New Astorian at Sawyer Yards and Festival Return Brings Jazz to Houston
Mike Moreno poses for a portrait at luthier Stephen Marchione’s store on Thursday, February 11, 2016, in Houston. Moreno is an alumnus of the Performing and Visual Arts High School. (Jon Shapley / Chronicle of Houston)
Photo: Jon Shapley, staff / Houston Chronicle
Jazz fans can easily find live music several nights of the week in Houston. Yet there remains a quality here / there in which so many of this city’s great artists find their way to New York or Los Angeles for a living, whether it’s Joe Sample or Horace Tapscott, Jason Moran, Robert Glasper or anyone else. what number of early -call drummers and saxophonists.
But a few weekends ago, Da Camera from Houston recently brought in Dafnis Prieto and Dianne Reeves’ big band for two evening performances. Tucked away the same weekend, there was a Sunday afternoon show from great trumpeter Marquis Hill that featured two Houston natives: saxophonist Walter Smith III and drummer Kendrick Scott.
It’s a long way to say that there is more infrastructure for the music industry on the east and west coasts than on the third coast. But Houston players still find their way home, sometimes for a little club gig and other times for a theater performance via Da Camera.
Eric Harland – like Smith and Scott, an alumnus of the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts – got his start here and made a living in New York City. His record credit list is an incredible scroll, from his own group Voyager to work with top players such as McCoy Tyner, Charles Lloyd, Joshua Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Julian Lage, and dozens of others.
When: 1 p.m. Sept. 19
Or: Astorian, 2500 summer
Details: $ 25 to $ 125; prekindle.com
With with Mike Moreno Quartet and Shelley Carrol Quartet
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 18
Or: Miller Open Air Theater, 6000 Hermann Park Drive
Details: free; reserved seats and details at milleroutdoortheatre.com
This weekend, he’s kicking off a new live-action series at the Astorian, an event space near the revitalized arts district of Sawyer Yards. Mike Moreno – a brilliant guitarist, originally from Houston and, yes, a former HSPVA – will be making headlines with his quartet. The show lands on the same weekend as the still young Houston Jazz Festival, which brought Hubert Laws back to Houston two years ago and Ku’umba Frank Lacy last year. This year, Moreno’s band will perform alongside Shelley Carrol, another successful jazz player who made his debut here. The Carrol quartet will perform the famous “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane.
âSounds a bit of a gamble,â Harland says of the new venture at the Astorian, a place that more generally hosts weddings and large celebrations. âThey were willing to bet on hosting jazz music in Houston. The market does not always work. But I think there are people here who want to keep this music and culture alive. It’s a wonderful art form, I don’t want to see it disappear in Houston. With HSPVA, TSU, U of H, there’s still a lot going on in Houston. “
The plan this weekend is to give Moreno two 45-minute sets, similar to what he would play at a New York club, in addition to his concert at the festival. Harland considers the venue to host long runs for some performers like Glasper or Chris Botti, who can and do perform in large theaters but still enjoy smaller club shows.
While concerts and recording sessions are still largely centered in New York, Houston continues to nurture homecoming. Moran was involved in a multi-year research project in Houston that informed some of his music. And drummer Chris Dave – who has an amazing selection of credits to his name – is back home for a somewhat cryptic project that he says will run for a year.
Moreno seems excited about the possibilities of Astorian, which would give jazz players the chance to come back more often than theater performances allow, which include a show here every three to five years. He has two new albums slated for release in 2022 – one of new original material, the other from a series of online workshops he has hosted through jazz pieces composed for the cinema. His hope is that Astorian will occupy a space that was never quite filled after Rockefeller closed in 1997 and has become a venue for special events, although it is once again open to music.
âI saw Joshua Redman there and ended up in his group years later,â says Moreno. âJoe Henderson, Herbie Hancock. I have seen a lot of these shows. The audience has to be there for it to work, but I think the audience is there. So it’s a place and some promotion behind it. It would be great to have a place with good acoustics where you could come and play more often.