As mentioned last week, finding jazz in Albuquerque is simply a matter of looking in the right place, whether that space is a club or a less traditional venue. Read on for the second part of our interview with Burque jazzman Tom Guralnick. He continues to provide clues for our readers about such encounters, both past and present.
Alibi: Besides touring outfits, what sort of jazz experiences were available to local listeners before the scene grew up in the late ’70s and early ’80s?
Tom Guralnick: Another part of the scene when I moved here in 1976 was the amazing Mirror Lounge at Broadway and Marquette. It was run by the Broadway Elks Club, I believe, and was mostly an African-American social club. The bartender was the great fighter Bobby Foster (one of the only people to knock down Cassius Clay) and his sister. At any rate, it had a great jukebox. It was [the] old style with great jazz on it ... Charlie Parker, Gene Ammons and so forth.
Who were some of the local players at the club?
In residence, there was a great older, black bass player from Washington, DC, named Professor Harry Robinson. [He] ran the nightly jam session there. Some of the guys from the original New Mexico Jazz Workshop were also in the house band. They included pianist Sherman Rubin and Pete Amahl on drums. Everybody came in to jam. It was a very mixed scene: black and white, old and young, students and workers, everybody. Really, it was a special place. The young Doug Lawrence would come in to play. Dick Trask, a local scientist and great alto [sax] player, played there. Older black musicians like Laney MacDonald (“the Storm” from Chicago), Red Higgins and saxophonist John Lewis Kilpatrick were part of the scene. All the young Alma guys like John Truitt, Dan Dowling, Pat Rhoads, John and Joan Griffin, Mike Fleming too. Other great players on the scene included bassist and vocalist Conrad Figueroa (father of pianist Steve Figueroa) and so many more. Many went on to play in bands in Las Vegas.
Everybody came in to jam. It was a very mixed scene [in 1976]: black and white, old and young, students and workers, everybody. Really, [the Mirror Lounge] was a special place.
Were there any other early jazz venues in Burque?
A little later a club named Danbi's opened up on the Westside at Coors and I-40. There was nothing there at the time. But a lot of people came through to play, Richie Cole among them. I think the owner’s name was Dave Silverman. The house band included Alma piano player Pat Rhoads and a young bass player named John Blackburn.
Besides legendary local players, some world-renowned notables have been part of the scene. Who are they?
It is said that the great Lester Young lived here for a while in the late 1920s. The Modern Jazz Quartet founder/pianist John Lewis grew up here and went to Albuquerque High and UNM, and the South Broadway Cultural Center Theater is named after him. In the very modern era, one of the finest young bass players on the NYC scene, Matt Brewer (who plays with Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Antonio Sanchez and so on), grew up here and was actually part of Outpost jazz classes. His mother Cris Nichols [runs] our box office at night and works at KUNM.
Looking toward the present and future, who has taken up where these legends left off?
Currently there is quite a small but vibrant “creative improvised music” scene mostly centered around tuba player/composer Mark Weaver and his efforts to make that music thrive with his Roost series, which happens eight weeks each summer at various locations. It's been going for five years now.