Search & Restore spreads new jazz gospel to D.C.

Search & Restore founder Adam Schatz comes to D.C. today. Courtesy Adam Schatz

by Giovanni Russonello
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Adam Schatz has a goal. It’s one that’s been contemplated, attempted and botched more than Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” But then, Schatz isn’t the type of guy to take no for an answer.

He wants to get young people to love jazz music, in droves.

“It’s really about getting great music out to people,” the 23-year-old Schatz said in an interview on Tuesday.

“I go to see it, and I take part in it, and I just think it’s incredible. It’s extremely personal, and I think it’s unlike anything else. I think a lot of that has to do with the emphasis put on improvisation, and a lot of it has to do with the creative compositional approaches guys are taking now.”

In 2007, when Schatz was an undergrad studying jazz saxophone at New York University, he started Search & Restore, a nonprofit that organizes jazz shows in New York City and promotes them on its website. The twist? The shows almost all feature progressive, blistering music that blurs the line between jazz and other genres. And they’re never at jazz clubs.

“I think people really like the attitude and the feeling that comes from playing a show of mine, where you play in a basement, you play in another place,” he said. “The artist is treated well, the fans are treated well — but it feels like you’re a part of something special, and it’s not just, you know, you’re being ushered in and out, consuming the product.”

Fight the Big Bull performs. Courtesy Fight the Big Bull

Schatz is devoted to promoting bands that draw “from across the board of influences — not just reaching back into jazz chronology, but more horizontal reaching: into folk, into punk, into post-punk, into anything else that they’ve listened to.” And he’s determined to display this music in personal, stripped-down venues where young and avant-friendly listeners will feel at home.

Of course, the irony — and some would say the genius — of Search & Restore is that in trying to strengthen jazz’s potential, Schatz comes close to abandoning some of the very traditions that have defined the music as an American institution. (He avoids even referring to jazz as “important,” fearing it invokes history too heavy-handedly at the expense of the here and now.) Instead, he aims in many ways to align the New York jazz scene with the DIY aesthetic that’s brought indie rock into cultural ascendancy among young, well-off Americans.

It’s safe to assume that Wynton Marsalis isn’t hoping Schatz will become the leading theorist on how jazz should progress. But the alluring part is that if Marsalis offered to play a Search & Restore gig, Schatz might well respond with, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Schatz arrives in D.C. today for two shows he’s producing by Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, an avant-garde big band. This evening’s gigs — the latter a double bill with the aggressive eight-piece band Fight the Big Bull — mark the first time ever that Search & Restore will present music outside of the Big Apple. (Click here to read our interview with Argue previewing the performances, and find information on the shows here and here.)

Update: The show at Subterranean A went down already. You can check out a recap and photos here.

For the second show Schatz found an unassuming, do-it-yourself space that could be simultaneously accommodating and enchanting. It’s called Subterranean A, and it’s a basement near Logan Circle. After Argue and Secret Society finish their first gig, at the Kennedy Center’s free-admission Millennium Stage, they’ll head there.

Guitarist Matthew White, Fight the Big Bull’s leader, says he is always excited to work with Search & Restore. “It’s certainly exciting as a performer … to have such a well-run organization promoting your music,” he told CapitalBop. “And as a youthful young man myself it is nice to be working with peers, as is not always the case in the jazz world.”

***

Adam Schatz sat in his Amsterdam hotel room at 1 a.m. on Dec. 2, ready to pull out his hair. He’d just gotten back from a lively evening at the Dutch Jazz & World Meeting conference, but climbing into bed wasn’t an option.

If Search & Restore didn’t meet its $75,000 fundraising goal within four days, he was going to watch the tens of thousands he’d already raised evaporate. That’s how things work on Kickstarter.com, the all-or-nothing pledge-drive site he was using. So he spent the next five hours — still pre-bed time in the States — emailing out solicitations and hammering the refresh button at his Kickstarter page. “I was killing myself, I couldn’t stand it,” he said.

But ultimately, Schatz squeaked by, raising close to $77,000 by the deadline. “The fundraising philosophy of everyone giving at the very end, that happened exactly as I was told it would,” he said. “The whole 50 days, I was trying to avoid that happening.”

Courtesy Adam Schatz

He doesn’t think he could have done it without some last-minute press, none of which mattered more — or arrived in more dramatic, deus-ex-machina fashion — than New York Times critic Ben Ratliff‘s positive profile on Schatz. It showed up, like a FedEx package on the doorstep, the day before the Kickstarter deadline.

“We have 600 backers for the whole project, and about 200 of them came in in the final two days,” Schatz said. “So the Times article helped a ton.”

Ratliff wrote the article, in part, because he believes Schatz’s approach to expanding the jazz audience just might catch. “A certain kind of discerning cultural crowd wants to be part of something special; it doesn’t want to be part of a business plan; it doesn’t want to enter overly mediated spaces,” he told CapitalBop.

“It’s possible to build an audience for any music, I think, that’s willing to shuttle among really raw and really temporary places, to see concerts set up with care on a limited budget, especially when there’s a pretty good chance of those concerts being packed out and happy and sparky and — as cultural rituals — kind of improvised. Who’s got the curiosity and flexibility to go to raw and temporary places? Young people. So voila: There’s your young jazz audience, there’s your excitable jazz scene.”

Schatz — who burns with a constant moxie, like some sort of human halogen — has already spent a chunk of the Kickstarter money. He immediately put it toward computers and high-quality cameras, which Search & Restore will use to document hundreds of New York City jazz shows this year. It will be the organization’s largest undertaking so far.

When he shows up in D.C. today, Schatz will be lugging the new cameras. So tonight’s shows will have the added novelty of being the site of Search & Restore’s first concert videos — or perhaps, Schatz says, he’ll just spend the whole night trying to figure out how to turn the blasted things on. “The real filming is going to begin at Winter JazzFest,” he says, referring to this coming weekend’s beloved, annual jazz festival in Greenwich Village that Search & Restore is helping to produce.

The videos that Search & Restore creates will go on its website, which is a critical component of the nonprofit’s operations. Not only does it sport a near-daily list of recommended shows (targeted, of course, at youthful and experimental-attuned listeners), it has a nearly complete catalog of New York clubs that host jazz and other improvised music. Click on one, and you’ll probably find a conversational description of the club’s offerings.

***

Search & Restore isn’t just Schatz, although he does the bulk of the work. He’s got a recently formed board of directors (five in all), plus about 10 volunteers who help with everything from planning shows to writing for the site.

There’s a breathless enthusiasm that floats around the entire operation, and quietly implies that this is really something special. Schatz is given to talking in confident and grandiose terms, and his collaborators share that impulse. Volunteer Chris Miller told CapitalBop that Search & Restore is “an attempt to shine an honest light on life as it is relevant to the musicians and our generation as a whole. Dressing it up and putting it in a club with expensive cocktails so that it’s digestible by some kind of high-society crowd just seems counter-intuitive.”

“Working with S&R has been amazing,” Miller added. “Being a part of something that really feels like it’s on the cutting edge and is having a visible impact on the world just feels great.”

3 Responses to Search & Restore spreads new jazz gospel to D.C.

  1. Pingback: Photos | A night of firsts with Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society and Fight the Big Bull | CapitalBop

  2. Pingback: Reginald Cyntje leads flock of D.C. musicians turning to Kickstarter.com | CapitalBop

  3. Pingback: Jazz, Max Weber, and the Breakdown of the Protestant Ethic « Lubricity

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