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For those intrigued by New York City's contemporary jazz scene, but stuck outside the loop, consider "Search and Restore," an ongoing series run by Adam Schatz and James Donahue, two budding impresarios in their early twenties. Since December 2007, they've offered experimental music shows several nights a month, both in Soho at the now-shuttered Knitting Factory's Tap Bar and across the bridge at the Williamsburg lounge Public Assembly. Each date offers an eclectic mix of musical styles, from saxman David Binney's virtuosic arpeggios to guitarist Ben Monder's haunting walls of sound to Grammy-nominated trumpeter Christian Scott's minimalist hip-hop fusion. Other venues are now involved, along with an imminent companion website, searchandrestore.com, offering a daily digest of news, artist profiles, podcasts, and music samples. "Jazz isn't dead or going under," Schatz insists. "There is a market for it. Everyone I talk to wants to see live jazz, but doesn't know where to start."
Shows feature double or triple bills, a cover charge ranging from $10 to $15, and no drink minimum. "The downside of places like the Jazz Standard and the Blue Note is that they cost enough that most musicians don't go unless it's some legendary guy you have to see either before you die or before he dies," says Shane Endsley, a trumpeter in the genre-bending group Kneebody who's played four S&R shows. "This series is open to all income brackets."
Donahue agrees: "The core thing that ties it all together is that it's not a bourgeois kind of environment. We want to bring it to that stripped-down level—that bare-bones, 'Here's the music' kind of atmosphere."
Starting this month, the series will be leapfrogging between venues as the Knitting Factory prepares to move into the Williamsburg space previously occupied by the Luna Lounge, which closed in July. According to Donahue, S&R is in the process of applying for nonprofit status, with plans to expand programming in both Manhattan and the outer boroughs. Still, "Brooklyn is really the center of all this," Donahue says. "What used to be the East Village, the Lower East Side, is now pushed over to Brooklyn in places like Williamsburg, Park Slope, even Bushwick. It's the breeding ground."
The boisterous, predominantly young crowds that gathered in the Knit's cavernous basement or Public Assembly's sprawling auditorium can't always wrap their minds around what they hear—look no further than Canadian bassist Chris Tarry's rhythmically bewildering "McCann Can Blues"—but they can certainly expect a challenge. That's in keeping with S&R's founders. Schatz, who's only 20, is a jazz-studies student at NYU and founding member of several bands, including Previously on Lost (which performs a fully choreographed rock opera that recaps episodes of the labyrinthine TV show, complete with luau leis and an inflatable palm tree) and Blast Off!, a free-improv group that joined guitarist Wayne Krantz at an S&R show in September. Donahue is both a promoter and a manager. Together, they're quickly earning a reputation among both listeners and musicians for their sense of adventure and their DIY approach to exploring it. "It's not just waiting for Jazz at Lincoln Center to open up their programming," says trombonist Josh Roseman. "This is people deciding that we don't need to wait on anybody to make stuff happen."
Nor does that stuff have to confine itself entirely to New York—an itinerant jazz series can have great implications for the shape of jazz to come. "It's important to have great live jazz in Brooklyn and Manhattan, but eventually, 'Search and Restore' can happen anywhere," Schatz says. "Wherever I am, wherever James is, that's what's up." Call it the beginning of the mobile jazz age.
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society (February 6) and Jason Lindner's Now vs. Now (February 7) play the Jazz Gallery as part of the 'Search and Restore' series