Every once in a while, someone asks me where they can go for an “authentic” experience of live jazz in New York; “you know,” they say, “some great music, a small cover charge, no tourists.” (When the inquirer is from out of town, the irony of that last criterion invariably seems lost on them.) I usually reply, “well, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola is pretty touristy,” while what I’m actually thinking about is how dope, in fact, one or another upcoming show there will probably be. In general, this kind of question usually makes me defensive. “If the music is great,” I think about retorting, “why should it be cheap?”
So as far as I’m concerned, $25 was a more than reasonable ask for Theo Croker’s album release show at the Jazz Standard this past Tuesday. I didn’t go hungry, but if I had, I probably would have dropped another $25 on some of those ribs, too. Still, I’ll cop to a small bias. When an older cat two seats down from me pressed a bottle of red wine to his cheek to check the temperature (it was too warm and he sent it back), and when the host asked me if my wallet, which I had stuffed in my front shirt pocket, was “recording,” I wondered if I had missed the venue and slipped into an annual meeting of Kappa Beta Phi instead. As a Vanguard enthusiast, I also have mixed feelings about the “no talking” rule. Jazz is participatory music, and I don’t want to feel like my first grade teacher is going to come around with a ruler to make sure I’m using my 12-inch voice. Still, if what Janice said at work about Tom yesterday is more important than what my man is saying on his horn about heartbreak right now, then you really do need to take it outside.
Here’s the beautiful thing though: whatever degree of control over the vibe that a venue or a crowd tries to exert, a good band always holds the trump card. And on Tuesday night, DVRK FUNK ran the room. Sometimes you can’t quite put your finger on what makes a live performance so compelling, but this one was easy. The group—Croker on trumpet, Irwin Hall on alto saxophone and alto flute, Seth Johnson on guitar, Sullivan Fortner on keyboards, Eric Wheeler on bass, Kassa Overall on drums, Jerome Jennings on percussion—had that deadly combination of energy and effortlessness that commands attention. The room was lively, dancing in seats, talking back to soloists, hollering for more. Mr. Croker engaged with the crowd just enough between tunes, contextualizing the compositions with synopses that ranged from the sincere—a phone call to idol Roy Hargrove, asking him to sing (that’s right, sing) on the record a piece Mr. Hargrove wrote for his father—to the surreal—an extraterrestial journey (although maybe I have that backwards). His mother was in the audience, and their call-and-response was endearing and funny, and when Dee Dee Bridgewater arrived to close out the set, well, I’ll keep the beauty and hilarity of that particular moment just between those of us who were there.
What I mean by all of this is that the spirit of the performance, at least for me, transcended any explicit or implicit directives from the venue about how one should experience jazz. DVRK FUNK gave us energy, like bottles of barbecue sauce for those $25 ribs, and invited us to slather it on and chow down. And if you spilled a little on the table cloth or forgot to use your inside voice, so what?