By Grace Wartman
Barry B. Benson from Dreamworks’ Bee Movie changed the world with his infamous one-liner: “ya like jazz?” This meme buzzed around the Internet for a few years and then eventually collected dust and decayed into cringey Internet nostalgia territory, but unlike the lifespan of this Bee Movie meme, my love for jazz never came to a halt. The temperature dropping has caused the jazz music in my Spotify library to thaw out back into my rotation, and attending a jazz show was the perfect way to keep the fall spirit in the air after the Halloween season departed for the year.
The Elephant Room in downtown Austin is a jazz and blues bar in the basement of the Swift Building. While building a nearby parking garage, developers found mastodon bones in the space now known and loved by many locals as the Elephant Room.
Packed, but not uncomfortably, the bar had a full house this past Thursday. The crowd exhibited proper audience etiquette, creating a pleasant environment. Even in the moments where conversation would arise, it almost fitted in perfectly with the ambiance of the place and the sweet jazz performed by Mike Sailor’s Quintet. The audience’s chatter would cut out when a member of the five-piece would catch the collective attention of everyone in the venue, creating a spotlight effect on the musician that would eventually grow into that light casting over the whole bar as the sound of applause and cheer consumed the basement space.
The quintet, led by trumpet player and UT Austin professor, Mike Sailor, followed a repetitive yet never boring sequence of distributing the sound evenly amongst all five musicians, pulling back in volume one-by-one to let individual sounds shine through, and then coming back together as one sound to finish off each number. The horns had a consistent, sharp sound and would split melodies on either end of the solo sandwich sequence they followed.
The horns would step off stage to give their guitar, bass, and drum players their solo spotlight. Without their saxophone and trumpet counterparts, the support sounds stood strongly on their own yet still cast a cordial mood across the bar that paired wonderfully with the warm-toned, dimly lit atmosphere of the Elephant Room. I’ve always had an appreciation for orchestral strings, and the bass played incredibly both in his foreground moments and as a percussive device. In one of the most pianoforte bits of the performance, the drummer left his high hat open, which created a sizzling effect and added spice to the performance that wasn’t there previously. He also achieved this by switching back and forth between sticks and brushes for both bass solo accompaniment and his solos. The brushes put his percussive sound more in the background of the overall sound like a background being put out of focus in a photo. It drew your eyes to other members and beautifully exhibited how emphasizing certain elements of a performance is a collective effort. The emphasis being evenly split between the five musicians spoke highly of their musicianship and respect for the fellow talent they share the stage with.
The gentleness would then crescendo into the grand finale of each number, where all five members would come back as one and the audience would pay attention until it became time for the sound to be passed to them with applause and cheer that filled the air.
The show was a nice change of pace from the high-energy metal, rock, and alternative shows that make up the majority of my live music experience. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to sit, lean up against the cool brick wall across the table from a good friend, and enjoy some jazz.
Elephant Room is open every night and regardless of when you decide to go, you’re in for a lovely experience. The music is stellar, the staff is laidback, and the ambiance of the place is otherworldly. If you enjoy live music and need as much affirmation that it’s autumn as the Texas temperatures stay reluctant to drop, check out a jazz show!
Written by: Preethi Mangadu