Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Jazzberry's

As I mentioned awhile back, Susan Plunkett's Jazzberry's on Monroe Avenue played an integral role in the early Rochester days of the Colorblind James Experience. When she moved uptown to open Jazzberry's Uptown, she retained the great food and eclectic mix of local and national acts while perhaps losing some of the funky down-home charm of the Monroe location.

While other clubs like Scorgie's, Shnozz's and Shatzee's seemed to tolerate us as long as we brought a crowd in, Susan Plunkett loved the band. She loved all of us. She gave us a regular last-saturday-of-every-month gig and in return for the favor, we rarely disappointed her with a slow night. And if and when that was the case, she never took it out on the band.

Susan's policy was to give everybody a chance, no matter how far off the beaten path they were. She featured spoken word, classical music, folk singers, oddball poetry bands like Health & Beauty, rock bands such as Lotus STP, The Rumbles, The Fadeaways, The Essentials and a lot more. She didn't force the bands to treat their show like a showcase gig. Showcase gigs, as you're probably well aware, are the norm nowadays. At least 3 bands and often up to 5 or 6. You've got 30 minutes in which to throw your equipment on stage, play your "greatest hit" and get off before the stage manager starts throwing a hissy fit. We got to play from 10:30 until 2 in the morning, usually 3 sets worth with 20-30 minute breaks. If we wanted, we could have an opening band or not.

Not until late into the new location on East Avenue, close to East Main, did Susan ever ask for a percentage of the door. She took the food and wine money and the band took 100% of the cover charge. Almost unheard of today.

Jazzberry's was the sort of place musicians liked to hang out even when they weren't playing that night. Her food was and still is, as her URL indicates, fabulous. Please take a moment and add your own memories of both Jazzberry's and Jazzberry's Uptown.

Thanks for everything, Susan!

5 comments:

David D. McIntire said...

If anything, Phil understates the importance of Jazzberry's to the intellectual and musical life of Rochester. I only played one gig at the old venue, an Elvis "birthday show" in the winter of '88. The food was wonderful and Susan had a terrific instinct for choosing promising groups to perform at her place. Susan created a real incubator for bands to develop their craft and find their creative zone. Sadly, at the Monroe location, Susan was beset by local homeowners who saw the venue as a liability to the neighborhood, rather than a resource. (Susan's robust personality probably did not help her smooth over these conflicts...) Some of these individuals would file noise complaints with the police as a matter of course (mainly to harass Susan), even if there was no real "noise" being generated from the event. On at least one occasion, Rochester police arrived to investigate the alleged racket generated from a deaf poetry reading.

As Phil points out, the fact that CbJE could play for a matter of hours on their gigs at Jazzberry's was crucial to the band's development; there was really no other way for Chuck to test the scope of material that he envisioned for the band. I was there as a listener at early gigs in the mid-80's (85-86) and my own experience confirmed the rightness of this appproach. The vast, epic accumulation of musical momentum that CbJE could provide over an evening could not have been developed in a "showcase" environment. Later, as a performer with the group, this logic would be affirmed in a different way for me.

This luxurious environment that we became accustomed to at Jazzberry's and other places would actually become a bit of a detriment when we got to tour Europe, because we rarely got to play for more than an hour at those shows over there, and it was difficult to recalibrate our pacing for those more compact events.

michael said...

As mentioned before, I was a little young to really appreciate the importance of Jazzberry's since I only started snooping around local music around '86, and that was mostly punk and hardcore. In keeping with that fact, the only gig I ever took in at the Monroe location was a set by the Strip-Miners' original line-up (with Barry Voorhees, Mark Pietrzykowski, and Mike the Drummer). I have fond memories, however, of the Monroe scene of the time, and it was always understood that Jazzberry's was in many ways the epicenter...other important anchors, I suppose, having been the Village Green, Record Time, etc. Jazzberry's was the only real live music venue in the neighborhood, and the vacancy it left behind has never been adequately filled. Monroe is a heck of a lot less lively now, and has become exactly what the neighbors always wanted, I suppose--a toothless shopping strip. Too bad.

A couple more or less random memories--the first is of a battered car I always used to see around the area that was painted all over and had a "Colorblind James Experience" mural on the side. I never knew if it was connected to the band or if it was the work of a very devoted fan. The second indicates the changing tenor of the area (its "gentrification," as we San Franciscans like to say)--my then-bassist and I ended up in the back of a squad car just below the Monroe branch library for a good 15-20 minutes once for putting up gig posters on street lights. Neighbors were kvetching about the unsightliness of the fliers, which apparently were driving down property values and inciting godless communism. Who'd'a think that by 1997 a couple-a knucklehead rock musicians armed only with posters and packing tape would still be regarded as Public Enemy #1? Go figger...

Is my memory all screwy or did the first Milestones open in the space originally occupied by East Ave Jazzberry's? If so, I did see a number of shows in that space, though I'd be hard-put now to say under whose auspices the space was operating for which shows...

Phillip Henry Marshall said...

Susan eventually sold Jazzberry's Uptown to Bruce Miles, proprietor of the still active Richmond's (formerly Schatzee's!), who renamed the club Milestones. Eventually he sold it to the current owner who moved the club down East Avenue about 4 blocks. It's still called Milestones and it is still active.
Though hardly a cultural hub as it was when it was Jazzberry's, it still hosts the annual Bob Dylan's Birthday Party every May, which was one of Chuck's great contributions to the local scene.

urknee said...

the early jazzberry's was a wonderful venue alright, i saw quite a bit of eclectic music there and even managed to have several meals there; when it moved to the downtown location some of its originality was indeed lost, but they were well worth supporting, and are still missed as a venue that took chances and allowed eclectic music to flourish at the expense of revenue.

Badenovs said...

Jazzberry's rocked; it was one of the few places where the underaged high school crowd could hang out. When NY state started to gradually up the drinking age, it was (for a while) the death knell of the club scene in Rochester. Then Idols opened up... for a short while, Scorgies soldiered on, booking live music. Don went to Toronto, took in a show @ Yuk Yuk's returned with a franchise in tow. It was the beginning of a dark phase in Rochester's live music scene. Fridays and Saturdays were devoted to the deejay culture. Local bands could only get weekday gigs. WITR played a big role in this shift; their deejays were hired to spin at the club and promoted Idols heavily. After Jazzberry's, Friends and Players was the only venue available (for a while) that an off-the-wall band could play. It was there where the last Lotus STP gig took place, opening for NOD.