Undead Jazz Festival: Kenny's Castaways Edition
Happy Apple closed Kenny's Castaways for the night. Happy Apple is the kind of band that begs to be put in the "not jazz" category, but plays for an audience that won't let them. They're named after the toy keyboard that saxophonist Michael Lewis likes to fool around with when he's not blowing. Erik Fratzke's electric bass more often sounds like indie rock than it does Ray Brown and Dave King's tenure in The Bad Plus, a band that catches the attention of the mainstream by covering Blondie and Black Sabbath, has no shortage of rock influences. However, no one with working ears can deny Lewis's crystal clear saxophone sound. No jazz fan can deny the presence of group improvisation in their playing. It's the raw, stripped down ethos of the band that draws listeners in and separates Happy Apple from the rest. If I had to give it a name, I'd call it "garage jazz," but this wasn't a festival about labels; it was about singular, unique expressions.
The Undead Jazz Festival was everything most jazz festivals are not: loaded with new artists, cheap and unsponsored. It was uncompromising, loosely organized, rebellious, a little snarky and extremely adventurous. The audience had no distinct demographic, ranging across age, sex, race, etc. There were as many dress shoes tapping on the floor as there were Converse All-Stars hanging from the second floor balcony. Above all else, the sheer mass of people in attendance at just one of the venues (I heard there was a line around the block for John Hollenbeck's large ensemble) should be enough to quell those who fear for the future of jazz. The next time someone asks you if it's dead, respond with "It's undead!" If they don't get it, have them come next year.