Innovative music scenes often go hand-in-hand with college towns, and lately, jazz music has developed an increasing prominence in local Murfreesboro culture.
With the annual JazzFest going strong, area restaurants and lounges featuring local jazz artists, a local FM radio station playing only jazz music and MTSU providing university-level jazz programs, the improvisational musical genre has found a niche in Murfreesboro.
The Five Senses restaurant on Northfield Boulevard began a jazz night a few years ago. Unfortunately, their endeavor ultimately failed.
’The audience at Five Senses wasn’t terribly receptive,’ said David Benedict, a former employee of The Five Senses and jazz player who helped initiate the venture.
However, Benedict retried the formula at Tomato Tom’to pizza kitchen on West Main Street, a sister restaurant of Five Senses.
’When we began the jazz nights at Tomato Tom’to, they started off really, really well,’ Benedict said. ’The energy and tastes of audiences in the square are such a good fit for that kind of thing.’
Similar fetes also take place at Liquid Smoke, also located on the square, where music booker Trey Call credits the ’laid-back and chill’ qualities of jazz as an ideal complement to the lounge’s social atmosphere.
’It’s entertaining and not overpowering,’ Call said. ’People can sit and talk and do their thing and still be entertained by the music.’
Liquid Smoke also provides an opportunity for Middle Tennessee State University students to showcase their talents.
’There are a lot of students in the music program here who are always looking for outlets,’ Call said. ’I’m just happy that we can provide a place for them to show off their chops.’
Benedict, too, notes the importance of local audiences and musicians at Tomato Tom’to.
’MTSU students definitely make up a bulk of our audience,’ he said. ’And we’re also always looking for more local bands to perform. It’s a great opportunity for people to come by and hear everyone’s stuff.’
The interest and involvement of MTSU students are also evident in the university’s ever-growing Jazz Studies program. Following the appointment of nationally hailed jazz saxophonist Don Aliquo as Director of Jazz Studies, jazz performance classes and ensembles have expanded to become one of the university’s preeminent music forms.
’It’s really amazing that MTSU’s expanding its studies in jazz,’ said Mark Zelmer, a MTSU music student. ’I think it’s great that they’re exploring this really wonderful art form, one of the few that can be considered distinctly American.’
MTSU’s budding program also includes various liberal arts classes in the history and literature of jazz, which is another development Zelmer considers vital.
’As MTSU broadens its horizons and embraces the avant-garde form of jazz literature, it increases the culture of MTSU and helps it move into the 21st century,’ Zelmer explained.
Another element of MTSU’s broadening jazz culture is the success of 89.5 WMOT-FM, a campus-based jazz radio station. The station, a National Public Radio affiliate, recently amplified its range to include most of Rutherford and Williamson counties, due to its popularity.
For the 2008 summer, an increasing number of area jazz events are scheduled. In Murfreesboro, Tomato Tom’to hosts its jazz nights every other Thursday, while they take place at Liquid Smoke every Tuesday, as well as alternating Thursdays. Other locales, such at B. McNeel’s restaurant on Church Street, have initiated plans for summer jazz showcases.
An even wider selection of performances will take place throughout Middle Tennessee. The Tennessee Jazz and Blues Society’s event calendar, available at jazzblues.org, lists multiple jazz happenings a week, ranging from coffeehouse shows to orchestra concerts.
’All live jazz performances are so remarkable,’ Zelmer said. ’There’s always such a great energy, and the musicians are so talented and creative. What they’re doing is so expressive.’