Thursday, May 29, 2008

Don Berryman on Jazz in Orlando

I'm on a tear re: the pathetic lack of jazz in a city that draws 50 million tourists each year to its theme parks and T-shirt shops. Don Berryman, Chief of the Jazz Police, reminded me of an article he wrote on this topic. I like it so much I've asked his permission to post it here. It's longer than a usual post so go get a cup of coffee or something.

Jazz Police bust Disney in Orlando!
Written by Don Berryman
Friday, 16 April 2004

Just because the Rat has big ears °o°, don't assume he can hear jazz. I suppose I should have known better than to expect jazz in Disneyland on my recent visit to Orlando. But I surmised that here are huge entertainment companies that hire many talented musicians, these guys have got to find a place to play and listen to some good jazz. Also I was pleasantly surprised by a great local jazz radio station, WUFC at 89.9 FM, and assumed if there was support for jazz radio there must be a local audience for live jazz.

After spending the day with my folks at the many Disney Worlds, Beverly and I were ready for some serious music from the real world. I had heard a terrific tuba solo in Frontier Land that demonstrated great chops, but the material left much to be desired.

We decided our best bet for good music was away from Disney/Universal et al so we decided to head downtown to the Bösendorfer Lounge at the Westin Hotel where they billed a jazz band. There was an accident on I-75 so it ended up taking us a while to get there. I was well ready for a martini by that time. They had billed the lounge as "... the place to be and be seen ... edgy and intriguing, the Bösendorfer Lounge, the namesake of the Imperial Grand Bösendorfer piano (one of only two in the world) features a round bar decorated in black marble..." We arrived at 11:00 to find out the jazz had finished for the evening. The piano room called the "Klimt Rotunda" sat in this round room that was a junction between the restaurant and the bar and was a shrine to this Imperial Grand Bösendorfer piano and dead as a tomb. And a DJ had set up in the bar to spin trip-hop mixed with R&B, not horrible but not what I came to hear.

We still had our Park-Hopper passes that got us into all the Disney Parks, so I thought, "why not try Pleasure Island Jazz Company?" It is quite a drive from downtown so I called to make sure they still had music going on, since my first experience at the Bösendorfer indicated early shutdown. I asked if they had music at the club and was assured that there would be live music until 1:00 AM. I asked what type of music could I expect and was told that Pleasure Island Jazz Company would have jazz. After "googling" for jazz in Orlando, the results came up with this about the club: "Featuring the hottest new jazz artists in the area, the Pleasure Island Jazz Company offers guests the chance to experience a true 'jazz club' atmosphere right in the middle of Downtown Disney.... the club is still a great place to stop if you are in need of a jazz fix. ... Smart casual attire suggested."

Our attire was probably smart enough, certainly casual enough. We hopped on I-75 and headed south to Disneyland. Arriving at Pleasure Island we discovered that our park passes did not cover the entry fee (only for the 4 parks). We were there, we had come a long way, and I had not had a martini yet so we paid the $21.50 each to enter the island. I assumed that even a contrived and sanitized " true jazz club atmosphere" might be comforting. Well, the room was big, round and rugged as a barn. I would have thought we entered the wrong place except they had some jazz paraphernalia on the walls, frames containing little collections of items like a pair of Diane Schuur's sunglasses, Lionel Hampton's mallets and a music score, and some old photos.

It was 11:40 and there was about a dozen people in the room waiting for the band. I ordered my Sapphire martini, they also had a nice selection of single malt scotch, and Beverly ordered an Oban. The drink bill came to $14, not bad. We relaxed and enjoyed our drinks. There was a table of rowdy folks front and center, the rest of the place was subdued waiting.

The band was announced, the "Funky Blues Messiahs." Although they did not appear messianic, they were true to their billing playing 70's funk and rock covers. Needless to say we were very disappointed. People started leaving, presumably the ones who came to hear jazz. Other people started drifting in, liking what they heard.

Eager to express our displeasure we sought out a manager, which was not difficult. A woman was sent to our table and said she heard that we weren't happy with the music. I handed her my business card, she read it questioning "Jazz Police?" I said, "Yes, we're the Jazz Police, you're busted!" I said that we had come in search of jazz and this was clearly not jazz. We had paid a $21.50 cover each to listen to jazz, only to hear the kind of music we could hear practically anywhere else for no cover. She explained that the cover is good for all the clubs on PI. "Do any of the other clubs have jazz?" "No, but you should have been here last week, we had a jazz singer then." She offered to send over her boss, so while we finished our drinks and waited for the boss, two women from the rowdy table front and center got up on stage to sing with the band.

When the Manager arrived he said that he was sorry we weren't happy and we said this is called a jazz club but this isn't jazz. He said that the music was chosen by "Central Booking" to get people into the clubs. He said, "Look, these people are happy" and many were grooving to the funky beat, of course the people who had come for jazz had long since left. The rowdy table in front making noise were friends of the band, other people had been pulled in by the music, but they had not come to Pleasure Island in search of jazz, and their number was about equal to the number of people who had left because there was no jazz. He then said that by some people's definition this music was considered jazz. I was baffled. Now I believe in the "big tent" inclusive view of jazz, but there is a tent and some things are on the outside. I said that no one who knew anything about music would call this jazz. He said that maybe to "Hard-core jazz fans" like us this isn't jazz, but they program to please the greatest number of people. But he would not admit that the "Jazz Club" was one in name only. Like I said, just because Mickey Rat has big ears, don't assume he can hear jazz °o°.

So, this is a desperate plea for help. If you know of jazz clubs in Orlando, please contact us so we can spread the word and so others can avoid our disappointment. As Mose Allison says "I'm not discouraged but I'm getting there."

NOTE: Pleasure Island Jazz Company opened August 27, 1993 and closed in 2005.

1 comment:

  1. Next time your in Florida, try Heidi's Jazz Club in Cocoa Beach.. It phenominal! Great food, great atmosphere...

    There is also a restaraunt in Orlando that offers dinner and Jazz nightly. You might want to try it out as well. We like it, but Heidi's is the best hands down.


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