I spent my Missoula youth yearning to set foot in the brick house at 240 Daly Avenue. Its Georgian architecture, sun porch and yard full of old trees hemmed in by a wrought iron fence always played into my fantasies of living in a Charles Dickens novel. A few weeks ago I got my wish to see the inside when I stepped into the warm home of jazz aficionado Bruce Anderson to be greeted with a table full of aromatic food and a living room prepped for an intimate evening of piano jazz.
After eating a plate of pulled pork, saffron rice and an assortment of cheeses, and drinking some wine, Isettled into the living room, which Anderson has arranged like a studio—foam patches create professional acoustics, and mics record the live shows. With the rest of the crowd I sat back and listened as California-based singer-pianist Scotty Wright launched into a series of jazz standards and quirky originals showcasing his rich vocals—a combination, notes Anderson, of Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway.
Since August 2008, Anderson and local jazz singer Eden Atwood have hosted this monthly (if not twice a month) affair, where jazz artists from across the state and nation come to play to a living room of, most often, 60 people.
Anderson flies the musicians in on his own dime and sets them up with lodging. He used to cook all day for the event, but lately he's had volunteers helping with meals. The event requires an RSVP and Anderson requests a mere $25 donation, all of which goes to the musicians.
Anderson's ability to book top notch musicians comes from networking—he's met some of the musicians through Atwood (his ex-wife and current friend). His background playing jazz saxophone means he knows the lingo. He watches jazz musicians' tour schedules. When they have a gig in, for instance, Seattle, he calls them up to see if they want to stop in Missoula in between shows.
Besides Wright, Anderson has booked pianists Joey Calderazzo and Geoffrey Keezer, saxophonists Grace Kelly and Azar Lawrence, and double bassist Kristin Korb, among many others. If you're not even remotely clued into jazz, like me, you might not recognize that these are some current greats. And because they play in a Missoula living room, it's hard to wrap your mind around their international reputation. For instance, when the legendary John Coltrane died, Lawrence took his place in the band. Keezer's latest album was nominated for the "Best Live Album" Grammy. And Calderazzo is one of the giants of New York jazz piano, which prompted a friend of Anderson's to say recently that a ticket to see Calderazzo at Daly Jazz is a ticket that's unavailable at any price in New York because you can't go see him play for only 60 people. He simply doesn't do that there.
Anderson's road to hosting Daly Jazz really begins in Paris, before he went to grad school and became a hydrologist. Back then, he was a street musician, and even after he got a "real" job he spent his time in small clubs.
"There's still a tradition in France of doing what used to be a salon from back in the 17th century," Anderson says. "Small venues were viewed as sort of the optimal way to hear music. I got to thinking about that."
Anderson was reminded of and inspired by the salon style when he attended a jazz night in Bozeman in 2005 at the house of architect Frank Cikan.
"I thought it would be a fun thing to do," he says. "I got this house a couple of years ago and the room was big enough and I finally decided, 'I'm gonna do it.'"
Anderson used to pull a little trick on the musicians. He'd conceal the fact that they were playing at a house and then relish their surprised reactions. When the Grammy-nominated Keezer came to town, Anderson chauffeured him up the driveway to his Daly home and told him he'd be playing in the living room.
"He looked a little pale," laughs Anderson. "He walked in the back door through the service entrance to the kitchen. Ellie Steinberg, who helps me out on these concerts, looked at him and said, 'Oh, are you the stripper?' He took it in stride he said, 'Yeah, yeah. I think I left my police uniform back at the hotel.' The musicians figure out really quickly that it's a fun environment, that it's a casual gig. So he had a really great time."
But Anderson can't keep the Daly Jazz secret much anymore. Jazz musicians on touring circuit tend to talk, and the buzz has led them to tell other musicians and, more importantly, ask if they can return. Calderazzo's scheduled to come back in April.
"When Joey [Calderazzo] asked if he could come back, that was a major compliment," says Anderson. "He's one of the top pianists in the world for jazz, and here he's in my living room. Who knew it was possible?"
On Super Bowl Sunday, Keezer and world-renowned vibraphonist Joe Locke played to a standing-room-only crowd. The audience was eclectic and included well-known professionals, University of Montana students and local artists, among others. Some people dressed up, others wore T-shirts. Anderson never knows what to expect, and that's what he likes about it.
"That's how jazz clubs have always been for the most part," he says, "because the music's informal. These guys are figuring out their songs in real time. You wouldn't think so. It looks rehearsed. And sometimes the song will sort of train wreck and they'll have to pull it back together. But that spontaneity has always been the heart and soul of the music. Jazz musicians always make their living up on a high wire."
Daly Jazz continues Thursday, Feb. 18 and Friday, Feb. 19, at 7 PM with renowned singer-pianist Dena DeRose. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or go to Facebook to RSVP. Reservations only. $25 donation.