Energy Circles and Bass Guitars – How to Speak Ron Brendle in Three Performances
Feedback is usually the natural enemy of most jazz musicians and stage managers. But for us at Middle C Jazz, it is extremely necessary for an endeavor which is seeking to provide such a participation-driven service to the residents of Charlotte and the people who visit this wonderful city.
And we get plenty of it.
Some of the wonderful feedback we hear from customers at Middle C Jazz include things like “Charlotte needed this”, “Thank you for doing this for Charlotte”, “It’s about time,” and similar awesome compliments that make us so happy and so willing to put in the work needed to bring in artists we think you will love to see.
And it’s true. Of course Charlotte needed a venue like Middle C Jazz. Since Jonathan’s Jazz Cellar closed almost 30 years ago, there has been nothing comparable to what Middle C is doing and what Jonathan’s did so well. If you’ve lived in Charlotte for any length of time you are well aware of the issues involving culture in our city. Everyone has heard or made the same complaints about Charlotte and the supposed lack of culture for a city of its size and population. People speak about the cultural landmarks that are torn down, the amazing restaurants and businesses that have to close due to gentrification and rising property values, higher rents and a host of issues and while it is easy and comfortable to agree with that broad assessment, the truth is you get out what you put in. For example, people often mention the legendary Double Door as one of the amazing things that the city has lost but for years and years attendance dwindled as former customers got older and decided not to go out as often.
Truth be told, there has always been plenty of culture in Charlotte. It’s just that a little more effort has to be put in to find it than in some other cities. As most know, the greatest amount of our transplants come from New York or other northern cities on the east coast. Most of those cities, be they Buffalo, NYC, or Philadelphia etc have an art scene that is very pronounced and very cultured and cultivated over the years. From visual art to theatre to music, New York City especially has thrived in these areas due to their acceptance of other cultures brought together by the fabled melting pot and aura of the city and you could say the same about Paris and other major cultural cities, even Southern cities such as Atlanta. One could even look at Savannah, which has a wonderful cultural scene but is much smaller than Charlotte.
So what could be Charlotte’s issue with the arts? Mostly it comes down to participation, as mentioned above. While Middle C Jazz has been very well received the reception is a rarity in Charlotte compared to most entertainment endeavors. Even more surprising are the comments we’ve received from the musicians who perform here, who regularly rave about the room, the sound, the way they are treated, and how well the audience is reacting to what they are doing onstage.
Which brings up a point.
As much as Middle C Jazz exists for the customer, we exist just as much for the musicians. Anyone who has listened to Jonathan Gellman onstage when he announces the acts knows he is trying to create something unique and experiential between artist and audience. Not just the regular sound or vision you get everywhere else, but more of an artistic immersion comparable to when someone is trying to learn a new language. And not just the language of jazz, which is deeply felt but usually wordless, but another more special one on an even higher level. One that is different each night depending on who is playing and who is experiencing, one that everyone present learns and experiences at the same time and that can never be completely duplicated ever again. A shared experience cultivated for the chosen few who choose to participate. It’s a situation where the musicians need to feel as comfortable as possible so they can give the audience something they’ve never been able to give before, where then, in turn, the audience shows appreciation giving the musician the attentiveness and respect they may have never received before. The whole experience ends up being a living circle where giving and taking lose all identity and just become a beautiful transfer of constant cosmic energy and light between performer and listener.
This is what is missing in Charlotte. But it depends on YOU as much as the artist or the venue. We can build the venue, have nice chairs, great drinks, delectable food – but you must participate. You must be there to return the light and energy offered by the artists pouring out their souls.
For example, consider an artist we are featuring on Thursday and Friday of this week by the name of Ron Brendle. For those unaware of who Ron Brendle is and why we are featuring him, one only has to consider his immense accomplishments in the world of jazz. A master musician who for over 40 years has been an innovator on bass guitar, not only has Brendle played on over 50 albums but has released close to a dozen albums as a leader and has played on record and stage with the likes of legends Mose Allison, John Abercrombie, Charlie Byrd, Dizzy Gillepsie, Hank Crawford, Ray Charles, Sheila Jordan, George Hamilton V, Bucky Pizzarelli, Frank Kimbrough, Maria Howell and Dom Flemmons, making him one of Charlotte’s most accomplished jazz musicians.
Growing up in nearby Statesville NC, Brendle actually started his music career as a youngster playing guitar. Then, drawn to jazz since he was very young, he discovered the magical songs from some almost-ancient Edison one-sided 78 RPM discs he found in his grandmother’s attic and played on an old wind-up phonograph he also found there. Other records came from his father which were from musical comedies, the big bands, and the movies of the 1930s and 1940s. Then there were the songs he heard performed by the great singers of the day such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Margaret Whiting, and Jo Stafford, among many others. These song were the impetus and what propelled Brendle into a life of jazz. He eventually graduated from Appalachian State in the late 70s with a degree in music. Once Brendle heard legendary bassist Charlie Haden, best known for being an important part of Ornette Coleman’s quartet, Brendle put the guitar aside in favor of the bass. “When I first heard a recording of Charlie Haden, I knew he was my ideal,” Brendle said. Hearing Haden’s rich organic tone hit Brendle in the center of his heart and made him want to emulate Haden’s sound and feeling. “Years later, I had the incredible opportunity to study with Haden in a Master Class at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. It just did something to me, the way that Charlie’s bass sounded. Just the beauty of it. And I’d listened to a lot of bass players who had way more technique, some of these more pyrotechnical bass players. But when I heard Charlie Haden, just one note made me want to play the bass.” One tune by Haden that stood out was “Pocket Full of Cherry,” which Brendle has recorded on one of his recent albums.
No less than the Internet music encyclopedia known as Allmusic.com, which mostly reviews national acts, has raved about Brendle: “Given who he has performed with, Brendle is very flexible when it comes to the type of jazz he plays. But based on those recordings he has been in charge of, he favors a modern improvisional style which allows him and his cohorts to fully develop ideas about the music and the way these ideas are to be fulfilled. Brendle is also a real, live example of a musician who doesn’t need to work in a major city to be recognized as one of the tops in his trade. He has received three awards as Jazz Artist of the Year by Creative Loafing Magazine and is the recipient of the North Carolina Arts Council Jazz Composer Fellowship Grant, which helped to produce his CD Hypermobility. Brendle is first-call bass player in a fairly vibrant Charlotte jazz scene.” That sort of appreciation is not built from keeping your talent hid. It is built from the ground up, paying the dues and creating a special language when he offers his soul to the listener.
Brendle is a perfect example of the quality of artist we have in Charlotte, mostly unappreciated, and when they leave or retire Charlotte may once again wring its hands and complain about another artistic opportunity that is gone, sadly forgetting everyone had the chance to participate all along, to listen to his artistry and build that special language, that indescribable bond between artist and audience.
So stop by Thursday or Friday and check out one of Charlotte’s cultural legends do his thing with his amazing quartet instead of getting frustrated about the situation because you decided to do something else or worse, nothing at all. Remember, we only have ourselves to blame if we don’t take advantage of some of the best talent and culture in the world, culture that Middle C is only too willing to put right in your metaphysical lap. An artist like Brendle and his quartet who are right here among us, plying their trade and giving their souls to acclaim in other cities but possible indifference in our own. This week, let’s create that special language with Ron Brendle, the experience and the circle of energy that only artists and their audience can make.