Our Scene // Your Scene

(Before we get going, head to the bottom of the page and play the youtube link. It’ll set a really nice mood, promise.)

Hello! I won’t say too much because there’s SO MUCH great content below. We did want to say a thank you to everyone who is reaching out to offer their help, advice, words of encouragement. Zakk and I TRULY appreciate you and your willingness to help grow this thing!

ALSO, we had our first opinion submission, which prompted a long conversation and then a small epiphany: if you have a HOT TAKE, praise or (gentle, please) criticism of the scene, us, etc, we’d love to hear from you. We’re trying to highlight the WHOLE of the scene, and we can’t do it without you. SEND US YOUR THOUGHTS.

One more once:
If you are a musician (tell us about your life!), writer (write something!), reviewer (go to a show and tell us about it), graphic designer (you’ve seen what we have going on…), social media expert (jazz musicians are the worst at this!), web developer (we are also not good at this), artist (let’s collaborate on a show!), or listener (thank you! tell us what you like – or what you don’t!) who’s interested in helping us grow this site and our community, check out THIS post and think about what you might want to share! Our scene IS your scene.

I Love The Way You See Us // Ben Willis, photographer

This is the first spotlight of many on the non-musicians who make up the scene here in Columbus. Today, let’s give thanks to Ben Willis.

Ben is a photographer and a painter and a coffee expert and a bicyclist. If we were talking in a bar, I might also call him some sort of a wise-beyond-expectations person, a watcher, documenter, willing participant of the scene. His photography knocks us out, beautiful and gritty and dark and intimate – documenting the feeling of a space, and the look of the music.

When we talked a few weeks ago, we drank coffee and solved the world’s problems. A few days later, he sent me this:

“I think often about the first time Jazz came together for me. What I mean by that is the culmination of the history, the past and present players, the atmosphere, the people listening, the moving and bopping of heads, hands and feet rhythmically; the noise of the crowd is a part of the whole experience you know. The smell of the air changes, the way you taste, your eyes widen and the hair on the back your neck stand at attention.”

“I heard Gibraltar played by Eddie Bayard at Brothers Drake Meadery back in 2016. It was a Wednesday Night – my god, I think I also got my car broken into that night but the performance was so good, it didn’t matter. I was thrown back but also at the edge of my seat. I wanted to engage so badly with the pace and perfection of each note. I was desperately holding on to every gap, so that I might be able to catch my breath. I knew at that moment I loved the experience of Jazz and that I was a part of it and it was a part of me – really, I believe it to be the fabric of life.”

“About a year ago I found my way to engage with the music I fondly listened to: photography. I distinctly remember watching documentaries about John Coltrance, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard and being mesmerized by how they were captured on film. Stoic, enthralled, poised, frantic, the way they looked while they were playing, while they were smoking, and jiving. I wanted to capture that but for Us. I wanted to capture that not only for those of us listening, but for the musicians, and for the history. For posterity’s sake.”

“When I photograph these cats, these nights, the ambiance, I am trying to show it in a way that is familiar yet improvisational, like jazz. I am also trying to show with every photo the love I have for the music. How it can unify a room, a people, a city, and how it can challenge us in ways to be better. How it can comfort us in times of need, and how it can inspire us to do what must be done to make life worth it. When I photograph, that is what’s in the back of my mind. At the front is a deep love and admiration for what’s being presented: the gift of jazz. When you look at my photos I hope you can feel all that, because that’s the way Jazz makes me feel.”

Ben Willis, photographer // check him OUT

An Interview with Shawn Purcell // Zakk Jones

I’ve had the great pleasure of getting to know guitarist Shawn Purcell over the past year or so. Purcell is based in D.C. and plays with the esteemed Navy Commodores big band, teaches at George Mason University and leads his own groups. He is an absolute monster on the instrument, and has a real command of tradition while striving constantly for new sounds.

