Annual local music festival the Lot turns ten years old, and the Gramophone fills its Tuesday nights with the sounds of jazz

Aug 20, 2008 at 4:00 am

St. Louis has a historic reputation as a center for jazz, but it's not always easy to find live jazz performances in the city early in the week. Now the available options have increased by one, via a series of free Tuesday-night shows presented by the south-side music club The Gramophone in conjunction with Jazz St. Louis, the nonprofit organization that runs Jazz at the Bistro.

Gramophone co-owner Andrew "Roo" Yawitz began booking jazz on Tuesdays when the club opened earlier this year and subsequently established the connection with Jazz St. Louis through its director of education, Phil Dunlap. "Our manager Ruth Orabka went to school with Phil and was in same music program [at SIU-Edwardsville]," Yawitz explains. Also, Dunlap "came in a couple of times during the first month and a half we were open," which provided an opportunity for Yawitz to propose a joint venture. "I thought it would be a win-win, to help us promote the night and get people out on a Tuesday," he says. "Phil passed on my idea to Gene [Dobbs Bradford, executive director of Jazz St. Louis], and we all sat down and talked about how the situation might work."

Dunlap is excited about the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship. "It's a way for us to get our name out into the community to people that might not come down to Jazz at the Bistro," he says, noting that because the Bistro is closed on Tuesday, shows at the Gramophone are not direct competition. "We feel that supporting and helping the local music scene grow is important to what we do at the Bistro."

Yawitz still handles all the Tuesday bookings, with Jazz St. Louis playing what Dunlap terms a "consulting" role. And the collaboration is evolving: So far, Jazz St. Louis is publicizing the Gramophone series in weekly messages to its e-mail list, and it has also referred some bands and musicians to Yawitz.

The lineup to date has been musically diverse, ranging from the postmodern free jazz of bassist Zimbabwe Nkenya's BAG Trio to vocalist Trish Turek, who favors standards and straight-ahead swing. Yawitz has also booked gigs featuring younger mainstream players such as keyboardist Ryan Marquez, saxophonist Bennett Wood and guitarist David Wiatrolik, as well as the Chicago-based band Algernon, whose genre-busting, all-instrumental music has been called everything from "fusion" to "post-rock."

Dunlap says Jazz St. Louis is considering other ways the organization might work with the Gramophone. "We've talked about doing some special events with some of our residency artists," he said, such as a fundraiser run by the young friends group of Jazz St. Louis.

Adds Yawitz: "The thing that I love the most is when a trio comes in, and then other musicians who know those guys come in, and it turns into an open jam session. You end up having music that's being created on the fly," he says. "We'd really like to foster that community aspect. If the Tuesday night thing turns out to be a musicians' hang, then I know I've done my job."
— Dean C. Minderman

A Gerry Mulligan tribute by Andy Ament Quartet at 9 p.m. Tuesday, August 26. The Gramophone, 4243 Manchester Avenue. Free. 314-531-5700.

Whole Lotta Love
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Lot, a late-summer, downtown music festival that's become one of the premier showcases of St. Louis musicians. Just as the local music scene has evolved over the past decade, so has the neighborhood around the Schlafly Tap Room parking lot, where the event has been held since 1998. A backdrop that consisted mostly of abandoned warehouse space and office buildings now looks more like an up-and-coming extension of the Washington Avenue loft district — in short, a much more inviting (if not quite yet thriving) neighborhood.

This evolution should please Lot organizer Metropolis St. Louis, a local nonprofit organization whose primary goal is to help attract young residents to the city of St. Louis. B-Sides spoke with Lot chairman Andrew Scavotto about what to expect from this year's festival, whose musical lineup includes So Many Dynamos, the Monads, Earthworms, the Feed, LOGOS, Alvin Jett and the Phat NoiZ Blues Band and the final performance from Victoria.

B-Sides: Do you think that the Lot has helped in a way to fuel the westward expansion of the downtown residential sector?

Andrew Scavotto: Yeah, the goal of the festival has always been to provide a fun, interesting event for downtown and for that neighborhood. That area has grown, a lot of developers have started expanding farther west away from that central core of Washington Avenue, so there's so much more going on around the Tap Room. The backdrop of the event has become better and better over the years.

What gave you enough interest to volunteer your time to help put the event together?

I am so excited about local music right now, more so than I have ever been. I think we have just an incredible amount of interesting local bands and a diverse pool of talent, and it just seemed like a fun opportunity to put it together on one stage. The Lot gets a large crowd, and it's not necessarily always a music crowd. Some people just view it as a social event, and some of those people end up getting exposed to great local music that they otherwise wouldn't have known about.

How important do you think local music is to people who are thinking about moving to the city?

I think The Lot does an incredible job of exposing people to local bands. Good music is hard to find. If somebody moves to the city, they wouldn't necessarily know to go check out some of the more underground local venues. But a large outdoor festival at the Tap Room is pretty easy to find, so you get a lot of exposure for these local bands that wouldn't exist normally.

This year's lineup seems a little less indie- rock-centric than in the past. How important was diversity when you started contemplating possible acts?

I just wanted to look around and pick a lineup that would draw different crowds of people. More importantly, though, I wanted to pick bands that I think are putting on great live shows. I wanted it to be nonstop entertainment from top to bottom. I've seen every band on the bill multiple times, and they all have a reputation as being great concert bands.

Do you think a varied lineup plays a role in exposing people not just to different types of local music, but also to entirely different parts of the city in general?

Definitely. That's one of the reasons we wanted to have a band like the Monads on there. Not only are they a great live band, but they represent a different portion of the city than, say, So Many Dynamos or Victoria would. Our local blues scene is phenomenal as well. We have these places down on Broadway like BB's [Jazz, Blues and Soups] where you can walk in and see somebody like Alvin Jett for $5, so hopefully the Lot can expose that scene to more people as well.

Any other additions to this year's fest?

Well, the main difference this year that hasn't existed before is that we'll have local food vendors outside. That's an element that has been lacking in the past, so we're hoping that adding that to the Schlafly beer and the music and all of the booths will make for a pretty complete day.
— Shae Moseley

4 p.m. Saturday, August 23. Schlafly Tap Room parking lot, 2100 Locust Street. Free. 314-241-2337.