulars who just moved here from Chicago. They used to go to Constellation and The Hungry Brain, so they kind of know what’s possible and are really enthusiastic about our space. I’m also really pleased with how Phil Maneri’s “Phil at Filament” Wednesday night series is going. Phil came to me with a vision of what he wanted to do (have an improvised musical conversation with a different guest each week), then just really took the idea and ran with it. This is how the space is supposed to work; artists taking ownership with a vision or a concept and then doing the leg work to make it a reality. Phil is totally on the case.
For those who may yet be unfamiliar, how would you describe Filament and its programming?
GC: Well first of all the basics: Filament is a venue that’s actually inside the Vanderelli Room art gallery in Franklinton. It’s a longish room that can seat about 20-25 people. It’s meant to be an intimate performance space and LISTENING ROOM. I was inspired by Smalls, The Stone, The Jazz Gallery – proper creating and listening environments that are unapologetically about the art. It’s not a bar where the music is often in competition with people talking and where you can get a really fickle or disinterested crowd; it’s more like a little theater. The thing is too though, we don’t want anybody to come and feel like it’s going to be this formal, uptight experience where you have to sit still like a mummy. We want people to move and to vocally interact with the music. Also, if you feel like taking a break and catching up with friends, what’s cool is that you can just adjourn into the gallery space or the hallway and carry on all you like. We have that kind of flexibility.
How do you envision Filament’s purpose relative to Columbus’ jazz scene?
GC: I think the highest purpose it can serve is to offer musicians more of a pure creative space to develop bands and ideas over time – to be an incubator of sorts and give artists a consistent space to perform and experiment. I think it can also fulfill an important niche as an intimate listening room with legit acoustics. When the music sounds acoustically appealing, it’s just a more engaging and pleasant experience for the audience and the musicians.
As for just how much of a jazz venue Filament will be, it is definitely on our radar of music that we’d like to present but time will tell on how much jazz we present, as with the other music that’s on our radar. We are also presenting free jazz & improv, electronic music, noise – but I would say that the shape this space takes and the culture it ends up having is ultimately going to be based on who really wants to be there and to keep playing there. We’re not a bar or club so we don’t have the extra revenue from which to pay bands guarantees; I realize that in itself narrows the field of who is likely to play there (though we are planning to apply for some grants).
More than anything else we’re wanting to grow with artists and to build relationships over time, and specifically with artists who aren’t well-served by the venue situation as is, artists doing things that aren’t really commercially “viable” or just don’t make sense in a bar, as well as younger musicians trying to get their sound together. Doing one-offs with “names” where we don’t see the artist again for 2 years doesn’t really build toward anything though and so it’s of less interest. And yet, it just doesn’t make sense to have any hard-and-fast rules. Our preference is to have a core of artists and bands that keep playing and developing in the space, but more than anything else we want the space to be active. We want it to have a real presence and to have a certain consistency of activity. We do feel like the city really needs spaces like this, not only for the artists to have a reliable place to present creative music but also for people in general to have a cool, welcoming space to hang out at and one that doesn’t revolve around alcohol. We want to be a nexus where artists and people from different backgrounds can have positive experiences together. Too often I think cultural events here are this socially-circumscribed thing of “Oh, yeah – these are all the people I’m used to seeing on that scene, all the familiar faces.” At the same time I don’t think people are necessarily happy with this outcome. So if we don’t have a real motley, improbable crew of people frequenting the space and there aren’t new connections and friendships being made then we’re probably failing in what we set out to do.