For lots of folks in this rock-weaned town, jazz is the musical equivalent of a non-alcoholic brew: a less fun, more responsible choice, indulged in by high-minded prudes. To people like us, for whom Budweiser is a sacrament, jazz is as daunting as a field sobriety test.
"Some people in the jazz world want it to be kind of exclusive, an 'I'm-cooler-than-you-are' type of thing," says Jim Wadsworth, the booking agent for the East Side jazz club/restaurant Night Town. "I don't really care for that. I like it to be a party where everybody's invited."
And we accept. Since taking over booking at Night Town in 1999, Wadsworth, along with club owner Brendan Ring, has made it a warm, friendly jazz hot spot that employs rockers and forgoes the pretentiousness. And their efforts haven't gone unrecognized. In last month's issue of the jazz bible Down Beat, Night Town was named one of the top 100 jazz clubs in the world -- and the only club from Ohio to be honored. By luring top names like Chucho Valdez, Ray Brown, and Monty Alexander, and offering some fine dining, Night Town now gets mentioned in the same breath as such jazz meccas as New York's legendary Blue Note and Chicago's Green Mill.
"It's become a destination spot," Wadsworth says. "I've had people fly in from Atlanta to see our acts. I've had people from Toronto, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Buffalo."
The stars are noticing, as well. Jazz chanteuse Diana Krall stopped by for dinner recently, and a few weeks before that, Wynton Marsalis came around unannounced for an impromptu, seven-hour jam session that lasted well into the next day.
"He came up to me at four in the morning and thanked me for what we were doing for jazz in Cleveland," Ring says.
Adds Joel Chriss, a jazz booking agent for New York's Chriss and Company: "I know jazz artists and jazz agents like myself are thankful that it's there. I think that it indicates that not only is Cleveland a major sports town and a major Midwestern city, but also that it cares about culture, because there are people who come out and support it."
Yeah, culture's cool, but we like Night Town's swank, laid-back atmosphere even better, as it offers a welcome departure from your average rock show.
"There's a big difference between coming to see a show at Night Town, having somebody come and serve you dinner, bring you drinks whenever you want them, and going to Gund Arena and getting a light beer for six bucks in a plastic cup," Wadsworth says.
Less money. More beer. That's our kind of math.
With our birch-tree complexion, we don't get out in the sun much come summertime, lest we come back with the skin tone of a baboon's behind. That may change this year, however, when a pair of local metal heavyweights join some impressive outdoor tours.
Aggro modern rockers Switched leave this week for a string of dates opening for Atlanta nu-metal favorites Sevendust, with Chicago's Soil also in tow. Even more impressive, Switched has landed spots on this year's Ozzfest and the Warped Tour, where the band will be making a return visit after a successful stint last year.
"We were one of the only metal bands there," Switched singer Ben Schigel recalls. "Every time we'd go to start, no one knew who we were, so there'd be like 50 people there, and then, after the first song, there'd be 100, then 200. We were only supposed to do nine shows, and they kept us on because we were doing good."
Of course, the sojourn wasn't without its mishaps.
"We almost got kicked off the tour," Schigel recalls with a laugh. "I got fuckin' wasted. I'm like 'What's up, Orlando!' and we were in like Tampa. I was getting kids onstage; the stage almost collapsed."
Joining Switched on the highly competitive Ozzfest roster is Mushroomhead, which will be aboard for select dates on both the American and European legs of the festival. This news comes on the heels of the band's debut on the Billboard Top 200 and word that its video for "Solitaire Unraveling" has been nominated by the Music Video Production Association for Best Rock Video and Best Video Art Direction.
Mushroomhead will also be hitting the road with the Locobazooka Tour, an impressive new outing that boasts Filter, Sevendust, Fu Manchu, and others, which will be targeting markets that Ozzfest doesn't hit.
Pass the aloe vera.