by Giovanni Russonello
Fourteen years ago, experimental jazz in D.C. was a dog without a home. d.c. space, the beloved alternative-music venue on a deserted block in Chinatown, had fallen by the wayside in 1991, and even the straight-ahead jazz scene was barely beginning to awaken after decades of dormancy.
Then Transparent Productions came into the picture. Founded in 1997 by WPFW disc jockey Bobby Hill and three fellow free jazz fans, the group set about presenting experimental shows in small venues where the focus was indisputably on the music. Over the past decade and a half, Transparent has moved from spot to spot – using everything from performing arts centers to cafés – but the m.o. has remained the same.
“We try to do something different – present music that generally isn’t presented here in D.C.,” Hill said. “The audience doesn’t have to buy food and drinks … and 100 percent of the proceeds that comes through the door goes to the artist. If [a venue is] supportive of our approach, then we can work together.”
That’s why it makes sense that Hill and his cohorts have reached out to the U St. club Bohemian Caverns, where Transparent’s fall season will get underway this Sunday. It might be a surprise to see Transparent partnering with a bona fide “jazz club,” something the organization has never done, but Hill doesn’t draw lines in the sand like that. “It’s not so much a concern,” he said. “We try to stay away from places that aren’t appreciative of the music, so to speak, but Bohemian is.”
This weekend’s performance, the first of four in this fall’s “Sundays at 7 at the Caverns” series, will come from pianist Angelica Sanchez. She’s a deep breathing, brooding conceptualist, whose formidable quintet features an all-star cast: Tony Malaby on reeds, Marc Ducret on guitar, Drew Gress on bass and Tom Rainey on drums.
The rest of the monthly fall series will include a Oct. 9 performance from the Ebony Brass Sextet, a show on Nov. 6 from famed pianist and Transparent stalwart Matthew Shipp’s trio , and a Dec. 4 appearance from the boldly experimental astro-funk/jazz trio Harriet Tubman. (Hill warns that this last show may be cancelled and replaced with a performance by bass legend William Parker, depending on potential scheduling conflicts.) All shows in the series start at 7 p.m., and admission is always $15.
The Transparent team now includes fellow organizers Guy Fraser, Sara Donnelly and Thomas Stanley – the only original member other than Hill. Since 1997, the organization hasn’t taken a single year off, despite doing everything as an unpaid labor of love. By Hill’s count, Transparent has been responsible for close to 300 shows thus far. And, as in any good improvisation, things are always moving forward: Hill is already planning a spring 2012 season.
“As long as folks continue to come out and support the artists and support the music, we’ll do our best to continue to present it,” he said. “We’re not getting a dime, no penny is going into our pocket, so clearly we do it for the love of the music.”
Here is Transparent Productions’ full fall 2011 lineup, which can also be found online at transparentproductionsdc.com:
- September 18 – Angelica Sanchez Quintet
- October 9 – Ebony Brass Sextet
- November 6 – Matthew Shipp Trio
- December 4 – Harriet Tubman