Smooth jazz gets fired up on a rainy night at Gardel's


October 05, 2006|By SAM SESSA

When smooth jazz trombonist Jeff Bradshaw promised an unreal show, it was hard not to be skeptical.

Tickets for his concert last Thursday - part of the Jazz on the Floor series at Gardel's - were pretty steep: $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Since it was pouring outside, people trickled in later than usual, and organizers decided to push the show back about a half-hour. By 8 p.m., the bar and tables downstairs where the concert was to be held were about half-full. It would take plenty of energy to get this night rolling.

And Bradshaw knew just how to do it.

He came out solo with his instrument and said that before his band would perform, he had a surprise for us. He was recently in New Orleans playing at the House of Blues and had picked up a new group he wanted to show off, he said.

A moment later, five more trombonists, a baritone player, tuba player and drummer burst from backstage, lined up and launched into some high-stepping brass swing tunes.

No one was ready for that. It took a minute for the whole thing to register. But Bradshaw didn't wait for the crowd to catch up - his band just blew them away.

"I told you I came to have a good time," Bradshaw said. (He must have known there was at least one doubter in the crowd).

It was timeless. The musicians stood in a line and swayed while the tuba pumped out bass notes and the drummer banged out beats behind them. After a few minutes, they walked out into the crowd - Bradshaw leading the way - and weaved through the tables, playing all the while.

A rendition of the traditional song "Somebody's Calling My Name" (with Bradshaw on vocals) got the audience singing along, and everybody grooved in their seats and clapped.

The atmosphere couldn't have suited the music much better either. With its high ceilings, thick wood rafters, deep red walls, chandeliers and small pillars, Gardel's has a classic feel with modern comforts. A faux stained glass window lit from behind with changing colored lights was a little gaudy but fit in well enough. A couple of large flat-screen TVs behind the bar showed photos from previous Jazz on the Floor events. The only out-of-place decoration was a huge chandelier/ornament/abstract art thing in the center of the ceiling. Thin, spidery fiber optic lines with glowing tips extended from it, and a dozen or so lima bean-shaped cuts of sheet metal the size of pillows hung from its center.

Drinks were slightly expensive, but it was understandable. The jazz-a-ma-tazz (which I ordered in honor of the night) was a mix of Grey Goose vodka and orange and cranberry juices served in a martini glass. More sweet than sharp, it cost $7. A vodka tonic with a little more bite was also $7.

After four or five songs with the brass outfit, Bradshaw dismissed the horns and brought on his normal touring band. He did a smooth jazz set with some accomplished musicians, most notably keyboardist and producer Pete Kuzma, who was on fire all night.

Bradshaw took a 15 to 20 minute set break, went out into the crowd and shook hands for a while, then called the jazz band back on to the stage for another set. After a few more songs, he (finally) called the brass horns back and closed out the night with some swing.

"I was just in tears," said organizer Patti Smith. "It was a wonderful night, despite the weather."

Upcoming shows in the Jazz on the Floor at Gardel's series are the Earl Carter Group at 7:30 p.m. tonight, saxophonist Greg Byrd at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19 and saxophonist Eric Marner at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door for Carter; $15 in advance and $20 at the door for Byrd; $20 in advance and $25 at the door for Marner. For ticket reservations, call 443-865-0617.

Gardel's is at 29 S. Front St. To reserve a table, call 410-837-3737 or go to

Talking Head to close

The Talking Head, a roughly three-year-old haven for indie and experimental rock bands, will close at the end of the year, said co-owner Dan McIntosh. For the past three or so decades, the building has housed live music of one form or another. Now, its future is uncertain, McIntosh said.

"It's a little sad for Baltimore," he said.

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