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North by northeast ... for jazz

Startling, perhaps, but Gainesville has found a niche

Think of the traditional hotbeds of jazz, and several locales come to mind: New Orleans, Kansas City, New York and Gainesville, Ga.

Huh? OK, not really. But there is jazz in Gainesville, that bustlin' burg of more than 25,000 residents that lies just beyond the northern reaches of Gwinnett County.

"It's startling to some people that Gainesville has such an active core of jazz enthusiasts," says Rob Bigalke, station manager of 89.1 WBCX-FM, the college radio station at Gainesville's Brenau University. "There is a strong core of musicians here, including Tom Woods and Rick Pruett, and a recording studio. Also, a number of people who are involved in jazz are involved in the [Gainesville] community, both in business and in the nonprofit area."

This jazz-centric point of view manifests itself in several ways, among them the Gainesville Arts Council Jazz Club series "Evenings of Intimate Jazz," which launches its fifth season Oct. 27 with a performance by the Baltimore-based Al Maniscalco Quartet at Gainesville's 125-seat Smithgall Arts Center. Saxman Maniscalco has played with Branford Marsalis and Chuck Mangione, among others. His group released its second CD, Live at Tidings Park, last year.

The Maniscalco Quartet aside, most upcoming performers in the Arts Council series are local. The schedule includes: pianist Miguel Romero (Nov. 30); pianist Randy Hoexter (Jan. 26); guitarist Mike Kelly (Feb. 23); the Tempest Little Big Band (April 27); and the Georgia State University Jazztet (May 24). The March 23 show, "Jazz Ladies," features four female performers from New York, led by vocalist Gloria Melancon. In the past, the series has featured local artists Gwen Hughes, Jennifer Perry, Gary Motley, Jacques Lesure, Dan Coy and others.

Neither the series nor the Brenau radio station target the school's student body. The series reaches all ages, says Dwight Hudgens of the arts council, but its most consistent supporters are in their 60s. And because Brenau — a women's college with 600 or so students, with a much larger core of co-ed evening/weekend programs — is such a small school, the radio station aims to reach the area as a whole.

With a geographic reach — from the Perimeter to the North Georgia mountains to South Carolina, according to Bigalke — that belies its tiny 875-watt frequency, WBCX looked for a niche and found jazz (65 percent of its programming) and classical (35 percent). Its on-air jazz comes from a variety of sources. "Jazz South" airs 10-11 p.m. Saturdays and is produced by local pianist Bill Anschell. "Jazz in the Present Tense," hosted by local jazz enthusiast Scott Fugate, airs 8-10 p.m. Fridays. Other sources include Public Radio International and Worldwide Jazz.

Fugate's show takes a broadminded approach to jazz, encompassing virtually any music that is syncopated and improvisational — everything from straight-ahead jazz to Sting to Earth, Wind & Fire. "A lot of people don't think of EW&F as jazz," Bigalke acknowledges, "and I didn't either, until I heard Scott's show."

Fugate inherited the Friday slot from Dr. Jazz, aka John H. Holmes. Holmes, the Georgia Association of Broadcasters' 1998-'99 Radio Personality of the Year, hosted an immensely popular straight-ahead jazz show. Fugate tried to continue in that vein, but he received better audience response from his more contemporary, diverse format.

Fugate, who also hosts a growing Internet jazz forum (groups.yahoo.com/group/ AtlantaJazz), says his program is about the creative process of jazz, not a re-creation of past forms. He adds that he is frustrated by the purists who've taken jazz, an American folk art form, and transformed it into "this esoteric, snobbish thing where they say, 'This is jazz, and if you can't hear it, you're not part of our intellectually elite group.'

"Jazz is essentially the heart and soul of who we are as Americans, and we need to take another look at what is our only American art form."

Even in Gainesville.

The Al Maniscalco Quartet performs Sat., Oct. 27, at Smithgall Arts Center, 331 Spring St., Gainesville. Show time is 8 p.m. $25. 770-534-2787. www.theartscouncil.net/IntimateJazz/ intimate_jazz.htm. For more information on WBCX-FM, visit www.brenau.edu/sbmc/masscomm/wbcx.

This column is a weekly feature covering music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail "outside" music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.
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