Monday, November 3, 2014

The Sounds of Music in St. Louis

Listen. Can you hear it? It’s out there. A violin. A trumpet. A bass. A Steinway and a Selmer. These are the sounds of autumn. As nature’s world goes through her changes, leaving summer behind. the Sounds of Music flourish in St. Louis.
     I learned Beethoven's “Fur Elise” on the piano when I was ten, thanks to my mom’s love of classical piano. Her favorite was Chopin. At a statewide competition I won a tiny gold piano pin for that number. And so it began with classical music.

     Jazz came next, in the shape of two LP’s from Columbia - “The 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert.” I had never heard songs and players like this before. Their names are still magic for me: Harry James, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Jess Stacy, Babe Russin. And of course the great Benny on clarinet. I still have those albums, framed on my office wall.
     Which brings me to the point of these musings: I love this time of year in St. Louis. Sure, the trees are colorful and yard work is about over (except for raking), the "back to school" ads have been recycled. Even as the autumn leaves pass by my window, I can hear the downbeats, the count-offs, the tuning-ups, the reverent silence and enthusiastic applause just around the corner.
     The music season has returned to St. Louis, much of it centered on Grand Avenue. I don't mean to imply that there isn't music scattered throughout the city and county throughout the year. It's just that Grand is where the lights shine brightest.
     St. Louis is home to one of the premier jazz clubs in America, The Bistro, aka Jazz at the Bistro.
It sits near Grand and Washington, about a hundred yards east of the magnificent Fox Theater. The Bistro underwent an extensive face-lift during the summer, which promises to make it even more audience friendly and "cooler" than before. Gene Dobbs Bradford has done a terrific job over the years keeping jazz on track in our town. 
     One word of caution: this place is “respectable.” Which is good, but I also remember, quite fondly, the jazz clubs here in the '50's and 60's.
Peacock Alley, the Dark Side, Jazz Central, the Glass Bar, Gino's, Georgie’s, and - on the East Side - the Blue Note, the Terrace Lounge, the Palladium. Those clubs had "atmosphere." Which means they were crowded, had uncomfortable chairs, watered down drinks, lots of chatter, and almost everyone smoked or so it seems. Even today there are times when I’d like a Newport and a bourbon while listening to jazz. I quit smoking 30 years ago. Still.....

     Okay. Enough about jazz. Let's modulate over to classical. From The Bistro, stroll three blocks north and you're at Powell Hall, home of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. 

     While we're on Grand, one final word about music. Namely, The Broadway Musical. Thanks to Mary and Leon Strauss, the Fox is still a showplace over eighty years after it first opened. Back then it was movies, one of the great palaces on Grand. Today the road companies from Broadway, as well as popular music acts of all genres, keep the Fox and the neighborhood vital. 

One block west of the Fox is the Sheldon Concert Hall,
built in 1912 and another superlative music venue with perfect acoustics. I went there Sunday night with my brother to see Spokfrevo Orquestra, a 17-piece band from Brazil that blew the roof off. One of the most exciting musical events I've ever seen. St. Louis was one of only 7 cities in the U.S. to book this band, and The Sheldon did it. According to the program, frevo music is a combination of "vivid, frenetic and vigorous rhythm" with an amalgam of several Brazilians music genres. In other words, you've gotta hear it to believe it.  In Concert: Spokfrevo
     So let the leaves fall, the chill winds blow, and summer become a memory. As long as there’s a soundtrack for autumn, I’m happy. And what better way to close off this show than with the Stan Getz definitive recording of "Early Autumn." Sit back, relax, and listen.


  1. "Senior Woodstock" made me laugh out loud. This wonderful post has its own rhythms and will enrapture the classical music lovers. Submit this to the Post as a St. Louis feel-good piece...exactly what this town needs now.

  2. I too chuckled over "Senior Woodstock." I guess at that "event," the concert-goers wouldn't have to slog through mud to get to the portapotty (or a ditch) to relieve themselves...because they'd be wearing Depends...