By Marty Finley
Lilting basslines crashed against writhing bodies as downtown Richmond exploded into a party scene last weekend. Dozens came out to enjoy the Music Industry Organization’s second-annual Jazz Crawl Friday night. The event kicked off at Creative Arts by Sherri on South Third Street, where the jazz crawlers packed in tight and the band played on a small driveway that jutted out from the gallery. The Westbrook Trio, led by Eastern professor Randy Westbrook, was the first of three acts to play, opening the crawl with their Thelonious Monk meets Parliament Funkadelic fusion. Like last year, the band had little to say, letting its music stand on its own. The band played a number of songs as the people mingled and chatted. Haley Stark, a member of MIO, suggested the crowd move closer to the band, and the suggestion led the driveway to transform into a dance floor
At one point, Westbrook began playing a heavily synthesized melody on his keyboard, which immediately uplifted the crowd. The band joined in with a heavy rhythm as the dancers matched the pace. Marianne McAdams, director of Dance Theater, was one of those leading the dance procession and said she loved the idea of the jazz crawl.
“We came last year and had a blast,” McAdams said. “It makes Richmond feel like a happening place.”
“It makes it feel like a real city,” added Katrina Martir, an Eastern alum and fellow dancer.
The crowd then moved to the Richmond Area Arts Council to hear featured artist, and Louisville native, Ben Sollee. Sollee was accompanied by a drummer and let his cello do most of the heavy lifting.
The room was abuzz until Sollee sat down to begin his first song. He played his cello with a slow, gentle motion that matched the pace of the gray, silky curtains that wafted above his head. The stained glass windows behind Sollee gave the tiny makeshift stage a sacred look. The silence blanketed the audience as Sollee sang the first line of How to See the Sunrise, an upbeat number with elements of jazz and folk.
Sollee alternated his style of cello throughout the night, simulating a guitar, fiddle and banjo. He also tried his hand at playing a real guitar. Sollee said he thought he would miss the crawl as he was performing across the country in Boulder, Colo. the night before. But one red-eye plane ticket remedied the problem.
“I guess that means it’s going to be a jam,” Sollee said with a grin on his face.
As he finished one song, it appeared Sollee was finishing up for the night as he put down the instrument and walked to the front of the stage. The move was a feint, though, as Sollee picked the song back up and sang the last lines a cappella. As he moved back to his seat to resume, several gave him a standing ovation.
The crawl capped off at Woody’s where the crawlers clamored around Clay Gilliam and the No Pressure Blues Band. The band sat up in the corner of the loft upstairs from the dining area. The windows surrounding the floor presented a sprawling view of downtown Richmond, but most spent their time in the middle of the floor dancing or enjoying the various drinks offered by the bartender.
The band opened with an instrumental song that merged blues and jazz, and amped up audience activity. Those who danced to the Westbrook Trio joined in again and many grabbed a partner to sashay to the music with. Some even created lines to exhibit their own musical version of limbo. Stark said MIO were happy that people were coming out and enjoying themselves.
“We have drawn a very diverse crowd,” Stark said. “It seems the event has really reached out to (both students) and folks in Richmond. And everyone is really involved; we love the dancing.”
April Brumfield, adviser to MIO, said MIO wanted to provide a more diverse experience this year and book more eclectic acts.
And the group is already working on their next event, the second-annual Fall Crawl, for the fall semester.