On February 21st Shawn and his wife, vocalist Darden Purcell, will be joined by an all-star local rhythm section at Filament. They will also host masterclasses at my alma mater Capital University during the day. It’s been one of my personal goals to try and facilitate gigs and events for touring jazz/improvising musicians, and this will be another great collaboration thanks to Filament, Capital and everyone else involved.  
Shawn Purcell’s website
Darden Purcell’s website
Link to Filament performance

Here is the basic info for events on Feb. 21st:
Capital University:
Shawn Purcell Masterclass: 2 pm in Huntington Recital Hall hosted by Stan Smith 
Darden Purcell Masterclass: 3pm with vocal students hosted by Chad Payton.
Filament 9:00-11:30pm, $8 suggested donation
Shawn Purcell – Guitar
Darden Purcell – Voice 
Joey Skoch – Piano
Nate Smith – Bass
Ryan Folger – Drums and Cymbals

This is my first phone interview specifically for JazzColumbus, and I decided to post some of the questions directly here in a redacted/edited form. We had a fabulous discussion about his music, past, his creative process and much more. If you’d like to listen to the whole thing yourself you can do that below.

Zakk: Let’s talk about this little run of Ohio dates. Why did you choose Ohio and what’s kind of the impetus and what is with the music you’ll be presenting? 

Shawn: So really the reason I chose Ohio is initially just from our discussions about coming into Columbus. And then when you were able to get that for us, which we’re so appreciative of and so excited to be playing there, I reached out to Bob stop in Cleveland cause I know it’s a couple hours away and I figured that, you know, since we’re trekking from D C, it’d be great to make a couple of days out of it. And I mean, you know, you do this stuff all the time too when you go out of town, it’s just really great to kind of have like a couple of nights and a couple things happening just to kind of get comfy. Playing with Ryan and Nate both nights will really be awesome. 

As far as music goes, most of the music is off my new record, Symmetricity. And then Darden’s got a couple of records out on Armored Records. We’ll do some things from her records as well as some standards but re-imagined or re-treated. 

Zakk: I think it’s just so important to keep the types of relationships where, you know, if you’re coming up, you’re going to be playing with older people that are helping you out. But it’s a mutual thing. It’s not just like they’re your teacher, but you’re a friend and colleague. I’m just curious, who were your mentors kind of growing up and how did those experiences, you know, help you out? 

Shawn: Yeah. Right. Um, there was actually like, I would say my biggest mentor on guitar, uh, was this guy that actually lives in Nashville still. And his name’s Jim Frazier. I started taking lessons with him when I was like a senior in high school. Um, and I was playing like metal and doing various other stuff and kind of starting to get into playing some jazz and listening to it, but never really thought about doing that necessarily for a career, I guess at the time. And so I started taking lessons with Jim and I only really studied with him for about six or eight months, but he showed you know, like all the different voicings and scale choices and kinda started like putting me on that path. And it’s that time when I decided, okay, I want to pursue this for the rest of my life.

So I would say Jim, even though it was a very brief, um, interaction in the big scheme of things, I would say he was probably the most instrumental person in my career that just kind of gave me information that excited me and caused me to decide, okay, I’m really gonna do this. So I think, yeah, it’s very important. Like, I’m 48 now. So I definitely think about those types of things, especially when I do clinics or perform for younger musicians or do masterclasses and camps thinking, Hey, this could be that turning point in someone’s life. 

Zakk: It’s just so funny that like a lot of people just don’t know that a life and career in the arts is even possible cause they’re not told that it is. And just seeing someone or talking to someone that’s like, “no, yeah, you should actually do this”. It’s super important. So that’s awesome.

Shawn: Yeah. And it’s great cause I sort of had a weird childhood or unusual because my entire dad’s side of the family, were all professional musicians. So I just kind of, I just kind of grew up knowing about the music business to some extent. But yeah, when you talk to a 17 year old kid whose parents aren’t musicians and maybe aren’t even that interested in music. Yeah. They just don’t know what possibilities there are out there. So a lot of them have like a, I don’t want to say a negative view, but they’re just a little bit wary of, you know, what is my child going to do as a musician?

