Although Memphis has a legacy that includes some of America’s greatest jazz musicians (including arguably the greatest jazz pianist ever, Phineas Newborn Jr.), it is rare to hear authentic jazz in Memphis nowadays. Such jazz as there is generally occurs at Bleu Restaurant in the Westin Hotel downtown, particularly on Friday nights. This past Friday night featured pianist Steven Lee with his trio, including young up-and-coming drummer Nigel Yancey, son of local veteran trumpeter and big band leader Johnny Yancey. The final set became something of a jam session, as it often does, featuring Johnny Yancey on trumpet and Kyle Lee on tenor saxophone. For those that want traditional, straight-ahead jazz rather than the smooth or neo-soul variety, Bleu on Friday nights is the place to be.
The Blues Ball is an annual event in Memphis sponsored by the Memphis Charitable Foundation to raise money for worthwhile causes, and is the largest annual ball in the United States. This year, the event was held outdoors on Lt. George W Lee Avenue between the Westin Hotel and the Gibson Guitar Factory, and featured a large stage at each end of the street, as well as a third stage on the outdoor rooftop of the Gibson factory, and food from about 20 or so of Memphis’ best restaurants. In addition to great Memphis food, attendees were also treated to great Memphis music from Ruby Wilson, Will Tucker, Preston Shannon, Sam Moore of Sam & Dave fame, and Memphis rap icon Al Kapone with his band. At one point in the evening’s events, fireworks were set off from the roof of the adjacent Rock and Soul Museum, and the heat from them could be felt down on the street in front of the stage. Seen in the crowd were Memphis rappers Tune C and Young AJ, Select-O-Hits’ music buyer Wes Phillips, James Alexander of the Bar-Kays, Memphis soul legend Don Bryant and his wife Ann Peebles and Knox Phillips of Knox Music.
The Bleu Restaurant in the Westin Hotel in downtown Memphis is really the only place in the city that regularly features live jazz. Jazz groups play on Friday and Saturday nights, and on the last Sunday of every month. The young Memphis musicians above came down to sit in this past Friday night, and it is always encouraging to see them, because this is what keeps the music going.
The former Sole location in the Westin Hotel in downtown Memphis has become Bleu Restaurant and Lounge, an upscale bar and restaurant directly across from the Fed Ex Forum that often features live jazz. Last Thursday, April 19, they celebrated the opening of their new outdoor patio with live music and free food and drink. #MemphisRising
With Jill Scott performing at the Fed Ex Forum in Downtown Memphis, some friends of mine scheduled a Pre-Concert Mixer at the Westin Hotel lobby across the street from the arena. They got a good crowd, including a lot of my friends from college, and a lot of people I know from the Law and Order weekends. It was a lot of fun.
Wes had to speak at a morning panel at 10 AM, so I decided not to leave the hotel for breakfast, and Doc and Hood met me down in the lobby and we went to the 619 North bistro in the hotel for breakfast, and soon Wes joined us. The food was good, but overpriced, and Wes’ panel was postponed because nobody got up early enough, since they had been up at clubs until at least 2 AM.
When it finally got underway, Jeremy Miller spoke at length about The Source magazine, and then he headed out to his son’s football game in Oklahoma City. I had been headed to lunch at Goff’s Charcoal Broiled Hamburgers, but Wes talked me into eating lunch at the hotel restaurant instead.
I spent much of the afternoon in bed with a headache, but I felt better later and got back up, and Wes decided to drive out to Houston to meet with Chaney Welch. I got with Doc and Hood, and they decided to ride out with me to Pappadeaux’s on Oak Lawn Avenue, where we ate dinner. I had the shrimp en brochette for the first time, and it was really good.
After stopping by Cafe Brazil for coffee, we headed back to the hotel, and they rode out to the lingerie party downtown. I decided to hang around the hotel since it was too late to ride the Trinity River Express train to Stars Jazz Club in Fort Worth, and a rapper from Waco drove up to meet with me, but he didn’t get there until 2 AM. It was finally 3 AM when I got to bed.