Keep Austin Jazzy

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Dr. Marcus Wilcher stands for his solo as the rest of Baker’s Dozen quietly accompanies his melody. After starting at the age of 10, Wilcher now has a doctorate in jazz composition and saxophone from the University of Texas at Austin and just received the 2015 Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award. Photo by Alyssa Brant

By Alyssa Brant, Sylvia Butanda, Kimberley Carmona and Rebecca Salazar

Austin, TX – A dimly lit and narrow staircase keeps customers on their toes as they head down inside. Music from the speakers bounce off the walls as bartenders pour the drinks of the waiting audience already in their seats. The musicians are in their chairs warming up in preparation for that evening’s performance.

Many famous musicians, such as John Mills and Jon Blondell, call the Elephant Room their home. Paul Baker, a well-known musician in Austin, plays with his 13 man band, Baker’s Dozen Big Band, once a month at the venue.

“The jazz scene is getting larger,” Paul Baker said. “The Elephant Room has always been ground zero. This has been the main place for jazz, and it is known nationally.”

The presence of jazz music in Austin has always been very subtle, yet it can be traced back to the seventies. According to local jazz musician Michael Mordecai, 6th Street used to house six jazz clubs, but now none of them remain. Despite the dwindling number of jazz clubs, Mordecai believes jazz has stayed relevant in Austin because jazz musicians are able to morph into any genre.

Compared to other genres, Baker believes jazz has no boundaries.

“The thing about jazz that makes it so different from everything else is that even though rock roll has improvised solos, they’re always limited,” Baker said.

Jazz bands are commonly made up of a rhythm section and a horn section, but this genre still allows for a lot of musical freedom. Marcus Wilcher, an accomplished musician and Baker’s Dozen saxophone player, said that the freedom while playing is his favorite part about jazz music.

“You practice all this ridiculous stuff just so you can get on stage and say alright what can I create right now, and then you just go,” Wilcher said. “It’s one of the few forms of music that lets you do that at all times.”

Other band members like Morris Nelms, pianist for Baker’s Dozen, enjoys playing jazz music for the emotional aspect.

“I heard an incredible concert one time with incredible jazz people, and I liked the way they made feel,” Nelms said. “Every once in a while I can feel again what I felt at that point.”

Even though jazz is a genre that is typically heavily consisted of solos, it still manages to spread a feeling of togetherness, and that’s what Baker believes will keep the jazz scene alive in Austin.

“The most fun is being able to create and provide this environment for really marvelous players to come together and make marvelous music and have a great time doing it because we’re playing for each other,” Baker said.

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