 And so Darden and I definitely try to talk to these folks, the kids and the parents and just say like, Hey, we’ve done lots of things that you would never even know a musician could do. Like I’d never would’ve known that. Like the circus had a musician, a guitar player, right? There’s all these different avenues that you can stumble into, but until you kind of take that leap of faith, you just don’t see it. Like they see it either as you’re a famous musician or you’re homeless and unemployed and they don’t really know all of the teaching possibilities, the private work, the people that do weddings for a living or corporate work shows… all kinds of, you know, amazing stuff that until you’re in this business, you just don’t know about. 

So I think it’s important to relay that also to young musicians to keep them engaged so that they don’t just give up the opportunity because they just think there’s no place for me or there’s really nothing I can do to make a living as a guitarist when in fact there’s a lot. I mean, it’s difficult. I mean, you know how difficult it is. You have to do a lot of different things and wear a lot of different hats. But it’s definitely possible. 

Zakk:  How do you deal with musical ruts and challenges?

Shawn: Oh boy, that’s a good question. That’s a question that all my students will ask me from time to time and I never feel like I have a really good answer for it. For me it’s listening. I think if I’m stuck in a musical rut, I’ll go back to like, I think about the time when I was an undergrad and I first heard Pat Martino and he was kind of the first jazz guitar cat that when I heard that I thought, okay, that’s what I want to play. I want to figure that out and do that. So I think that I will go back and listen to those records, those players that first inspired me or even new players and  always seem to find something that inspires me. So I’m going to kind of dive into that area more. So I think for, and I tell this to the younger musicians too, like just listening can help get you out of a rut because you just will hear something that you think “Whoa, that’s something I would like to do that I don’t have in my bag or my language.” And so it inspires you to kind of go into a different direction.

I do always feel like this impending overwhelming feeling of like, man, I need to learn tunes and  my lines are not happening. I need to learn how to play Giant Steps and navigate Coltrane changes. There’s a lot of stuff to deal with. And I don’t know if that feeling ever goes away. Like I’ve never lost that feeling of wow, there’s all this stuff. But I just try to take it, you know, now with like the busier you get, um, you just have less and less time to devote to that stuff. So now I cherish that time and try to work on developing my practice so that when I do have a couple hours I can really kind of make a little bit of headway on like learning a new tune or learning some kind of new way of navigating a certain progression. 

Zakk: Well, thank you so much for taking the time with me today. I’m looking forward to getting this out and hearing about how the gigs go! 

Shawn: Man, I really appreciate it. We’re sorry you’re not going to be there, but we’re really stoked to be coming in there and playing, so cool. It’ll be a lot of fun.

Zakk Jones, Co-Editor

As Phil Sees It // Phil Maneri

An interesting question came up in a Q and A during a gig I was on last week. The comment was something like this; “I seem to see the same people doing the same kinds of things every time I go to jazz gigs in town”. He was wondering why there wasn’t more options as he was getting bored of the same old things. 

First, I’d like to say that that is a rare patron, and I wish everyone would speak up like this. Demanding new and creative diversity is a wonderful thing. I love it when an audience pushes me to new places and demands a high quality performance. Those kinds of audience comments in real time are encouraging, challenging, and show that they are paying attention; that they crave even more than I’m getting to at the moment. Great stuff.

Lots of music patrons aren’t like that. Many people want predictability and comfort in their entertainment time. They have certain expectations about the type of performance they want, and seek out places that deliver that -over and over again. Habit entertainment.  Here’s the thing, though- Jazz is improvised and spontaneous to some degree or another. That’s by definition risky for a listener compared to something that is played over and over in a similar fashion night after night. The venue owners and promoters understand this, and are more likely to select artists and musical styles which have a higher level of predictability, musical comfort, if you will, than those which are more challenging to listen to. They tend to book artists that will play same tunes over and over to keep their rooms full. This is quite understandable, but often at odds with the growth and development of a jazz scene.  

I’d wouldn’t presume to tell someone how to book their room.  Do what you must to keep the doors open. I would suggest though, that more adventurous musical aficionados seek out places that are taking risks and support them as much as possible.  Filament at the Vanderelli Room comes to mind. There are others. Share your favorites with a comment, if you like.

