Smalls: “The Village’s New Music Messiah”

The Village's New Music MessiahFor the last couple of years jazz music has a new record label that is already generating a lot of buzz in New York City and around the world. The Big Apple being the epicenter of diverse culture and is the nucleus of many music styles, the art of recording new live music has become expensive and a art that’s becoming as extinct as an LP.  Venues like the Blue Note, the Village Vanguard, the Jazz Gallery and Dizzy’s are some of many places where the music is performed, created, and recorded for patrons of all forms of jazz. Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village has been on the cusp of breaking out as one of the new major players on the jazz scene. One, being that the club holds and maintains a aura paying tribute to the major jazz clubs during the 1950’s and 60’s; providing a rustic and gritty presence where music is the many and only mission. Two, allow musicians internationally known or those just beginning their career a place to play in relaxed environment that’s open until the wee hours of the night. Musicians can play and jam as they like, something that many jazz clubs are missing.

In 2009 Spike Wilner, owner of Smalls, decided he wanted to record some the great musicians that have played at the club for over 15 years. So, Wilner formed SmallsLive, the record label that’s part of the vibrant Smalls brand. To much success, the label has cranked out over 20 releases over the last two years. Artists ranging from vocalist Cyrille Aimee to straight ahead musicians like Jim Rotondi, Seamus Blake, Steve Davis, and Kevin Hays. Even the artwork and CD cover insets are extremely impressive. They use a all-paper format called the four panel eco-pack which uses no plastic. The label also is aggressively selling the recordings via digital downloads on the label’s website as well as i Tunes. So far, the discs are currently being sold in Europe and other parts of the world.

The Heart of Greenwich Village

Last week I attended the CD release and label launch party for Smalls artist pianist Bruce Barth who’s latest release is proof that live jazz music isn’t dead. Small Live founder Spike Wilner has allowed the jazz club to continue to thrive by allowing these musicians speak musically while making it economically affordable for jazz fans to come and support the artist via the new CDs as well the jazz club. Wilner adds “Smalls Live is a direct need to continue what the major record labels used to record back in the day. Have an environment where the musicians can create those glorious albums that Trane and Monk recorded at the Vanguard and the Five Spot back in the day. Smalls Jazz Club has that same vibe as those same clubs but better.” And I must agree with him.

Pianist, accompanist, composer, and producer Bruce Barth’s impact on the jazz scene has been long and fruitful ride for the last 25 years. Barth’s track record has proven that he’s not only become one of the most well respected and demanded players playing on well over one hundred recordings and movie soundtracks, he’s recorded 12 solo projects including his latest: “Bruce Barth Trio: Live at Smalls,” on the Smalls Live Records label. The trio features Rudy Royston on bass and Vicente Archer on bass. Recorded at the famed Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village, this was a project that Bruce wanted to record centering around a trio setting.

What I enjoy most on Bruce’s latest outing is that he reaches out and plays some innovative and fresh compositions. Also, the new record takes me back to those great trio recordings of past with artists like Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis, and Oscar Peterson, whose emphasis was placed on the entire trio verses the soloist. His trio is killer and both Rudy and Vicente add new life and vigor to Bruce’s music.

Bruce hails from Pasadena, California and began playing piano at age five. He picked up playing by ear early during his career and found it a major progression in his learning and playing style. Throughout has teens he studied privately but it was his older brother who turned him on to pianist/vocalist Mose Allison that really sparked his interest in jazz music.

Upon graduating from high school he was accepted to the New England Conservatory where he had the privilege of studying and mentoring with the legendary Jaki Byard, George Russell, and Fred Hersch. When he finished college, he moved to New York where he continued his education musically playing with the likes of Nancy Wilson, Freddie Hubbard, Nat Adderley, Stanley Turrentine, James Moody, Grady Tate, and Slide Hampton.

Today Bruce continues to play in many groups including his trio, the Bruce Barth Septet, the Steve Wilson Quartet, the Terell Stafford Quintet, and accompanies Luciana Souza and Karrin Allyson.

Smalls Jazz Club is located in the heart of Greenwich Village in New York City at 183 West 10th Street. For upcoming artist showtimes visit them on the web at To order any of the Smalls Live releases including the latest Bruce Barth Trio disc, visit them on the web at

Jazz music needed a new and bold approach of how the music and artists are going to be marketed and how it’s presented. Smalls as a club and now new indie label operates under a new business model that doesn’t follow trends nor is about just making a profit while selling out. Spike Wilner clearly understands the state of where this music has gone and is going against the grain to position the label globally as a major player in the world of jazz.

The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report


The Public School System: ‘America’s New Kryptonite’

He who opens a school door, closes a prison. ~Victor Hugo

The City of Detroit is again under the negative media microscope again. Unfortunately, due to some more staggering news that further set the city back. It’s enough Detroit is still unraveling from former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s sexual and personal kickbacks that cost the city it’s image and reputation, but has current Mayor Dave Bing cleaning up his and other administrations dirt at the cost of the state and many hard working Detroiters. The way former members of Detroit’s City Council have been charged and indicted on fraud and illegally using state and federal funds for city contracts; also, the mismanaged and hemorrhaging automotive industry, Detroit hasn’t been the darling of the press over the last couple of years.

