Jazz St. Louis Kicks Off a Hot New Season this Month

In jazz improvisation, musicians create fresh melodies over the chords of a familiar tune. At Jazz St. Louis, a similar process is playing out offstage. The nonprofit’s three main pillars—performances, education and community engagement—are like chords for new melodies swirling around them, from the website to the dining experience to the Jazz Speaks series.

One of the most exciting changes: two Sunday performances have been added onto the subscription series. The 2 p.m. Sunday shows will have a brunch matinee feel, says Director of Marketing Travis Howser, while the 6:30 p.m. shows will give the growing number of subscribers more nighttime options, which helps single-ticket patrons as well. Last season, “some performers were fully subscribed for the 7:30 shows before single tickets went on sale.”

The added fifth day is popular with artists too, Howser says. “Artists always say how much they love performing here. They love the audiences, they love the room, and they love that they can be here for four days, because they can really hone in on the experience and the venue,” he adds. “They really feel like they get to come here and engage with audiences.” The Sunday shows add even more depth to that experience for performers and audiences alike.

A second change to the performance pillar adds something totally new. Through a partnership with The Cabaret Project of St. Louis, a new six-show series of cabaret performances will enhance usage of the Ferring Jazz Bistro, the main performance stage for Jazz St. Louis. Howser sees this as a win-win—his organization expands its audience, and cabaret fans in St. Louis benefit from a new venue that’s a natural fit.

As the name “Bistro” suggests, food is an integral part of the Jazz St. Louis experience. Howser says patrons will notice changes here too, thanks to a new restaurant partner, Greg Maggi of Birch Culinary Co. “Now it’s much more of a seasonal menu, with fresh ingredients cooked fresh to order and elevated to a higher standard,” says Howser.

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Unlike an ordinary restaurant, the Ferring Jazz Bistro has the complex challenges of seating 150 people in a short period of time, nearly all of them ordering food and drinks at once, and then totally swapping out everything a couple of hours later and doing it all over again. Tweaks made last season to the seating timing and service experience went well, Howser says. “It looks like we’ll hit a stride this season where our service should be much more fluid.”

A third performance enhancement draws on new partnerships with the St. Louis city and county libraries. The Whitaker Jazz Speaks Performance and Author Series brings seven free shows to St. Louis this season, up from just a couple of events in past years. “This year, it’s a much stronger author presence,” Howser says. Many of the shows will be half lecture and half performance—which Howser hopes will introduce jazz music to a whole new literary audience.

Under the education pillar, Jazz Academy—a free program that focuses on budding middle school musicians in St. Louis City—has evolved to become an intensive after-school and weekend experience that combines music performance, leadership and academics. Howser says the goal is to get those musicians ready for high-school-level auditions and, ultimately, to funnel them into the JazzU program of small ensembles who work closely with program faculty and artists in residence.

Another change that touches all three pillars is the website. Its updated fonts and colors better reflect the diversity of programming throughout the year, says Howser. And its improved functionality gets people to information faster. But most exciting for jazz-lovers are upcoming features like in-depth artist pages, artist interactions and (free!) performance live streaming capabilities.

Howser is especially eager to see how the live streaming plays out. Last year, a grant enabled his organization to live stream four shows. “We learned what our capabilities are, and this year we’re working to improve those capabilities,” he says.

It’s all music to the ears of jazz-loving St. Louisans—including Howser himself, who admits he’s really looking forward to several of the shows. His top pick? Robert Glasper in December as part of the subscription series. The jazz pianist is equally at home in hip-hop and R&B, and he infuses his work with unexpected bridges between genres. “He’s only been to St. Louis once,” Howser says, “and I’ve never seen him live.”

Purchase tickets for Glasper and dozens of other top local and national performers and RSVP for free events like the monthly Jazz St. Louis Book Club at the website jazzstl.org.

St. Louis GUIDED ALIVE Jazz St. Louis Jazz BistroThis post has been brought to you in part by the businesses and organizations mentioned. Photos are by Carmen Troesser. Top photo by Ryan Loughlin. Thank you for supporting the businesses that keep ALIVE and GUIDED: Saint Louis growing.

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