Creative Music in Hapeville jams on Jelly Roll

Jazz/improv series hails an original jazz master

Atlanta's house show scene has thrived over the last few years. Much of the music that drives the city's D.I.Y. show scene has roots in punk, indie rock, and various other strains of underground rock and electronic music. But just a few minutes south of Downtown, Hapeville's Norton Arts Center has given rise to a wholly different underground — one whose sounds are rooted in the fringes of jazz, improvisation, and the avant-garde.

Last year, Katrina Hutcherson, who serves as a curator at the Norton Arts Center — a house that's been repurposed to serves as artist studio spaces — began hosting art openings there. While looking for ways to expand the dimensions of an exhibition that featured works by artists Woody Cornwell and Al Greene in spring 2013, Hutcherson asked saxophonist Jeff Crompton of the 4th Ward Afro-Klezmer Orchestra and the Edgewood Saxophone Trio to perform. Crompton agreed to play the opening, but only on the condition that he be allowed to curate an ongoing musical series there. Before long, a partnership was born. "I have always loved and preferred improv jazz from the highest spectrum to the lowest spectrum, so I was more than happy to collaborate with Jeff to bring these shows to Hapeville," Hutcherson says about launching what has been christened the Creative Music in Hapeville series.

The scene during each of these bimonthly shows has been more subdued than the average punk rock house party, but the sense of camaraderie and appreciation for the music between the audience and the performers is palpable. "It's such an inviting atmosphere — like playing a house show with a bunch of friends," Crompton says.

During a performance last November, trumpeter Roger Ruzow of the 4th Ward AKO headed up a trio with bassist Evan Lipson and percussionist Bob Stagner of Chattanooga's Shaking Ray Levis. In the audience, a group of earthy young revelers danced wildly to a blistering set of free jazz.

During a performance in May by the Gold Dust Ensemble, the group hypnotized the audience with a set of cerebral 20th-century classical works including Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Set Sail for the Sun" and "Connections," Frederic Rzewski's "Le Moutons de Panarge," and Steve Reich's "Clapping Music." The theme: classical music that involves intuition, improvisation, and chance.

Shows that are part of the series aren't always bound by a theme, though. And Hapeville may not seem like the ideal spot for such adventurous music, but the right-time, right-place scenario has won out as more and more people have begun attending each show. "Folks in Hapeville seem to enjoy it," Crompton says. "I'm hoping that more Atlanta residents will realize that it's a short, easy drive from Downtown and Midtown, and that we are presenting music that makes the 15-minute drive well worth it."

For the next show, Sat., July 26, the evening's program is based entirely on the music of New Orleans jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton.

Among Morton's many contributions, he claimed to have invented jazz circa 1902, and is widely considered one of first great jazz composers to combine the improvisatory nature of the music with a composed structure to give it a more satisfying overall form. "I've been wanting to present a concert of Jelly Roll Morton's music for years," Crompton says. "Jelly was a great pianist and a real character."

Crompton's various instrumental configurations of Morton's numbers has been whittled down to a handful of tunes for the show, including "Winin' Boy Blues," "Jungle Blues," "King Porter Stomp," and several more. "His music deserves to be performed regularly, not to just be heard on recordings," Crompton adds. "We'll have tunes played much as Jelly would have played them 90 years ago, and others that we're dragging kicking and screaming into free jazz territory."