Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Musician's Co-Op at Canal Street Tavern (now & then)

So last night I went down to show some support for the newly revived Musician's Co-Op at Canal Street Tavern (for the uninitiated, Musician's Co-Op is basically an open stage night where pretty much anyone who signs up can do an unpaid, half-hour set of whatever he or she wants to do). I had only planned to have a beer and stick around for one or two sets, but I ended up staying for pretty much the whole thing. In many ways, last night's Co-Op was a major flashback to the old days, and I think much of that had to do with the fact that Sharon Lane was hosting.

Except for the past year, Musician's Co-Op has been a steady institution at Canal Street Tavern since at least 1981. Mick Montgomery hosted it for the first ten years, but when I first started going in the late '80s, the host was Sharon Lane.

As you may know, Sharon has been a blues and jazz singer/piano player around these parts since the '70s. She's an incredible talent, and it was always worth hitting Musician's Co-Op on a Tuesday night just on the off chance that she would play a set -- maybe to fill in for someone who hadn't shown up or maybe just because she wanted to. Sharon is good enough and authentic enough to make you feel like you're in a sleazy Brooklyn jazz hole in the '50s or '60s -- almost as if you were "leaning on the john door in the 5 Spot/while she whispered a song along the keyboard/to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing" (to quote Frank O'Hara's famous poem on the death of Billie Holiday).

Don't get me wrong, I've never been a particular fan of jazz. You'll never see me slip a Miles Davis CD into the stereo at home or in the car. I don't own any. But when it's played live and played well, I can get into it. Strangely, jazz has that attraction for me in common with blazingly fast, aggressive hardcore punk. Played well by people who love it, either form of music can be amazing.

But at the time when I was regularly patronizing the Co-Op, it was worth going whether Sharon played or not, as long as she was hosting. In addition to being a great singer, Sharon is also a great personality, and so she could turn a simple collection of unpaid musicians of widely varying talent performing 30-minute sets in Stalinist order into something with the fluidity of the old Ed Sullivan show or a night at the Apollo. Because she knew most of the performers, she would give a little introduction for each one that almost always included a story. Or while the set was changing, she would tell a story about herself or rant about some situation in her own life. Okay, sometimes it was boring, but if it was, you could just go back to your drink and talk to your friends. And most of the time, it wasn't boring because in her time in Dayton, Sharon has gathered thousands of stories about interesting people and situations.

Last night was no exception. I hadn't seen Sharon host since she stopped doing Musician's Co-Op in the early '90s, but she picked up right where she left off. And I suppose it didn't hurt that she had good material to work with. Last night's performers included Kattie Dougherty (of REAL LULU), John Dubuc (formerly of THE OBVIOUS), and two or three others whose names I don't remember but who were obviously accomplished musicians who had been friends with Sharon for quite some time. About halfway through the night, Sharon also played a set, which she interrupted more than once to bemoan the recession of arts programs from the Dayton Public Schools (something which, I think, cost her a job last year) or talk about the history of Canal Street Tavern and the great men, women, boys, and girls who have performed on that stage. Classic.

Sharon's garulous method of hosting always struck me as a more transient version of the poetry of Frank O'Hara, who made his literary career writing free verse tales of people and places he was acquainted with in New York City. His poetry isn't always easy to understand because it depends on the reader being as intimately acquainted with O'Hara's friends (almost always referred to by first names only) and the bars, museums, apartments, and street corners that formed the back drop of his daily life (again, usually denoted with an offhand reference that might present a single image but lack any consideration for the fact that most of his readers had never even been to these places). O'Hara has been called the poet of New York City for that reason.

I'll say that Sharon has tapped into the same aesthetic for Dayton, but in a more transient way because she doesn't write anything down. Like good origami, her hosting is more craft than art, and it stands only briefly (at least compared to the ages spanning term of a painting or sculpture) before it is discarded and replaced with a new offering.

So if you want to experience it, you'd better get your ass down to a Co-Op when she's hosting, buy some drinks, and listen (Sharon is only one of three or four different hosts that the new Musician's Co-Op will have, but I spoke with one of the others last night, and from what I can tell, there are some good things in the works). Musician's Co-Op folded last year after an unbroken 26 year run because Mick just wasn't making enough money anymore to keep the place open on Tuesdays (ironically, Mick told me last night that when he opened, Musician's Co-Op was the biggest draw he had). It would be nice to see this new incarnation of the tradition succeed. I can't say I'll be down there every Tuesday, but I'll be making the effort to hit it more often. So should you.

take care



Anonymous said...

Way cool! Especially like the link with O'Hara's poetry. Gotta find me an excuse to be in Dayton one of these Tuesday nights...

Anonymous said...

Very interesting.
Last night I was talking to a current employee of Canal Street Tavern. She was telling me all about how Mick had stopped doing the co-op because it was losing too much money and interest was so low. This was the first I had heard of this, and I felt sad to see it go (even though I had never participated in one). Little did we know that at that very moment the co-op was actually being reintroduced with so much flair. Good news, indeed.


Jeffrey said...

Always good to hear about Sharon Lane. I remember her well, as she used to work at CST, I think, as well as perform there when I first moved here. Her and her husband, or partner, have a CD out, BTW. Sounds pretty good, too.

Sharon has a great musical style, and is a real class act.