What’s a jazz musician to do once the audience has been ordered to stay home and all the gigs have dried up? With COVID-19, some musicians livestream on Facebook alone with their piano or guitar, or quarantined cohabitating musicians perform an impromptu on their couch or back porch. And then there are the daring ones who just can’t do without a full rhythm section, the ones who want the interplay that comes with collective improvisation. Bassist Mike Boone, a renowned Philly jazz mentor, is one of these brave souls.
Jazzing things up
A few weeks ago, Boone hooked up with drummer Josh Thomas, who has a recording studio and sound stage called Friend Zone Studios in West Philly, and started a livestream on Thursdays at 7pm, calling on musicians far and wide to come and play.
I spoke with Boone, a long, long-time friend, last week.
“I’m doing it on Thursdays because every Thursday I had my own jam at Heritage [a comfy jazz joint on North 2nd St.]. For this, I can’t have people sit in because of the social distancing thing. But the room I’m in at the studio is pretty big, so we can spread out. We play for an hour and then we have an interview session for about 10 minutes. Then we go back and play another two or three songs. We all just want to play,” he said.
Some musicians have jumped at Boone’s invitation to improvise and others have begged off, worried about COVID-19 getting in the way, and the bassist totally understands: Boone’s wife was recently hospitalized with the virus but is home now doing fine.
Who pays the band?
“I split the profits with everybody," Boone said. "We ask for about $7, and it’s on the honor system. Everybody can watch the show for free, but the idea is to get the audience to buy into the fact that you can’t come into the club to see us. But if you did, one beer would cost you $6.50. So, instead of you coming to us, we’re bringing it to you. People can see it live or watch it later.”
Each week, the musicians are different. Sometimes the group will feature “old heads” with younger players, which is par for the course with Boone, since he’s mentored almost every musician coming out of Philly.
A unique performance
This Thursday, May 28, Boone has planned a very special evening with an all-star group: guitarist Dave Manley, saxophonist Chris Farr, and keyboardist Max Hoenig. And Boone's son, 12-year-old prodigy Mekhi Boone, holds the drum chair.
Of course, the scramble to find a way to pay the bills by Philly’s jazz musicians came up in conversation; everyone has been watching what everyone else has been doing technologically to see possible workarounds. The problem with jazz is that there can’t be a lag time between what the musicians hear and what they play. And when you’re being forced to play remotely, the spontaneity isn’t there.
Boone told me, “Everybody is doing this band in a box and overdubbing thing, I’m even doing it for an upcoming Ben Vereen show I’m doing, but that’s not jazz. The real live performance thing is lost. It’s bad enough we don’t have the audience. I’ll say, “How ‘bout a hand for so and so, and nobody’s out there!”
What, When, Where:
Catch Mike Boone’s Live Live Stream on Thursday, May 28, at 7pm. Viewers are encouraged to drop some bread in the jar for the players.