Jazz isn’t dead, and that’s thanks in part to Gerry Eastman’s efforts to keep it alive in Williamsburg.
The musician and his trio, quartet, or quintet, depending on the week, regularly light up Bedford Avenue’s Williamsburg Music Center with the acoustic electricity of saxophones, trumpets, and standing basses.
“Our main push is to get people used to hearing live music again,” said Eastman. “You wouldn’t believe how many people come in here and point to that [upright bass] and say, ‘What’s that?’ ”
Eastman founded the Music Center in 1981, and since then it has become one of a small handful of jazz spaces in Brooklyn.
By his estimates, 30 years ago there were between 40 and 50 jazz clubs in New York. Today he struggles to name 10. Jazz has fallen from the popular conscious, and its vibrant culture is threatened by the cultural shift, he said. But at the small but welcoming space at S. Fifth Street, jazz is alive and kicking.
The Friday night show features Eastman’s ever-evolving quintet, with some of the regulars including bassist Brian Vinson, drummer Ronnie Burrage, and percussionist Abdus Sabor. Staying in the tradition of the scene they open up the stage to guest musicians, making for a loose, unpredictable night of music.
Last Friday, horn player Nick Vayenas jumped in for a few songs and brought some New Orleans energy to the music. Saxophonist Julian Drake Taylor and bassist Paul Duston-Munoz also hopped on stage for a few songs. And to add some crooning to the night, vocalist Mavis Swan performed with the band, singing a wonderful rendition of “Bye Bye Blackbird.”
Gerry Eastman at the Wililamsburg Music Center [367 Bedford Ave. at S. Fifth Street in Williamsburg, (718) 384–1654, www.wmcjazz.org]. Fridays, 10 pm.