Let's say you wanted to learn all there was to know about the 100-plus-year history of jazz. There are a few things you could do.
You could read all 480 pages of Ted Gioia's The History of Jazz. That'd get you right. You could also trust the 7,000 or so words that make up Wikipedia's version of how jazz came to be. Or you could talk to Craig Jackson for ten minutes.
(Nightfly Aside: How is it that something with a name as goofy as "Wikipedia" has become this generation's go-to source for information? Just because you throw "-pedia" on the end of something doesn't make it legit. David Beckham's page used to say he was a Chinese goaltender in the 1800s.)
King Biscuit Patio Cafe
1606 White Oak
Jackson, 54, is a law professor at Texas Southern University and frequenter of the Tuesday-night jazz jam at King Biscuit Patio Cafe (1606 White Oak). He's been listening to jazz since just about forever, and possesses a wealth of knowledge about the music. He's right impressed with what King Biscuit's jazz jam has become.
"I couldn't believe all this jazz was within just a few blocks of my house," says Jackson. "I travel a lot and have listened to jazz all over the U.S., in Europe and in South America. It really is some of the finest jazz I've heard.
"[King Biscuit's] not set up for a jazz jam, and that's perfect," he continues. "You're not separated from the musicians. If I walk to the restroom, I have to walk right through the middle of the band — now that's an intimate setting."
The jazz jam, which starts in the neighborhood of 8 p.m., has been a Tuesday-night staple at King Biscuit for about two and a half years now. It works similarly to how the Sunday blues extravaganza at Mr. Gino's (7306 Cullen) works, where a group of musicians cycle in and out periodically to play together. Some of Houston's most prominent jazz names usually pop in to flex their muscles a bit.
Tonight, Woody Witt (see "Noise"), who wields his saxophone with the same amazing combination of power and grace that the late John Holmes wielded his dong, and flügelhorn player Duane Massey are the standouts.
When the makeshift band cycles through their solos, which happens at least once during each set, Witt and Massey seem to wordlessly battle for Alpha Dog status. It's like watching Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins try to outgun each other in the 1988 NBA Eastern Conference finals, except in this case both guys are white and one has hair like Doc Brown in Back to the Future.
After the show, Massey actually says that this isn't the case, them "battling" back and forth; they were just vibing off each other. Still, it's damn impressive.
Over the course of the rest of the evening, the lineup features other strong players, several of whom could have come straight from central casting. No joke, there's a white guy with a soul patch in a black T-shirt that plays stand-up bass, an old black man in a corduroy jacket who plays the sax and a smoky-eyed blind guitarist who, after he finishes his bid onstage, sits at a table with his back towards the band, sips his drink and nods his head to the beat.
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King Biscuit itself is enjoyable too. They serve food (the Sunday brunch is rather tasty), the bar lobs up some quality drinks (as in Bloody Mary) and, in all, the whole place is similar to Last Concert Cafe (1403 Nance): all cluttered together and weathered, but in a cozy way that makes for a general feeling of warmth.
But the music, at least on Tuesdays, is why you should come out. Or you could stay home and deface some Wikipedia pages. Whatever.
We've never really been much for smoking pot, or for country/rockabilly music. This makes our fascination with Sean Reefer & the Resin Valley Boys all the more perplexing. There's just something about the band that, when they play their swinged-out country-fried folk tales, you have to listen to. It may be because they sound like they just stepped clean out of the 1950s. Check them out online at www.myspace.com/resinvalleyboys, or see exactly what we're talking about at the Continental Club (3700 Main) Saturday when they open for Scott H. Biram (see "Chatter").