Arts and Culture

This weekend people will say goodbye to a club that has added new voices to the local jazz landscape since 2003. Jazz enthusiasts say this in no way signals the demise of the art form in Louisville. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.

During a Wednesday night drive across the metropolitan area I find jazz. The first stop is the Speakeasy in downtown New Albany. In a historic building, a big band plays tunes while couples twirl and bop on the sprawling dance floor under soft light.

The next stop is the Jazz Factory in downtown Louisville. Here, a full house listens to a jazz combo made up of students from University of Louisville’s School of Music.

Even near midnight, there is more jazz at the Germantown’s Nach Bar where a trio called Vamp is playing to a bar full of mostly 20- and 30-year olds. In all three venues, people tell me they are aware there will be less live jazz in town after Saturday. That’s when the Jazz Factory will close.

A telephone rings in the Jazz Factory, where Ken Shapero has been fielding calls on his cell and office phones since he and his partners who own the Jazz Factory decided earlier this month to close it.

Over five years, notable jazz musicians — including Wynton Marsalis and pianist Kenny Barron — graced its stage. This week, many them are calling as are patrons making reservations for this weekend’s shows.

The afternoon I arrive at the club, Shapero is on a long-distance call talking to guitarist Larry Coryell.

“And I really — I know that people are thinking about us and I feel it,” Shapero tells Coryell. “And I’ll check with you I really will.”

Shapero and his partners had an objective that differed from other local clubs. They wanted to present jazz five nights a week and not as background music. They showcased musicians in a room designed with quality acoustics.

Making this venture profitable meant bringing in the community’s established jazz fans and cultivating new ones to come on a regular basis. In the end, Ken Shapero says that didn’t happen.

“We knew going in that it was uphill, that we would be swimming upstream a little bit,” he says. “But we really felt like with the programming that we did and our ability to do outreach that we would be able to get there.”

There is some fear among people in the jazz community that the Jazz Factory’s closing could give people the impression that jazz is dead in Louisville.

Mike Tracy is a professor of music and jazz at U of L.

“The biggest problem for me is that people will perceive something that isn’t really there now: That jazz is not a vital art form. And it is. And there are people playing. There are people who want to hear it,” he says. “It’s just that this evidently didn’t work the way it was supposed to work for them.”

Tracy and Shapero say making any kind of artistic endeavor profitable today is a hard road, with competition from vast forms of entertainment available to people.

It’s a factor that 32-year-old saxophonist Jacob Duncan says he sees as member of two different jazz groups.

“Jazz isn’t the only thing that’s happening,” he says. “I mean, all the arts are struggling. The club, jazz club, was great to have that.”

Duncan and other musicians say the Jazz Factory gave them a new and different place to play and a locale that brought new people out to hear them.

As for the future, jazz musicians and enthusiasts say it will continue to thrive in remaining venues, like the ones I visited this week, and in mainstays like Syl’s Lounge and The Seelbach Hotel’s bar.

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