Sidebar (New Orleans, LA) ~ The Free Jazz Collective

Written by on August 6, 2020

Andy Durta, booking manager for the
New Orleans club 
Sidebar with Ken Vandermark

By Nick Ostrum

I first dropped the idea of an interview to Andy Durta, booking manager for
the New Orleans club Sidebar, at the end of
2019. I had envisioned a quick discussion about the New Orleans improv
scene and Sidebar’s unique place within it. Coming around the 3 rd anniversary of the Scatterjazz music series at venue and just
before the venue, bar included, celebrates its 5th anniversary
this August, I had originally thought the discussion would be somewhat more
triumphant than what transpired when Andy and I finally got to sit down on
Zoom on May 30. By then, we (New Orleans) had been under quarantine for two
months. Andy and Sidebar mastermind Keith Magruder had meanwhile converted
all of Sidebar’s programming first to audience-less performances in the
venue itself, then to DIY live streams from people’s living rooms and
attics. In true New Orleans fashion, these shows broadcast for free with an
encouraged donation to the artists and venue.

Many of you may have visited New Orleans in the past. If you were really
committed, you might have spent some time searching the free papers or
online for non-traditional venues and acts with the hopes of eschewing the
throngs of Frenchman Street. And, if the stars aligned, you might have come
across shows with the likes of Jeff Albert, Tristan Gianola and Jason
Mingledorf (three local jazzers) or Gordon Grdina (Vancouver) with Simon
Berz (Switzerland) and Cyrus Nabipoor (New Orleans) or Tim Berne (New
York), James Singleton and Aurora Nealand (both of New Orleans). Add
another Gordon Grdina night and a trio with local lap-guitar wizard Dave
Easley, and these are the first shows I attended at Sidebar. And this
spread of musicians was hardly a fluke. Instead, it is emblematic of what
the venue has so effectively offered. A local club, most of its shows
consist of New Orleans-based musicians, many of whom have made their name
in other musical circles but have meanwhile maintained a deep interest in
experimental music. Think: Nealand and Albert, the New Orleans Klezmer
All-Stars, Nicholas Payton, and, of course, the incomparable Kidd Jordan.
Often enough, Andy is also able to get national and international musicians
– ranging from Berne and Grdina to Frank Gratkowski, Ingrid Laubrock, and
the Humanization 4tet – to join these locals and create some pretty magical

Alright. This is too quickly turning into a love letter to a club and a
time temporarily past, so I will get to the point. I am not exaggerating
when I say that in just five years, Sidebar has become the epicenter of
free jazz in New Orleans and Andy Durta has been central to that process.
The interview above is somewhat sprawling. It starts with a recent show by
Swedish concert-hall trombonist Elias Faingersh and wends into stories
about years of concert organizing, gratifying passages of name-dropping,
and an interesting claim about how many of the most exciting shows that
Andy has organized have simply “fallen into (his) lap.” More seriously, the
interview also digs into some of the real challenges and frustrations of
organizing shows both before and during Covid, and the merits of the
struggle to keep improvised music live and accessible. And, if you bear
with us for the entire hour, you will hear some colorful stories about Andy
and Louis Moholo as they raced to the Yells at Eels show that Ayler Records
would later release as Cape of Storms, as well as some beautiful
final thoughts.

NB: This interview was recorded at the end of May. The references to
upcoming events are therefore outdated. However, I just got word that the
Sidebar is celebrating its fifth anniversary with a Webathon of performances
from some local jazz and blues musicians (including the local legend Walter
“Wolfman” Washington) and sprinkling of more progressive players such as
Isabelle Duthoit & Franz Hautzinger, both of whom are featured in the
interview. Shows will run August 7-9. Afterwards, the venue will go quiet
for a few weeks as Keith and Andy take a well-deserved break. Here’s hoping
the hiatus does not last too long.

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