An artist-in-residency program, as it applies to the fine arts, is meant to allow artists time and space away from their regular existence in order to create freely in an unfettered environment. Why not apply a similar concept to the music world? Why not offer musicians a steady gig in a consistent space, that they might dig into their art away from the hustle and bustle and demands of maintaining a career as an independent musician in Buffalo? The benefits to both the musician and the listener would be plentiful.
The idea is not new; a handful of local artists are in residencies, which in the music world, tend to consist of weekly appearances at a club or concert venue. Two notable ones are Kelly Bucheger's bi-weekly Monday jazz workshops at Stamps the Bar in Tonawanda, and more recently, the Wazmopolitans' Wednesday "In Residence" series at Lucky Day Whiskey Bar on Pearl Street. The Sportsmen's Tavern, long a progressive-minded venue in terms of booking, has been offering a weekly lunch-hour residency featuring the Joe Baudo Quartet for years.
"I believe residencies solidify a bond between a like-minded club-owner, band and clientele and eventually build a decent following for both the band and venue, so people come to know what they can expect, quality-wise, when they walk through the door," said Wasik, whose Lucky Day residency both capitalizes on professional and personal synergies and offers the possibility of further ones.
In the jazz world, residencies have had an immeasurable effect on the development of the music. Venues such as the Village Vanguard, the Five Spot Cafe, the Half Note and Birdland became a combination of workshop and playground for some of history's greatest musicians – from John Coltrane to Charles Mingus to Miles Davis to Bill Frisell, all of whom used residencies to break in new bands, woodshed new ideas, debut material, and explore the limits of their own artistry. Both Bucheger and the man behind the creation of the Wazmaploitans, percussionist David Wasik, are pursuing similar avenues bolstered by a homologous ethos.
Coltrane's November, 1961 residency at the Village Vanguard is, arguably, one of the most significant events in 20th century music. During this run – five nights a week for that month - Coltrane took adventurous chances with his music, incorporating the influence of Indian Ragas, avant garde and atonal leanings, and modal jazz, among other idiomatic accents. Fortuitously, many of these shows were recorded, and these recordings - most famously, the 15-minute "Chasin' the Train" and the equally lengthy, weighty and transcendent "Spiritual" – proved to be revolutionary, despite confounding critics and baffling some listeners unaccustomed to such adventurousness.
Guitarist Stu Weissman, who performs with the Baudo Quartet as part of the Sportsmen's Wednesday lunch-hour residency, notes the benefits of residencies to both musician and listener. "Residencies offer the opportunity to evolve as an artist by playing weekly with high-caliber local cats," he said. There's also the fact that doing a residency illustrates consistency when looking for gigs at other venues - you can then say 'I play weekly at Club X' and that carries some weight. And for the audience - they know what they are getting with both performance and the other patrons who are regulars."
For Wasik, the residency grants a platform for exploration that might not otherwise be available. He said the weekly show provides an opportunity for him to play with people like keyboardist Kevin Doyle and bassist Jack Kulp. The weekly collaborations "challenge each other to soar to new heights, while transporting our audience with us," he said.
"And to boot, we’re building something that will be hot once the weather breaks!"
Bucheger said the audience response he has gotten to residencies proves their value.
"Instead of folks being disappointed they weren’t hearing familiar tunes, they dug the new material. It was a huge artistic validation for me, and it really set me up for almost everything I’ve done in this town since," he said.
Residencies should become a trend in Buffalo. Everyone - the musician, the audience member, the club-owner - wins.