What a Scene (What? A Scene?)

Last month, the East Bay Express published a great story by Rachel Swan about the local jazz scene. Titled “Kind of Blue,” it muses about the steady progression of Bay Area jazz players who move to New York City.

That kind of thing happens everywhere that isn’t New York City. But there’s a poignant touch to the Bay Area’s situation. We’ve got a top-notch jazz program at Berkeley High. On top of that, many people still remember the ’90s heyday when venues were more plentiful and local artists such as Peter Apfelbaum and Charlie Hunter were making local headlines.

Even for the avant-garders, things seemed to be going well. Beanbender’s draws particularly fond memories. It was a vacated but still well-kept bank building that the landlords were willing to provide as a venue for the arts, including a Sunday night creative-music series. (The name referred to the Sunday night series run by Dan Plonsey, not the building itself.) The building was eventually sold to house a Kinko’s, and even though much of my Berkeley was already lost to Westwood-ization at the time, driving past that block is particularly sad for me.

Anyway. Swan’s article provides some history, some analysis, some good interviews, and maybe a small sense of hope — or if not that, at least an affirmation that we still have a lot to be thankful for. The music scene in general, and creative music in particular, hasn’t been the same since dot-com money pushed non-revenue-driving activities even further to the fringe. Swan doesn’t have answers, but I’m grateful that she was allowed to give some air to the questions.

Along similar lines, check out Tom Djll’s guest post on WFMU’s Beware the Blog. It’s a nice snapshot of the local scene, giving give out-of-towners a hint that creative music is surviving here, one step ahead of the bulldozers.

(By the way — if I may rant about the online comments that Swan’s story received … She gets hounded by a couple of readers with other axes to grind. In essence, they’re pissed off that she didn’t write their article about their beef with society. One reader takes her to task for not interviewing any women, for instance. This happens to journalists all the time. Not every story can include every source and every issue, but some readers refuse to understand that. It’s cool for readers to open a dialogue that extends the boundaries of a story… but I’m talking about the readers who just want to be angry, who go to a baseball game and complain there’s no goalie. Chin up, Rachel, you wrote a good story about a crucial issue, even if it’s not the one some people wanted to hear.)