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Jazz Central Offers Virtual Concert Series

Larry Luttinger, Executive Director of CNY Jazz.

Jazz Central Offers CNY an Eclectic Mix with New Virtual Concert Series. Larry Luttinger is one of the few pillars holding-up the Central New York jazz scene. As the head honcho of Jazz Central, he’s pretty much a household name in the music community – offering events such as the Northeast Jazz & Wine Festival, special concerts at the Jazz Central facility and he’s maintained a steady beat as one of the busiest drummers in Syracuse music for many years.

Larry, like the rest of musicians and music lovers, is pretty tired of sitting on the music bench. While many bitch and moan – with good reason – Larry, has joined the ranks of torch-wielding advocates for Syracuse music. Subcat Studios is making strides in similar fashion with an online series. Julie B. Leone enthusiastically leads the way in getting government to grant reasonable measures based on Syracuse’s reasonable-successful-strides to play it safe. By now, it is Larry Luttinger putting on the pads to take on the Goliath-sized, sucky, covid-era music situation, here in CNY. He and his organization are introducing a new angle regarding live-streaming music performances by producing the shows at Jazz Central. The plan involves restaurants and venues that are compliant with the mandates and able to broadcast recorded events in the venue. The performances themselves are not attendable, of course – which is why we need ideas and otherwise means to enjoy music – but, rather, they are recorded to be broadcast in restaurants and venues that might not be able to support live music under the covid restrictions. The restrictions have already decimated a significant chunk of our robust music scene… a music scene that is all amped-up and, seemingly, nowhere to blow. Shows and promotions of all kinds may be livestreamed or pre-recorded for later release at their newly renovated education facility in downtown Syracuse.

Luttnger states, “The upcoming months will be a survival challenge for musicians and performers of all kinds, and we are serious about doing all we can to help professional artists survive through this long winter.” According to Larry Luttinger, Executive Director of CNY Jazz, “We are also going to help by providing wraparound marketing and publicity for anyone broadcasting from our facility, including ticketing and link distribution. This is a brave new virtual world, and we need to help everyone find new online audiences and retain their core followers until restrictions are lifted, which will most probably not be until late spring or summer of 2021.”

Offerings will emphasize new and original content including singer-songwriters in all genres and performing artists in all disciplines, including drama, comedy, burlesque, improv, readings, cabaret, and student productions. “The arts help us gain an understanding of the world around us, especially in these chaotic times,” said Luttinger. “Local creators have important things to say, and the public needs to experience this emotionally. We’re here to provide a safe and effective way to provide this for the local performing arts community. Realistically, we’re looking at reopening as a live venue in late spring or summer of 2021, given what Broadway, Lincoln Center, and full-time theaters across the state are now announcing. We’re here for local artists for this long haul. We just hope that audiences understand this and will engage in this new virtual platform for the arts.”

CNY Jazz will also produce annual fundraisers for non-profits for whom streaming platforms are out of reach economically.

All services will be available for a low fee and artists will retain a majority of streaming income. For more information, contact info@cnyjazz.org or visit https://www.cnyjazz. org/jazz-central/

I met with Larry to talk about it.

Chuck Schiele: Hi Larry. Thank you for doing this for our community. I understand how much effort it takes to make good things like this happen. First of all, how is music life for you personally and with Jazz Central, these days with Covid and all?

Larry Luttinger: Well, to say it’s been a challenge would be an understatement (laughs). We’ve been scrambling since March 11th, with emergency grant applications, delayed and canceled events, platooning the staff in and out of our theater, and dealing with a major renovation. We’re just finishing COVID-proofing the theater, which has been converted into a small TV studio, basically, the platform for our entire season. We’re going 100% virtual, like most performing arts organizations.

CS: What do you miss most about music in Syracuse since Covid came along?

LL: Audiences, of course. Music is a social experience, and mixing with audiences tells us how we’re doing, minute by minute. They’re the most important member of any band. Personally, as a musician, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m forgetting how to play. It’s scary at times, but it’s like riding a bike.

CS: You’re initiating an eclectic series of live music – recorded for broadcast – involving the community. Please tell us about that.

