Jazz in the spotlight
A stage opens for jazz musicians at Café Coda’s weekly showcase
Jazz musicians have gotten a raw deal in America the last 50 years or so. While any schlub can learn three chords, buy a distortion pedal and predict panty showers from adoring fans, talented jazz players are often relegated to playing wallpaper, competing for attention with scraping forks and idle dinner chat.
Green Eggs and Jazz, a free, weekly brunchtime jazz showcase at Café Coda, seeks to break this mold: “When you come into Coda, we’re right there onstage,” says Casey Schmidt, who has been overseeing the event since it started last November.
“The only other places to play jazz [in Chico] are usually in the corner of a restaurant somewhere, where they’re not necessarily interested in your performance, you’re just making background music. The few places there are to play, there’s usually no stage, there’s big flat-screen TVs everywhere, people are playing pool. The thing we’re trying to do is allow musicians to play more. We’re certainly not background music at Coda.”
The series regularly features the Rudy Giscombe Trio (Giscombe on saxophone, Nathan Ferguson on bass, Schmidt on drums) plus a guest soloist each week. (Upcoming guests include seven-string guitarist Eric Peter and pianist Jim Schmidt.)
Something seems counter-intuitive about Green Eggs and Jazz. In our romantic visions, jazz is played late at night in smoky bars reeking of gin and marijuana, not at 11:30 a.m. on a weekday in a sunny cafe over lemon poppy-seed pancakes and espresso. But Friday-morning jazz at the café is not without its charm, provided in part by dollar draft and champagne drink specials.
“Saturdays and Sundays are way too busy at Coda to clear up that kind of space,” Schmidt says. “And the Friday thing has just kind of worked out great. It’s the end of the week, it’s lunchtime, it’s a really nice way to kind of kick off the weekend. Plus, there’s nothing else really going on from 11:30 to 1 on Friday. Where else are you going to go see live music then?
“More and more people seem to be coming in on their lunch breaks, which is cool. We’ve gotten great feedback, there’s been great crowds, it gets pretty rowdy sometimes, with people cheering after the solos.
“There are some folks that recently relocated from San Francisco and said this kind of jazz show was one of the things they missed most about the bay. There’s a great older couple from New York that come in as often as they can and are always all smiles, just really stoked. One morning this lady was yelling ‘You guys are so badass!’ then took our tip jar and made everyone put money in.”
Schmidt isn’t bragging about how well-received the band is, but more appreciative of having established a rare outlet for fellow jazz musicians.
“It kind of confirms that, yeah, people actually do want to come see jazz, you just have to put them in the right environment to listen,” he says.
Schmidt is also encouraging touring jazz artists and bands, such as innovative Portland quintet Blue Cranes, to come play shows at Café Coda and do a guest spot at Green Eggs as well.
Although Schmidt is responsible for scheduling, promoting, inviting guests and working with the café to make sure Green Eggs and Jazz runs smoothly, he makes it clear who controls the stage.
“Rudy runs the stage,” Schmidt says. “When we’re onstage, it’s all Rudy’s thing. As far as picking tunes, calling tunes, making sure the group is working well, that’s all Rudy.”