Using a specially designed keyboard linked to a magnetic-resonance imaging machine, some Johns Hopkins and government scientists recently studied what happens to the brains of jazz musicians when they improvise. Their conclusion: During improv, "their brains turn off areas linked to self-censoring and inhibition, and turn on those that let self-expression flow."
The scientists might have gotten similar results just from interviewing jazz musicians. I started thinking about this "my brain on jazz" concept years ago, after seeing an interview with jazz piano prodigy Sergio Salvatore, who was still a teenager at the time. He talked about the thousands of decisions a musician makes in a split second while improvising, and it was fascinating. So fascinating that I started thinking about it while playing the guitar — until I began to get too analytical, which can completely stifle the creative flow.
Still, over the last decade, I've continued to marvel that a guy can spend years studying scales and modes, transcribe solos, listen to a ton of albums, let the music marinate in his brain alongside life experiences, and then have it all come back out instantaneously while he's improvising.
I thought about this again when I watched jazz guitarist Dave Corbus's trio firing on all cylinders at Bliss Cafe (7501 Grandview Avenue, Arvada) on a recent Friday night. The room was packed, mostly with younger people — probably high school and college students — and I wondered how they were taking in the tunes. I'd heard good things about the eighteen-month-old Bliss Cafe from musicians who'd played there, most of whom had remarked on what a great-sounding room it was. The sound from Corbus and his two musicians, who were set up by the front window, was enough to completely fill the small room, with noise bouncing off the hardwood floors and the windows in front.
Sitting at the bar in the back, I realized that Bliss reminded me of places I used to frequent in New York City's West Village. It's hip and a bit funky, but classy as well, with a decent selection of wine, beer and espresso drinks. While I didn't get to eat there, the dinner menu looked damn good. And I did get to sample some stellar jazz, music that may well inspire my own playing the next time I improvise.
Club scout: It's been a while since LoDo had a blues club. Brendan's Pub enjoyed a long run in the space that's now Pat's Downtown (1642 Market Street); when it moved a few blocks away, into a building that's now the Marquis Theater (2009 Larimer Street), it quickly tanked. But in a few months, LoDo will once again have a blues club. The spot formerly occupied by the Dugout (1925 Blake Street) is being transformed into a venue reminiscent of the '40s and '50s supper clubs of New York and Chicago. The supper lineup will consist of steaks, seafood, pasta and a lot of appetizers; the music lineup will be live bands Thursdays through Saturdays, and a piano bar the rest of the time. The owners say they haven't yet decided on a name but are leaning toward Blues on Blake Supper Club.
Nic from Nicandthecity.com has started throwing Sex and the City parties Wednesday nights at the new Wilde Dancebar & Lounge (2157 Downing Street); they'll continue through the end of May, when the Sex and the City film hits theaters. In addition to showing the first six seasons of the show, Nic will be giving away DVDs, bar tabs and tickets to see the movie, and from 8 to 10 p.m., SKYY vodka cocktails are just $2.50. Over at Spill Lounge (1410 Market Street), that same night is now devoted to 1-2-3 Wednesdays, when you can get $1 PBRs, $2 Buds and $3 well drinks from 9 p.m. to close while listening to DJ Sam-H spin retro and '80s cuts.
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