On a sunny spring afternoon, a pair of musicians improvise in the parlor of a hundred-year-old Arcata house, the space a jumble of instruments and electronic gear. Darius Brotman sits at the upright piano, his fingers flying up and down the keyboard sending out showers of notes. His old friend Duncan Burgess, who owns the house, is perched beside him on a stool picking out notes on a vintage Gibson guitar. The two music strains weave together in a jazz dance exploring the outer reaches of some tune, which remains unrecognizable until, by unseen agreement, the friends draw toward a close repeating the head -- and "Body and Soul" comes back into focus.
"That was an out-of-Body and Soul experience," says Duncan, deeming it break time.
Sitting on his back porch they talk about the state of jazz in Humboldt. It's agreed: At this point the scene has grown pretty lean. "It's primarily restaurant gigs," says Duncan who plays regularly at Libations wine shop and at Hurricane Kate's, often solo, sometimes with someone like saxophonist Susie Laraine.
Darius much prefers concerts, where the audience is actively listening, or at least not using jazz as background for conversation. But jazz concerts are few and far between aside from what's happening on campus, with the occasional big name CenterArts show, or shows put on by the music department (who have a couple of jazz shows this weekend) and the Redwood Jazz Alliance.
"People like them when they happen, but it's a lot of work putting them together, and it's hard to make it pay," says Darius, noting that a concert he's helped assemble for Friday night is all done by volunteers. The show at the Graves Museum is another in the series of events celebrating the 50th birthday of KHSU, where Darius is a deejay.
"We have three straight-ahead jazz shows, then the old time jazz show and the funky jazz show," he reports, "but it didn't look like anyone was willing to put on a show [for the anniversary series], so I volunteered."
He booked himself first (the rehearsal with Duncan was preparation). Darius "and friends" will play a collection of standards and some originals with special guest vocalist Juanita Hill, a former local returning for the occasion.
Also on the bill, cool bassist Shao Way Wu in a drummer-less trio featuring Jill Petricca on flute and sax and Jessie Elias on guitar. They'll play tunes by Horace Silver, Abdullah Ibrahim, Billy Strayhorn and some originals.
And there's a quartet from the HSU Music Dept. called Flannel Potato... Bug with Isaac Williams on tenor sax, Aber Miller on piano, Sam Roberts on bass and Jonathan Kipp on drums. The band actually did not have a name until Darius asked -- and they improvised. "They said, 'We'll each think of a word,' and it was 'flannel... potato, bug.'"
Looking for jazz programming on KHSU? You'll find it every weekday from 8:30-10 p.m. To be specific, Mughouse Jazz with Tom Cairns is on Mondays, Darius' Gone Sides Tuesdays, Barry Thorpe's Classic Jazz Variety Wednesdays, Bud Culbertson's Funky Junction Thursdays and Bright Moments with Redwood Jazz Alliance members runs two-hours on Fridays starting at 8 p.m.
The KHSU Mini-Jazz Fest takes place on Friday, May 7, starting at 8 p.m. in the rotunda of the Morris Graves Museum of Art, 636 F St., Eureka. Tickets are $10-$15, which includes hors d'oeuvres; wine available for sale. The show will also be broadcast live on KHSU. Turn on and tune in to 90.5 FM, 88.7 Ferndale-Fortuna, 89.7 Garberville or 99.7 Willow Creek or listen online at www.khsu.org. Call the station, 826-4807, for further information.