If you’re searching for musical comfort food by all means, go enjoy it. I sure do. But when you want to take a chance on being excited and stretching your musical wings a bit, go find the people taking greater risks to hone and grow their craft. Those jazz artists who will take you on a journey with them. They need our support too. Expand your listening horizons. You may like it more than you thought. You could open for yourself a whole new musical world.

Phil Maneri, columnist

(not a letter) From (an) Editor // Alex Burgoyne

Why I Like Music, a haiku

Expression in a
limited context, able
to convey huge, small.

It perceives and smells
and breathes and lives and offers
a glimpse of both the

outward and inward depth of
a person’s sense of truth, self.

Music is a small
opportunity for you
and me to hear the

world the same for a moment.
To see along the same line.

On The Topic Of Mentorship // Zakk Jones

It’s 2020. I’m 26 now. I’ve had the great fortune of playing music full-time in Columbus, Ohio for the better part of a decade. These three fairly simple facts are actually quite sobering and humbling to me as I reflect on where I’ve been, where I am, and where I hope to be.

I’m incredibly fortunate to have had many diverse musical experiences given to me in this time, and beyond my studies at Capital University there’s probably one core element that has pushed me in new directions, ultimately teaching me just as much as the Conservatory education. 


The term mentor means “an experienced and trusted adviser”, but I think everyone can have their own definition depending on the intricate qualities of your relationship with said mentor. Having someone, or a few people, that gives you mutual respect, patience, and trust while equally pushing you to be your best is one of the most important things in developing that real world, “school-of-hard-knocks” maturation.
Although I will discuss this as it relates to the core of being a professional musician, this can apply to any discipline and field. 

When looking at the past, I think of people like Miles Davis, Clark Terry, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, Art Blakey and countless others that had a clear role in the development of  hundreds of musicians throughout the mid 20th-century. In turn, these once-mentees are now (hopefully) doing the same for my generation in the 21st-century. 

I’ve personally been fortunate to have this relationship with people like drummer Tony McClung, organist Tony Monaco and bassist Jeff Ciampa. All who have given me significant gigging and musical opportunities, while always pushing me to play my absolute best and never be afraid to Go. For. It. Even when I fall short. I know they can pick me back up, with little bruising. 

“So what does a mentor look like and how do I get one??” you ask? It’s honestly pretty simple. Take a quick drive to your local “Mentors-R-Us” and pick the model in your price range! Discounts on those 70 years or older!!

Okay jokes aside,

If you’re a budding musician in virtually any city, you’ll go out to see music and say “wow, I want to play with THEM”…but what’s the very next thought most of the time?

“I just have to get good enough”. 

This attitude, although having simple intentions, is brutally stifling and in fact does the opposite of getting you anywhere near “good enough”. You’ll never feel ready for that big gig with *insert badass player*, and frankly you shouldn’t. That energy of uncomfortability puts you in a position to take advantage of the unknown, and push through to that next level you’re searching for. This does not mean you need to eschew your shedding and mastery of basic concepts and idioms to play at a certain level, but just remember that a leap of faith is going to be at the core of finding your place. 

So, if you want to play with certain people, start surrounding yourself with them. Go to their gigs, make yourself known, be respectful and ask questions (but not too many questions). Why do you want to play with them? What is it about their playing that inspires you, or terrifies you in that crazy way? 

I can’t stress enough the importance of simply being around older, stalwart, players in your scene. If they themselves have made it that far, I guarantee they had the same feelings and experiences you’re having. They’ll understand the importance of helping out the next generation and being amongst them. Put in the work in whatever you’re doing and word will get around that you, dear reader, are a professional, humble and eager pupil of your discipline. 

You don’t have to rely solely on blind faith that you’ll get that knock on the door, like some sort of weird Jazz version of Publishers Clearing House. You already have the check in hand, it’s time to cash it.  There are some direct ways to start this conversation and relationship. And let me preface by saying this is not just about a way for you to get something from someone else. This is all in hopes of finding a special musician and friend to bounce creative ideas off while understanding that you can mutually learn from each others different experiences in life.
So, take them out for a coffee, lunch, a drink…a simple gesture of one-on-one connection goes a long way. Ask about life, art, cooking, anything. One of my favorite things about having relationships with people I consider mentors is their knowledge and respect for ALL things that make up life. The older I get the more I realize the importance of being centered, connected and curious about what the world has to offer in all of its different forms and facets. I probably wouldn’t have been given amazing book, movie, food or cultural recommendations if it weren’t for interactions with those that I look up to.  