I was saddened when I read many reports last week on how Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb of the Detroit Public Schools, is set to close between 75 to 100 schools during the next four years. The radical plan approved recently approved by the state legislature, is one of many drastic financial deficit cutting measures to get the State of Michigan back on track of it’s $1.8 billion deficit it’s accrued over the last decade. According to a Bobb “without his budget cuts, the district’s annual deficit-now at $327 million, up from $218 in 2009-would have grown to more than $500 million. The schools have a $1.025 billion annual budget.”

Back in May of 2009, Education Secretary Arne Duncan took part in what was called his “Listening and Learning Tour.” Duncan went all over the country, including Detroit, where the then Governor-elect Jennifer Granholm, newly elected Mayor Dave Bing, and the appointed Robert Bobb had the task to get Detroit Public Schools on task to get out of the red. It was during this famous tour after he was appointed by President Obama where he made the famous comments that Detroit’s troubled public schools are “ground zero” for education. Duncan added “Detroit is New Orleans two years ago without Hurricane Katrina, and I feel a tremendous sense of both urgency and outrage.” At the time of the tour, Gov. Granholm and Robert Bobb announced that the Detroit Public Schools would close 29 schools to try to offset some of the school district’s deficit.

The city and many of it’s residents feel the same as class sizes due to the upcoming school closings could cost as many and 60 students per class.

Last Wednesday, the money-strapped Providence Public Schools system in Providence, Rhode Island, gave 2,000 pink sheets to their teachers after the school board voted 4-3 to make the “maximum flexibility” to make the necessary balances needed to get the troubled school district on balance. “A recent audit showed Providence, which has about 175,000 residents, had nearly depleted its rainy-day fund and overspent it’s nearly $620 million city budget last year by more than $57 million. Next year’s $308 million school budget is projected to have a gap of $40 million or more.”

Detroit, Providence, and the incidents in Wisconsin are now the cracks that have begun to surface over the last couple of years. Funding is depleted and American is now dealing with the aftermath. Unions are losing their power and outsourcing labor is the new working norm. But the bigger picture is our youth and the roaring pandemic of our failing school system. In addition to Detroit’s mounting financial and economic problems, late last week the National Assessment of Educational Progress Trial Urban District Assessment ranked the city having the worst national science scores in the country. Of the 17 urban cities they’ve conducted scores in, “80 percent of Detroit eighth-graders and 74 percent of fourth-graders scored below basic on the tests given in 2009.”

In Finland, where class sizes range from 10 to 20 students, there are two teachers in the classroom. More than 90% of teachers belong to a union and receive a salary of what many of the businessmen make in that county. Yet, many of the students take standardized tests and about 15 percent of their college graduates teach rather than hit the corporate world.

I’ve gotta say that my parents dream for me to finish high school and college and to have the American dream is just that, a dream. Over the late 15 years I’ve seen the workplace downsize, the middle class be reduced to working class, and many of my friends who are between the ages of 35 to 45, have to scale back their lifestyle.Even to the point where some are barely living from check to check. I mean, I know friends who have masters and higher degrees now working as hotel bell hops and working at Wal Mart while supporting a family. What have these public schools and colleges done as far as revamping their curriculum from the manufacturing and business sector to shifting to the service and technology sector? I’m almost pushing 40 years old and this so-called education system is both a farce and a scam, Yeah, my parents may not like what I’m saying, but they’re retired and just barely beat the recent tide of the latest technology and digital divide my generation is dealing with. Yet, they we’re both glad when they came out of classroom and education sector themselves after 30 years. What a stark contrast!

So who do I blame? My parents? No, they’re the ones who raised me and were my role models, like my grandparents, who made sure my life was good and I could achieve my real potential. The politicians? Yes and no!  If an elected person gives you funding in your district, then the people working under you should be accounted for all the money and responsible for managing it. The incidents in Detroit and Providence are examples of management and persons responsible not apt to the needs of properly managing the money. Also, the administration was plagued with budgetary issues that were piling up for decades that weren’t addressed. The Department of Education? Yes! Under many administrations like Ford, Carter, Bushes 1 & II, and even Obama, the idea that standardized tests are the answer of how todays‘ students are performing and using this as a measuring tool is ludicrous. Our government has never placed a priority on becoming a leader in education, yet we spend tens of dollars monthly for two wars that we’re never going to win. Bid billions on unnecessary military contracts for airplanes and weapons, yet, have students in Detroit rank the highest in testing worst in science.

The bottom line is this, we have a new order of business that’s shaping American right now, the Wal Marts and the mass incarceration/prison boom. Neither industries support unions, the working class, nor pay well at all. At the rate of laying off 2,000 plus teachers and 60 students a class, these new industries seem to be the next wave of where our next generation of students will end up if someone doesn’t step up and make education a priority. The great Mark Twain said “every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.”

The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report