LL: This is our strategy to survive through the winter months, and to help others do the same. We’re producing “Live from Jazz Central”, a season of full length concerts by the best musicians in the region. We’re beaming them right to every student email at Syracuse University, Le Moyne, and Caz College so far, and more to come we hope. This is an in-place alternative to leaving campus or congregating in large numbers by students, and a way to combat their stress and isolation.

CS: Who is scheduled for the show so far?

LL: We’re still putting together the spring schedule, but for the fall we have Sophistafunk, then Mark Nanni and the Intention, Adam Fisher’s Count Blastula, and Akuma Roots. As you can see, we’re going for maximum diversity, spoken word funk and fusion, blues, roots music, reggae, and we’re looking for some classic R and B, modern country, everything.

Mark Nanni

CS: You are incorporating restaurants and venues into the concept by way of a new idea.

LL: Restaurants will be able to access the entire series for only $50 a week, they will get a new link every Friday, they can schedule the shows any night they want, and we will market it for them because they can’t. We’ll tell our CNY Jazz Discount Card holders to go there for deals. There are lots of places that are struggling with how to capitalize their usual music schedule at 50% capacity, and with at least twelve feet between performers and audiences. We can keep their patrons occupied with this virtual option until the spring, when hopefully restrictions will be lifted, and the cost is painless.

CS: Is there anything you would like to say as it relates to music in these times… to our fellow music loving friends of Central New York?

LL: Yes. My message is “We’ll get through this.” Whether you’re a fan or an artist, keep your eyes on the prize and we’ll be at the end of the tunnel soon. Fans, just remember that you’re all we have these days; don’t forget us. Government and corporations can’t help, they are in terrible shape also. Keep attending safely, keep spending, donating and subscribing, buy local, and we’ll make it.

CS: Is there anything you’d like to see from the political standpoint regarding NYS covid mandates and guidelines?

LL: Well, I totally understand that we can’t present a risk of community spread to the public in clubs and theaters. But what I don’t see this time around is any organized effort to provide some relief to music venues hit hardest by this. Let’s hope Senator Schumer gets the Save Our Stages bill to pass.

CS: If you had 5 minutes with Governor Cuomo, what would ask or tell him / talk to him about?

Sophistafunk at Funk N Waffles, Downtown

LL: I’d let him know that he owes CNY Jazz 15% of our annual budget, and to please pay the $75,000 that he owes us, or we’re not going to make it. I’d also remind him that during the depression, FDR saved the arts in many ways, and that in 2009, Obama saved us with the ARRA. If New York cuts the arts next year, we’re going to be on life support and blink out one by one.

CS : You recently recorded and shared a song that speaks to our times. Congratulations. Please tell us about it.

LL : Oh, that little thing? (laughs). I wrote it all at once, out of general frustration as a voter. I ran it by Todd Hobin, my old road buddy from the 70’s, and we laid it down out at his studio with him on lead vocal, his son Brett on bass and on the board. Danielle from Brownskin came out and helped us with a high harmony part. Came out pretty nice, for a two hour quickie session. We’re trying to tweet it into going viral, and need your help, people! It’s a Woodie Guthrie inspired country tune called “Blue Wave”,by Dem Dang Donkeys. Just search for that on Youtube and spread the link around.

CS : What’s the first thing you’re going to do when we all get the green light to get back out there? Like….. anything special in particular… revisions to your plan as a result of this experience…. or simply getting back to the normal stride.

Adam Fisher’s Count Blastula

LL : Personally, I think this is going to happen more gradually than you think. People will come out when they think it’s safe and not before. Believe me, the first time I get on stage in front of a house full of people will be an emotional moment I hope I get through.

CS : How can folks check out the shows from Jazz Central?

LL : Glad you asked that! Live from Jazz Central is a private channel, available only to schools and establishments. You’ll have to go to our calendar to find out where it’s being shown. We’re starting another series, though, “CNY Jazz Streams”, for our subscribers, donors, and jazz lovers worldwide, the same acts that we put into our CNY Jazz Club locations now. Stay tuned to the cnyjazz.org for all this. You can go to our site and ask to get on our weekly e-news list too.

CS : Thank you, again for all you do for your city, man. If everybody did just half of what they expect others to do, what a city this would be, right? Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Larry. It’s always good to visit with you.

LL : The pleasure is all mine, Chuck. Thank you for the chat.

Akuma Roots

Chuck Schiele
Chuck Schiele is an award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member of SaltCityChill.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.