Jazz is alive and well at U of L
By T. Dylon Jones–
The room bustles as the house band, consisting of saxophonist Graeme Gardner, trumpeter Joseph Thieman, drummer Zach Kennedy, pianist Kendall Carter and bassist Lee Puckett play a shortened set. They traverse a vast musical landscape, covering soulful blues and ambitious harmoneies bordering on the avant-garde. But as Kennedy closes their last tune with a whisper on the snare, the audience becomes restless.
That is because the audience is becoming the band; U of L students produce instruments as if from nowhere and approach the stage, the par and the tables in front of the musicians — everywhere, until the building is painted Cardinal Red.
Each Tuesday night from 9 p.m. to midnight, dozens of U of L students gather to jam with musicians of all ages and skill levels at the Monkey Wrench, a quirky Germantown bar with a Hunter S. Thompson obsession and chandeliers made from cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Friends and strangers call tunes to play together, sharing music like a pitcher of beer.
“What we’re really trying to do is build a network,” says 23-year-old Gardner, a recent graduate of U of L’s Jamey Aebersold Jazz Studies Program.
Gardner said there is a divide between musical veterans and youngsters. Many old players consider traditions sacred, while young players strive for something completely new. Jam sessions like the one at the Monkey Wrench bridge the age gap. White-haired trombone wizard Doug Finke takes the stage with several 20-somethings, exchanging smiles with each of them before wailing on his horn.
Jam sessions are social events, and musicians themselves need not fear tough competition; unlike other events in Louisville, this isn’t a horse race.
“You’re never going to be able to play until you get up there and embarrass yourself,” said Thieman, who recently received a master’s degree in jazz studies from U of L.
Josh Bradley, 18, a U of L freshman, approaches the stage with his drum sticks, the permeating, atmospheric cool in the room calming his nerves. “The worst you can do is mess up,” he said.
The group on stage begins to play a waltz, and the crowd leans forward. A solo from saxophonist and U of L senior Joe Hanna rips through the room. The excitement is palpable.
Someone exclaims, “Jazz is alive and well!”
Photo / Kendall Carter performs in 2012. / Louisville Cardinal Archives