An Embarrassment of Riches

On The Town | Philip Ellison | November 2011

A question frequently asked of the average expatriate is whether one misses something from "home." This can be as specific as a brand of tea or as broad as local attitudes about the role of the citizen. But in fact, the more interesting question may be something else, having to do with rediscovering abroad the things one had become accustomed to at home.

For the jazz fan, this town reveals itself as a place of wonder. While there are legendary locations, neighborhoods, avenues, and clubs recognized as touchstones: New Orleans, Harlem, 52nd St., Birdland, The Hi-Hat, the Onyx, Central Avenue, Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse, the West Coast and its "cool school," etc., Vienna is well on its way to earning its place among them.

On page 24, you will find a listing of jazz events for the current month, some described in detail, others, given space limitations, with just date, place, and contact details. Notice, however, the breadth, the wealth of talent presented in a single month – and here we print only "the news that fits" – as this is just the iceberg’s tip, and mine to you.

Vienna’s jazz venues offer the kind of experience that helps prevent embarrassing questions. After all, it was Louis Armstrong who said that, "If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know."

On almost any given night, jazz from Dixieland to "New Thing" can be heard. Vienna is stunning in its diversity, whether you drop in at Jazzland to hear a local/global legend like Fritz Pauer at the ivories, or manage to get tickets at the Wiener Konzerthaus to hear Maria Schneider, the leading exponent of the Big Band. It really could not be easier to find a sound that resonates with you.

Last month, barely a week apart, two quite-unlike greats crossed paths in our town. On one night, fans were treated to alto saxophonist Herb Geller, a veteran of the West Coast school of the 1950s. Still blowing strong at 82, he admits the influence of Benny Carter, and even the casual listener can hear the buttery Johnny Hodges-like tone of his horn.

He played a four-tune tribute to the late Al Cohn, an artist not as well known as he should be. One tune in particular, "Too Little Time," demonstrated a lively propulsion, just begging for lyrics and release to the pop world, testifying to the vitality of this senior statesman, underscoring the truth in its title.

A week earlier, just as "up close and personal," in fact in the same room, a very different man with a horn, Curtis Stigers, showed up to a sold-out house. Impressive about Stigers is that while jazz is seen by some to be at the margins of popular culture, Stigers has tapped into pop and makes it swing.

As a recording artist, with tunes included on one of the top-selling film soundtracks of all time, The Bodyguard with some 25 million copies sold worldwide (and counting), Stigers is free to follow his muse, something we can all be grateful for.

As a singer and saxophonist, his influences range from Ellington to Elvis. His artistic range allowed him first to scat on "Bye Bye Blackbird," one of the earliest jazz tunes. He then followed up with an improvised sax romp on "I Don’t Want to Talk About it Now," an Emmylou Harris tune.

Stigers’ range was clearly evident as he performed "All the Things You Are" by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, calling it "the most beautiful love song ever written." Performed live, with that much heart, who would argue?

What this is to suggest is that the above is just a slice of the jazz life as practiced in dear old Vienna, now awaiting your discovery.

Take a seat, sidle up to the bar, or stand if you have to. Lend an ear to a collaborative art, practiced live by true masters, in several of the best workshops in the world, all here, all now.

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