Friday, April 09, 2010

Sheldon Concert Hall announces
2010-2011 season series

The Sheldon Concert Hall has announced its 2010-11 season series, and the news for St. Louis jazz fans is, at best, mixed.

Those who were hoping to hear new and exciting music at the Sheldon next year likely will be disappointed, as most of the acts booked for the jazz series, Coffee Concerts and "special concerts" series already have played here in town in the very recent past.

Specifically, the Sheldon's 2010-11 jazz series will include four concerts (that's one fewer than this year's series), and all of the musicians - singer Tierney Sutton (October 9), saxophonist Victor Goines (November 13), the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and pianist Jon Cleary (February 26), and singer/pianist Tony DeSare with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli (April 30) - have been to St. Louis recently. Sutton played the Sheldon in 2006; Goines was there in 2007; and the DDBB, Cleary, DeSare and Pizzarelli have all performed at other local venues within the last two years.

Similarly, the Coffee Concerts series of mid-morning weekday performances will feature a familiar lineup of local bands, with shows from Cornet Chop Suey (October 19 & 20), Elsie Parker and the Poor People of Paris (November 16 & 17), Swing DeVille (April 12 & 13) and the Sheldon Jazz Quintet (May 10 & 11) of interest to jazz listeners.

This year, there also will be a handful of Saturday matinees featuring local musicians, including pianist Carolbeth True with singer Christi John Bye on January 22, and singer Brian Owens doing a Sam Cooke tribute on February 12. Like their Coffee Concert colleagues, True, Bye and Owens all were featured at events at the Sheldon during this current season.

The "special concerts" series will feature return appearances at the Sheldon by pianist Dave Brubeck (October 17) and singer Banu Gibson (November 7). Brubeck played the hall in 2007 and 2008, while Gibson was there in 2005.

Two other "special concerts" will feature acts that are new to St. Louis and of alleged potential interest to jazz fans. Guitarist John McLaughlin (pictured) will bring his electric quartet 4th Dimension to the Sheldon on November 19, which should be a genuine treat for local fusion fans. On the other hand, pianist David Lanz and the Liverpool Trio will appear on February 11 doing something called “Re-Imagining the Beatles," which, as described, strikes yr. humble editor as a tasteless, pandering schlockfest likely unfit for human consumption.

To be fair, the Sheldon remains a very enjoyable place to see and hear a concert. The production staff headed by Dale Benz does a consistently good job, and all sorts of musicians like playing there. Here's the thing, though: it's not that the musicians booked for 2010-11 are bad (with the exception of Lanz, whose stuff really is nearly unlistenable); the problem is that we've seen and heard just about all of this before, in some cases multiple times.

(Parenthetically, I'm also uneasy about the fact that of all the artists mentioned above, the only African-Americans are Goines, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Owens, and Mardra and Reggie Thomas of the Sheldon Jazz Quintet. There's no reason to think that this mostly-white lineup of musicians is a result of overt racism, but given the music's origins, it still is unsettling to have so relatively few black artists involved in jazz performances at one of our city's most prestigious venues.)

Ultimately, with so many interesting things happening in jazz and creative music these days, it's a shame that the Sheldon's booking policy for jazz is so unimaginative and retrograde. While the need to sell tickets and pay the bills is understandable, their current approach seems almost absurdly risk-averse. There's a sophisticated audience for music in St. Louis, and as one of the most significant concert halls in town, the Sheldon could, and should, do a much better job of exposing that audience to a wider variety of jazz artists.

For more details and ticket prices for all of the Sheldon's season series, please consult their website, where further information on the 2010-11 schedule will be posted on Monday.

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