Get up and dance this week's Da Camera JAM at Discovery Green, part of the group's jazz appreciation Month concert series. Headliner and Houstonian Bobby Lyle won't mind. In fact, he wants audiences to react physically to his music. "At outdoor venues, you're a little more relaxed. You can get up and move when the band gets cooking," he tells us. "I see people get up and dance, they're out there shaking around. It's great.
"If you go back to the '40s and the '50s, the jazz audience was involved in a very physical way because they were going out to dance halls and dancing to big band jazz. It's only when jazz got into the small group mode that I think it began to intellectualize itself too much."
Thankfully, the influences of fusion and funk made jazz danceable again and saved it from becoming a purely intellectual exercise.
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During his performance at Discovery Green, Lyle will perform a mix of traditional and contemporary jazz music, including several of his own compositions.
"This will be an acoustic piano trio. On my last CD, I was playing a Hammond organ on all of the songs. That was a tribute to Jimmy Smith. For this concert, I'll be back on an acoustic piano."
Asked if he prefers live performance to recording, Lyle tells us he enjoys both. "If I had to line up all the things that I do, I guess I'd put live performance first because that's a direct, real-time connection with the people who are listening. But being in the studio is a close second. I love being in the studio as well because you're creating something with other musicians that you hope will add to your legacy and be around long after you're gone. That's why I'm so picky about things in the studio because once it's on [the recording], you can't change anything."
He's had plenty of success (several recordings, an Emmy nomination, international tours), but Lyle says he's not ready to rest on his laurels. Asked if there's a chance he'll slow his hectic schedule of performances, recordings and teaching, to concentrate on just one project, Lyle laughs, "Heavens no! I'm a restless spirit."
Lyle has lots of projects in the works right now. He's started a television show called The J-Spot, which is broadcast on local public access stations. He's hoping to produce recordings by other musicians. And he wants to push jazz music on as many stages around town as he can. "I'd like to start creating some concerts with big ensembles, like an orchestra," he tells us. "[Jazz] music needs more exposure. There are only a couple of radio stations that play it here and very few clubs have jazz on the schedule. With a city of four million people, you'd think we'd have lots more jazz, lots more venues and groups"
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Houston audiences just need to be exposed to jazz music, he says. The music will do the rest. It is the kind of music that once people get into it, they enjoy very much. It's a national treasure."
He's also been in talks with Texas Southern University to lead jazz classes at the university. (Fellow Houstonian and jazz pianist, the late Joe Sample taught at Texas Southern before his death last September.)
"It's exciting. I love working with young people. And I can give them a mix of book learning and practical experience. I'm really looking forward to that. It's definitely another adventure."
Da Camera JAM at Discovery Green begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 23. For information, call 713-524-5050 or visit dacamera.com. Free.