Hire them for a gig. It’s 2020, and more often than not even the best musicians in town are grinding it out just like you are. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to play with you. Do keep in mind to make sure it’s the right gig and circumstances, and be an excellent band leader (that’s a whole article in itself). I think there’s a stigma at times that the older cats won’t want to play with you or are too busy, but frankly I have seen a lot of great collaborations between generations that have no bad vibes or egos. 

If you do get asked to play with your local hero-figure, do your homework, show up on time(which means early), listen intently and play in a way that supports everyone, as opposed to playing purely to strut your stuff. This will solidify that mutual foundation of respect and trust.

Having someone you respect and trust, who ALSO reciprocates this is the backbone of being able to grow under this relationship. It’s not just teacher/student. It’s friend/friend. bandmate/bandmate. The lines can, and should, be blurred.   You should feel comfortable accepting honest critiques as well as praise and affirmation. Sometimes the latter may come in subtle forms, like a smile, a nod, or just a happy silence. 

Just as a thought, your University/school educators can absolutely be this figure in your life; however, it may come after your studies or at least more importantly, outside of the classroom environment. 

Jazz is one of the most fertile breeding grounds of the mentor/mentee relationships. I think it’s virtually impossible to make a career in music without having this vital symbiosis. Without my own mentors, I would absolutely not be anywhere close to where I am in respects to improvisation, time feel, sense of space, harmony, rhythm, history and almost more importantly I would be in the dark about understanding my place in the world as a musician to be thoughtful, caring, patient and without prejudice. 

Putting my own ramblings aside, I’ll leave you with one quote from my friend, bandmate, and greatest mentor, Tony McClung. 

“Older musicians, pull your heads out of your asses and see what young musicians have to offer. You’re never too old to learn. Even people that don’t know half what you know, know something that you don’t know and you could benefit from finding out what that is…learning goes both ways folks”

That’s all I got my friends. Find your mentor, sensei, confidante or whatever you want to call it, and start breaking new ground for the rest of your life. 

Zakk Jones, Co-Editor
this article originally published at jazzguitartoday.com

What’re You Spinning // Sydney McSweeney

Artist – Thandi Ntuli
Album – The Offering
Track – Contemplation

I cannot for the life of me remember how I first heard Thandi Ntuli. I can only assume it was through some algorithmic witchcraft, as her most recent single release, “Cosmic Light” seemed to magically find its way to my phone. One listen and that was it, I was hooked. I tripped down a rabbit hole to a sonic Wonderland.

Thandi’s first album, The Offering, is gorgeous. There’s a definite mix of South African music and contemporary jazz, with sprinkles of her classical piano training. On it, I found my absolute favorite track, “Contemplation.” This is a track I listen to on repeat, that brings me to tears, that I make all of my friends listen to and download.

On piano, Thandi sets up the song with a soulful intro carrying subtle hints of the theme. About a minute in the bass player, Benjamin Jeptha, begins his bass solo. If you listen closely, you can slightly hear Benjamin singing along with his bass, almost as if he and his instrument are sharing secrets with each other. 

Afterward, Thandi returns with the piano, and the development begins. The build up seems to act as an epiphany to whatever she was contemplating in the first place. She shares her thoughts, and the drummer, Sphello Mazibuko, chimes in with his own. At the end of his solo, everyone returns together with the same theme that was so subtly mentioned at the start. Although, now the theme is so much more transparent. Whatever the quandary was, it seems to have been answered. 

Their solos contribute beautiful musical thoughts, speculation, and reflection. But together is where they reach understanding and clarity. Thandi Ntuli and this trio create a thoughtful, musical intimacy that can’t be ignored. 

Since the release of the “The Offering” in 2014 Ntuli has released a second album and a single. Every track is worth your time. Though, “Contemplation” will always be a standout to me. 

Sydney McSweeney, musician

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