BY GARY MAY
In an era when hip-hop, rap, electronic dance and classic rock dominate the airwaves and clubs, music lovers with alternative tastes might sometimes wonder whether anyone else in the world shares theirs.
Outside of a handful of big festivals and the odd club in large cities, for instance, jazz aficionados seem to have the pick of fewer and fewer venues at which to enjoy the sounds of the masters such as Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
Things are especially lean in smaller communities away from the big city lights. But there are occasional exceptions to the rule.
One of those exceptions is down in the small waterfront community of Amherstburg, where the unlikely team of a veteran visual artist and a caterer friend have been providing a small group with access to a rich selection of jazz artists for the past dozen years.
Elio DelCol and Deb Waugh aren’t club owners, just lovers of good food and good jazz. Twelve years ago, they were asked by their friend, Elsie Magowan, a financial services provider, to put on a jazz reception for some of her clients.
They did. And the show was so popular — to say nothing of so much fun for Elio and Deb — that they decided to make it a regular affair.
DelCol operates a studio on Amherstburg’s Dalhousie Street, which backs onto a beautiful park on the Detroit River, just north of Lake Erie. Dalhousie Street is in the midst of Old Amherstburg, a place of small shops and boutiques housed in vintage buildings and just a stone’s throw from the War of 1812-era Fort Malden, a national historic site.
DelCol’s place isn’t a gallery, exactly. It’s his studio — his place of work. But whenever someone comes by and rings the doorbell, DelCol will gladly invite them in to browse his work, which ranges from prints, graphites and engravings, to watercolours and his latest infatuation — oils.
Word-of-mouth house party
After their gig with Elsie Magowan, DelCol and Waugh contacted some local jazz musicians of their acquaintance and were assured they’d be more than happy to drop by once in a while for a jam session. Then DelCol and Waugh began putting together a list of like-minded individuals they thought might enjoy the event.
They charged a small fee to cover the price of Waugh’s food and to pay for the performers. And the once-a-month house party was born.
“It started as a private party,” DelCol explains to MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. “I know that sounds snooty. I don’t want it to get an elitist image, but I’m limited in my space. If I didn’t restrict it, we’d be overrun.”
By word of mouth, the house party has expanded to about 250 members. Sometimes just an intimate little group of 30 or so will show up, but on warm summer days when the party can spill out onto a large deck that looks onto King’s Navy Yard Park and the river, they’ve had as many as 90.
Not only did word get out among jazz lovers; soon, DelCol was hearing from musicians all over the Windsor and Detroit area who wondered if they could perform. You bet, said DelCol. But I can’t pay you a lot.
That didn’t seem to worry them, and it didn’t stop people of the calibre of renowned Windsor saxophonist Ray Manzerolle from becoming regulars. Others who drop by include Don Mayberry, Perry Hughes, George Benson (the Detroit saxophonist, not the guitarist), Gene Dunlap, vocalists Ursula Walker and Renee King-Jackson, and Windsor’s newcomer keyboard sensation Mike Karloff.
Some are music instructors; others perform frequently at clubs and concerts. All of them love jazz.
“I don’t have a lot of space,” says DelCol. “But some of the Blue Note clubs aren’t really any bigger than my place.”
Musicians say they enjoy performing for an appreciative and attentive audience. Some of the sessions have even turned into tutorials, with the experts dissecting a sound or explaining an instrument’s performance to help the fans become a little more knowledgeable.
Front-row seat with top-notch musicians
“I get the quality of musicians who deserve the audience’s rapt attention,” says DelCol. “And the musicians are impressed by the fact that people listen, they’re paid respect. That’s the secret to the whole thing, getting involved with the musicians and the respect they get.”
Fans pull up chairs in DelCol’s studio in close proximity to the performers, listen attentively and respond enthusiastically. For those who want to get away and socialize, there’s always the back room. Meanwhile, the music drifts throughout the building and onto the deck.
On warm Sunday afternoons, DelCol opens the streetside door and the curious will sometimes poke their noses inside to see what’s happening. He says he’s delighted when someone drops in to listen.
Once, a group of eight exchange students from Guatemala were walking past. Noticing they were curious about what was going on, DelCol grabbed one who spoke a bit of English and explained. He led them out to the patio, some of the regulars got them chairs and they spent the rest of the afternoon soaking up the music and enjoying the homemade food, which consists of appetizers and a light supper around 7 p.m. Guests bring their own wine or beverage of choice.
Ted Shaw, a long-time writer and music critic for the Windsor Star, has been coming to the house parties with wife Carlinda D’Alimonte, a published poet, for the last 18 months.
“People like Ray Manzerolle are world-class musicians,” says Shaw.
Manzerolle is known as a master of the soprano sax and the C-melody sax and achieves a unique vintage jazz sound from his instruments. His rendition of Coltrane standards conjures up images of the late master. Manzerolle has also been a member of Earl Klugh’s touring band.
Shaw points out there aren’t a lot of strictly jazz venues around the area anymore, apart from Detroit’s venerable old Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, which prides itself in being the “world’s oldest jazz club.”
As for the audience, “it’s a real cross-section that comes,” he says. “A lot of professionals, business owners, a former judge. Today, the conductor of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, John Morris Russell, is here.”
Shaw says musicians clamber to perform at Elio’s. “They just love the atmosphere.”
Adds regular fan Rob Dunlop: “You’re surrounded by all of Elio’s lovely works of art. It’s such a relaxed atmosphere.”
And both Shaw and Dunlop agree, the food’s part of the attraction.
Does it ever get to be a drag, having to prepare for 30 to 90 guests every month? Waugh and DelCol agree: No, never.
“How can you get tired of doing something you love?” asks Waugh. “I love food and I love jazz.”
Adds DelCol: “As the day approaches, I always get excited about it.”
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — November 2010