Monday, January 24, 2011

How St. Louis Gets Its Swing On At The Bistro

Jazz At The BistroTime magazine once wrote that St. Louis has never placed very high. "Like Atlanta, Cleveland, Buffalo or Pittsburgh, it has been traditionally an entertain-at-home sort of town..." But that all changed in the 1950s and 60s, when Gaslight Square started attracting a mix of mink coats, turtleneck sweaters, and black stockings.

At its peak, Gaslight Square became home to an odd assortment of taverns, cabarets, restaurants, sidewalk cafes, and antique shops. It attracted a largely bohemian and free-spirited crowd, eclectically centered poets and writers like Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg, entertainers like Lenny Bruce and Barbra Streisand.

In recent years, Gaslight Square has been renovated into a residential district, but the wide-eye vibe in St. Louis still exists a few blocks away. The essence of the experience is alive and well, moved a little closer to the St. Louis Gateway Arch. There are several venues to be found there, but one of the finest is Jazz At The Bistro, where a mix of new and legendary talents still satisfies the original affliction.

Jazz At The Bistro Makes St. Louis A Rich Exploratory Hot Spot.

Opened in 1995, Jazz At The Bistro, now best known as the main performance venue for Jazz St. Louis, quickly became a meeting place with purpose. As a classic jazz club, the originating concept was tried and true. Everyone is equalized, with locals performing alongside nationally known artists and patrons mingling with the entertainers.

The magic of the venue is maintained by a low key, medium-sized room with surprisingly solid acoustics and sight lines. In recent years, Jazz St. Louis has been working even harder to share the St. Louis experience that is sometimes overlooked. The supporting organization frequently shares interviews with performers like Russell Malone, Regina Carter, and David Sanborn.

If you're unfamiliar with the names, Sanborn is currently regarded as one of the most respected sax players in the world. Malone is a self-taught swing jazz guitarist with a flair for bebop. And Carter started as a classical violinist at the age of four before becoming a jazz musician.

“Some of the melodies sound so simple, but the difficult thing is to keep them simple, to take this beautiful music and make it ours, but not decorate it too much,” Carter said.

Jazz At The BistroThe same can be said for the experience at Jazz At The Bistro. While performances typically begin at 7:45 p.m., the club also serves dinner. Patrons enjoying dinner during the performance are asked to arrive slightly earlier than the performance time. Reservations can also be made prior to a performance, but those patrons are asked to finish before the show begins.

Entrees generally consist of a mix of St. Louis and Southern favorites, with entrees such as Cuban pot roast, crawfish and andouille stuffed trout, and roasted portabella steak (stuffed with goat cheese, spinach, and tomatoes). The venue also has sandwiches and a dessert menu. The point is that there are still places in America when you can make the experience your own.

Jazz St. Louis At Jazz At The Bisto Rises To An 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to experience the club while attending a conference in St. Louis. Recent news that Jazz St. Louis was recognized by the Missouri Arts Council with a 2011 Missouri Arts Award reignited my interest. The council specifically acknowledged their contributions in the community as well as for making jazz synonymous with St. Louis.

Jazz St. Louis has almost a dozen educational and outreach programs. They range from artist residencies to in-school jazz programs that blend entertainment history with education. All of it helps tie together what happened in St. Louis about 60 years ago when someone first noted that jazz is St. Louis.

If you are visiting the city, there are plenty of other jazz and alternative hot spots, many of which are within walking distance of the famous St. Louis Gateway Arch. For ease and convenience making travel plans, Fare Buzz has several specially-priced air fare packages to consider.
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