Sound Advice: That old-school swagger

Jazz is dead: Any given week, you can usually find something—multiple events—to satisfy your live folk, rock, blues, hip-hop, pop, punk, metal cravings. But jazz? Ick.

Pickings are slim or nonexistent.

I had a friend visiting from New York a couple weeks ago. As a strangely hotshot saxophonist, he went on and on about his young, contemporary jazz scene, which mixes in classical, indie rock and electronic styles to create something worth saving.

Worth saving to people who don’t like jazz, that is.

For the past few years, magazines have been plagued with “Is Jazz Dead?” headlines. Some point to the lack of pianos in bars—removed to create more space for paying binge drinkers—or the rebranding of jazz as some highbrow form of art. Meanwhile, its enduring fan base is aging and dwindling.

Anyway, my friend made me remember that I love jazz, and that I’ve missed it, and hell, where can I even hear it live it in Sacramento?

Here’s your answer: Every third Thursday of the month, Beatnik Studios hosts a jazz night with West Coast touring talent. But only once a month? Less than ideal for spontaneous whims. There’s also an open jazz jam at Shine cafe on Tuesday nights, and a monthly evening with the Bay Area’s Ice Age Jazztet. And Ross Hammond has hosted a jazz series on Mondays at Luna’s Café & Juice Bar for years. But enthusiasts still miss the long-gone jazz nights at Capitol Garage, once bursting with now-departed student talent.

New Orleans jazz is on the rise around here in forms of big brass bands—Element Brass Band, City of Trees Brass Band—and some national up-and-coming acts that have recently toured through—Dustbowl Revival, Mother Falcon—and drawn enormous crowds. They feature brass sections and jazzy elements, melded with bluegrass, swing, indie rock or hip-hop.

But for that dark, cool, easy feeling that you can really only get from a traditional live trio in a dim nightclub, you have at least one reliable option: Harley White Jr. at the Shady Lady Saloon, every other Wednesday at 9 p.m.

White has been around years—so long that it’s easy to forget we have such a badass staple sharing his music so often for free. Last week in Shady Lady’s chandelier-lit, vintage red-wallpaper-adorned, craft-cocktail-fueled space, White’s old-school swagger felt just right.

It was hard to tell if Shady Lady patrons were present for the band—White on bass with other performers on trumpet, drums and keys—or for the venue’s expert old fashioneds. But a number of people were clearly captivated, nodding their heads, tapping their feet, and, eventually, swinging their partners in circles at the foot of the stage. Perhaps jazz isn’t quite dead in Sacramento after all.


What’s in the water at Pour House?: Local singer-songwriter and 2013 Sammies Artist of the Year winner James Cavern finally made his national TV debut on the March 4 episode of The Voice.

Cavern performed Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” but, unfortunately, none of the celebrity judges turned their chairs.

Adam Levine, citing Gaye as maybe his all-time favorite artist, said the late soul singer was a hard artist to cover. And Usher offered this:

“If you don’t live up to or either exceed expectations, it can’t benefit you. … [But] you did add something that was different. You have that raspy tone that Marvin adds every so often. … I want to hear more of that.”

Cavern revealed it was a show mentor who advised he “tone down” that rasp, and if he had the chance to do it again, he’d listen to his gut.

“But I didn’t leave feeling any ill will at all,” Cavern said. “Why would I complain? I just got professional feedback.”

Cavern is currently on tour with Arden Park Roots. Check out his website for more info (

Meanwhile, the show offered a better outcome for singer-songwriter Jeremy Briggs, who performed on the show’s February 24 premiere. The state worker by day was introduced with a clip that showcased Sacramento (including footage of him performing at Pour House which, incidentally, is where Cavern hosts a weekly music jam). After, Briggs belted out a soulful rendition of Bad Company’s “Bad Company.”

The performance earned chair turns from both Blake Shelton and Shakira, the latter of whom praised Briggs’ powerful voice but also his “control and technique.” Briggs picked Shakira as his mentor. Follow Briggs’ progess on the show at —R.L.