(June 10, 2012) WASHINGTON, DC to RICHMOND, VA — I’m writing this at 2 a.m. by the glow of a lava lamp after hearing music tonight in a small bar in Richmond that was as good as anything I’ve heard in New York. More about that later.
I did a final interview in Silver Spring this morning before loading up my backpack and heading into DC to catch my bus (that’s the bus station in the photo above). I really enjoyed DC. I didn’t get to do as many touristy things as I would have liked, but I got to see good music and meet some fine people, so that more than made up for it. But I’d like to go back and geek out on history. Next time.
Today’s bus was late leaving and late arriving at its destination. That’s the first time that’s happened and we were just 30 minutes late, so Greyhound is still doing fine by me. But I was reminded of Charles Kurault’s line, “Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.”
When you arrive in Richmond by bus, the first thing you see is an enormous stadium with flying squirrels on it. Knowing nothing at all about this town, I had no idea what it was for, but I assumed a college football team. I later learned that Virginia Commonwealth University is here. I then made the half-hour trek across town to Joe’s Inn, which had been recommended to me by my host, drummer Scott Clark.
Joe’s Inn was perfect. The folks were hospitable, the food was good and the iced tea was sweet, the way it’s supposed to be. I immediately remembered how much I love the South and how happy I am to be back here. It’s been too long since my last visit. I wrote a poem in Joe’s, too.
That reminds me: I’m reading my poetry here in Richmond on Tuesday, June 12 at 6 p.m. at Chop Suey Books. If you’re reading this and you’re anywhere near Richmond, it would mean a lot to me if you came. If you’ve never been to hear poetry before, don’t worry. My stuff is fairly easy to take, as long as you like poems about relationships.
After Joe’s, I still had quite a while to kill before Scott’s second gig, so I wandered toward what I thought would be William Byrd Park. I hadn’t paid enough attention to my spacephone, though, and didn’t notice that a highway was going to block my path. But right at the dead end was a lovely community garden with some plastic chairs, so I took off my pack and settled down with my Kindle to read.
After a little while a woman about my age came over to the garden.
“Visiting?” she asked.
“Just got into town. I’m heading to a show nearby in a little while. I hope you don’t mind if I rest in your chair.”
“It’s a community garden. Everyone’s welcome.”
She went to the other end of the garden to do some planting. When she came back, I told her what I was doing and invited her to my reading on Tuesday.
Twilight descended and it was time to go to the Commercial Taphouse to hear Scott Clark’s band. Even after spending quite a while in the garden, I was still very early for the show, but I enjoyed more sweet tea and used my Kindle light to make sure everyone in the bar knew I was a nerd.
The Taphouse is long and fairly narrow joint with a really good vibe. Tons of beer available (I don’t drink, but it looked impressive) and a friendly bartender who knew his stuff. Plus they book lots of music, including adventurous jazz. Thumbs up!
The Scott Clark 4-tet features Scott on drums, Cameron Ralston on bass, Jason Scott on saxes and Bob Miller on trumpet. They are, in a word, ballsy. The band started strong and just got stronger. It was, as I said above, as good as anything I’ve heard in New York.
I love the classic Ornette Coleman quartet lineup and Clark and the band make incredible use of it. They have a full, rich sound and they sound like a band. Because they’re a band. They’ve played together a ton over the years and it shows. Ralston is a monster on the bass, and his hook-up with Clark is really something to hear. Like a freight train loaded with dynamite crashing into an ammunition dump. Jason Scott and Bob Miller crushed all their unison and harmony parts, and when it was time to improvise, both had a seemingly endless supply of new ideas.
I met a number of other Richmond-based musicians at the show tonight, too. Scott is helping me assemble a group of them for a discussion about what makes the RVA scene so vibrant. I’ve already had several Richmond folks on The Jazz Session, including Fight The Big Bull, NO BS! Brass, and Darius Jones (here and here).
Apparently there’s an amazing art museum in town. I’m going to check that out later today (Monday) and also try to get to the river. I’m interviewing Scott Clark while I’m here, recording that group discussion, and probably also squeezing in another interview or two in addition to my reading.
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