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SCAT LSP 1st Friday Happy Hour at Lincoln Cafe

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by Andrew Patton on October 31, 2017

Starting in 2016, Columbus musician organization SCAT Experience the Avenue has been hosting monthly Happy Hour concerts on the first Friday of the month at the Lincoln Cafe. These shows often pay tribute to legendary jazz musicians, both of local and far-flung origins, and feature the variety of talented Columbus musicians that comprise SCAT’s house band, the Long Street Project (or LSP). On Friday, November 3rd, from 5 to 8pm, LSP will present a “Tribute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk,” paying homage to a Columbus musical giant featuring saxophonist Eddie Bayard. Bayard will be joined on the bandstand by drummer James “Smooth” Elliot, percussionist Steve “Paco” Grier, trumpeter Lee Savory, bassist Melvin Stewart, and keyboardist Ed Moed. A donation of $10 is requested. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Connie Boykin, SCAT President and CEO, at the Lincoln Cafe last week to discuss the history of the organization and its mission. Keep reading to learn more about the organization that seeks to preserve the jazz legacy of Columbus’ Near East Side.

SCAT, the Society for Creative Art and Talent, was founded in 1986 by a group of musicians that had played together in Local 589, which was the segregated African American musicians local union of the American Federation of Musicians union. Somewhere around 1980, the union headquarters decided to merge the segregated Columbus unions. The merger forced the black musicians into Local 109, the white union. Once the unions merged, all members of Local 589 lost their leadership positions and seniority. As Boykin said, “Some of them had been playing for half a century or more, through many eras of jazz. They were forced into a position where they either took it or they didn’t, so they didn’t. They weren’t college graduates, they were working musicians, so they didn’t know how to write up proposals, or how to get funding. So they decided to form jazz groups, like the Jazz Society [which was led by the 589 president]. Out of that situation, SCAT was formed. The primary people were David Hughes, Billy Brown, Gene Walker and many more musicians and jazz advocates. Walker was going to Ohio State and Brown was an insurance man, so he had a business acumen. So they said, ‘We’ll put on our own show.’ Plus they knew a lot of people in the broader community because they had played with everybody and everybody had played with them, so they formed SCAT out of the need for everyone to hang together.”

SCAT presented annual festivals and events like the “Ron Clark Jazz Masters Performance Series.” They also brought in legendary musicians like Groove Holmes and Max Roach, who would be backed by a band of SCAT members. Around 1996, SCAT started struggling, as its aging members started getting sick and dying. Around this time, the Marble Gang venue hosted Jazz and Eggs, which was the place to be. When the Marble Gang’s owner died, new ownership came in and had difficulties which forced the event to move on to the King Arts Complex, where SCAT events filled their performance spaces. But in 2002, Billy Brown was in a horrible car accident. With Boykin’s help, Gene Walker took Jazz and Eggs on the road around town for a couple years, and people followed, but then it was over.

On January 14th, 2009, Boykin and his friend Mike Fields started a series at what is now the Lincoln Cafe featuring presentations and discussions on artists like Rusty Bryant. Boykin felt he had to move forward, especially since the newly renovated Lincoln Theatre was not interested in honoring and celebrating local musical history. Because no one in the black community was prepared to take over the preservation of this history, Boykin decided to do it himself. As he said, “‘Let’s just start off doing the history and see how many people will come.’ So we started doing the history – we did Charlie Cook, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Rusty Bryant. I brought all of their families in – the place was full. That’s when Gene said ‘You need to take this up, because you’re the only one who knows what to do with it.'”

Connie Boykin: “I said, ‘What can I do with this?’ I tried everything, not being a musician, trying to get the audience out. What I found is that the audience is tough, because they haven’t been conditioned to be out [in clubs at night]. Columbus is a terrible place for that. That audience that’s going to work everyday and is looking for an outlet – we have to compete. In the black community, we have to compete with the church dollar, we have to compete with bars. And then you have to compete with apathy. Not just the black community, but I would say Columbus in general.

Finally, through many things that I tried, I realized that I guess I have to have a band. That came about in 2016. James ‘Smooth’ Elliott, Lee Savory and I had been talking back and forth about making it a community project to get things moving. I got to thinking about my other favorite thing – community development. If you’re looking for vitality, you need something to bring the people out. But you don’t have people that want to throw their money at that, because they figure they’ll never get it back. So I said, ‘Let’s make SCAT a formal institution.’ We’re on the verge of 501c3 status. I wasn’t going to get it until we got the audience. Finally last year, Smooth said, ‘Connie can we do it?’ I said, ‘Listen, we can’t get grants because we don’t have the community elevation that we need, the friends that we need, the donations.’ He said, ‘Let’s just start and see what happens.’

So we were on the corner of 17th and Long – that’s where the band started, out in the street. We finally went from 17th and Long, got down to Lincoln Cafe and worked out a deal to come in here one day a month. On that one day a month, we’re going to play real, traditional jazz. No R&B, we’re playing jazz. We don’t care if nobody dances, we’re playing straight-ahead jazz for the people, because they need to hear it. That’s what used to be played here, that’s what we’re going to play. We’re going to be authentic with it. [The band members] have played with all of the guys that are gone.

So we just started, and I paid for it out of my wallet, and tried to get my money back from the door. And some days I don’t make it. But I promised myself that we would do a year. My sister and I work hard to get this stuff up and running and make sure we look good and that people can take us seriously. So far it’s working. Come to find out it was the band I needed all the time! Because now people will come, and I can tell them what I’m doing, and pass out flyers, and start driving the point that we need to preserve the music, because it’s black people’s folk music. Broader society uses it as pop music. But for us, it’s our folk music. Blues, R&B and Jazz is black people’s folk music.

I’m using it as a method to build the community, getting people to get back over here. Some people that come [to the shows] don’t live around here, they drive in. Some of them have never been to this place. But we’re here. We’re never going anywhere, we’re never moving out of this neighborhood. We’ll play in this neighborhood. Whatever opens up, we’ll try to play. We’ll play [elsewhere] if they said ‘We will pay you,’ but we’ll go as the Long Street Project. We call ourselves that because we’re always going to play the authentic jazz in this community. And it all has a historical value.

We’re just here and we’re playing. We love this community, we love what it was, we know that it’s never coming back. But what we hope is that when new people move into the neighborhood, they can still get the flavor, they can still understand. We’re not Franklinton, we already have a history, we have a flavor over here. Come over here and enjoy some of this.”

Boykin also stressed that audiences of all colors should come out and be comfortable enjoying shows at the Lincoln Cafe. Long Street has been an entertainment district for generations, so it has been frequented by black audiences, white audiences, and people of all backgrounds. The happy hour performances are simply continuing the vibrant history of this neighborhood that has always been welcoming to people of all colors.

How can people support SCAT?

Connie Boykin: “First of all, they can come! They can come each first Friday. People can also donate at various levels. Checks can be made payable to SCAT and mailed to 57 Jefferson Ave, Columbus, OH 43215.”

More information is available at the organization’s Facebook page, and by attending 1st Friday Happy Hour events.

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