There is a thing called jazz in this town. Bright, buoyant and bountiful, it floats along the eddies and currents of the sonic river that flows through these parts. Bopping and jiving under a power possessed of talent, tenaciousness and torrid showmanship, the music made and supported by the Albuquerque jazz community is out there, seeking an encounter with you.
Tom Guralnick, artistic director of Outpost Performance Space—a longtime nexus of players, aficionados and curious new listeners—knows about jazz in Burque. Alibi spoke with Guralnick about jazz—past, present and future—and it became clear the genre is a force to be reckoned with in this little city on a big river.
Guralnick says jazz has always been a presence here, going back to the days of the Mother Road. Back then Albuquerque was a comfortable, welcoming intermediate point on touring musicians’ trips from Kansas City to LA. Bands and performers of all stripes stopped in Burque to amaze denizens with killer chops and informed playing. The influence of these touring jazz units was inestimable to young musicians growing up in postwar Burque. The form came into focus in the late ’60s through early ’70s, when some locals became prominently known for their jazz-laden musical discourses.
Guralnick arrived in the mid ’70s, and he recalls Alma, a group featuring Joan and John Griffin. They came out of Cadillac Bob, which starred players like Dan Dowling, Mike Fleming, Pat Rhodes, John Truitt and Arnold Bodmer. Guralnick said, “They were kind of the younger guys, just getting into jazz.” Regular jam sessions at Ned’s (then Downtown) boasted scene veterans like Arlen Asher, Bob Brown and Billy Morris.
Tom Guralnick says jazz has always been a presence here, going back to the days of the Mother Road. Back then Albuquerque was a comfortable, welcoming intermediate point on touring musicians’ trips from Kansas City to LA.
The rise of nonprofits catering to jazz audiences, academic acceptance and an embrace of jazz at the UNM Music Department added to a swelling tide. Jam sessions featuring players from Albuquerque and Santa Fe evolved into an entity called the New Mexico Jazz Workshop, and the influence of jazz on young minds grew at the college. Guralnick recalls a classical trumpet player named Jeff Piper was leading the UNM jazz bands, “though there was no formal program in jazz, and jazz played a real minor part in the (department) program.”
In the 1970s the formal organization of jazz cats in academia happened. The Jazz Educators Association supported the work of classically trained jazz musicians like Piper and colleagues like saxophone and composition professor William Wood. “Jazz started making its way into the local high school and college system. Over the past 30 years, this has resulted in a much higher lever of players in general,” said Guralnick. “This was a new thing, where jazz was in the schools.”
Flash forward 30 years, and the jazz scene in Burque still jams. Guralnick says jazz is about innovation and change. From avant-garde to Latin-influenced work, it abounds in Burque and greater New Mexico. There isn’t a dedicated jazz club in our fair city, but there are plenty of venues, including The Outpost Performance Space, The Cooperage, Corrales Bistro Brewery, Vernon’s Hidden Valley Steakhouse and the New Mexico Jazz Workshop’s annual festival.
“There [are] some great drummers and band leaders around now, like New York transplant John Trentacosta and SuperSax New Mexico founder Cal Haines. Trumpet players and composers like J.Q. Whitcomb, guitarist Michael Anthony ... singers like Catherine McGill, Hillary Smith and Patti Littlefield ...” These are a few among the many talented voices and instrumentalists who make up a dynamic jazz presence in Albuquerque. To get in on the action, all you have to do is show up and listen.