|Andy Durta, booking manager for the
New Orleans club Sidebar with Ken Vandermark
By Nick Ostrum
I first dropped the idea of an interview to Andy Durta, booking manager for the New Orleans club Sidebar, at the end of 2019. I had envisioned a quick discussion about the New Orleans improv scene and Sidebar’s unique place within it. Coming around the 3 rd anniversary of the Scatterjazz music series at venue and just before the venue, bar included, celebrates its 5th anniversary this August, I had originally thought the discussion would be somewhat more triumphant than what transpired when Andy and I finally got to sit down on Zoom on May 30. By then, we (New Orleans) had been under quarantine for two months. Andy and Sidebar mastermind Keith Magruder had meanwhile converted all of Sidebar’s programming first to audience-less performances in the venue itself, then to DIY live streams from people’s living rooms and attics. In true New Orleans fashion, these shows broadcast for free with an encouraged donation to the artists and venue.
Many of you may have visited New Orleans in the past. If you were really committed, you might have spent some time searching the free papers or online for non-traditional venues and acts with the hopes of eschewing the throngs of Frenchman Street. And, if the stars aligned, you might have come across shows with the likes of Jeff Albert, Tristan Gianola and Jason Mingledorf (three local jazzers) or Gordon Grdina (Vancouver) with Simon Berz (Switzerland) and Cyrus Nabipoor (New Orleans) or Tim Berne (New York), James Singleton and Aurora Nealand (both of New Orleans). Add another Gordon Grdina night and a trio with local lap-guitar wizard Dave Easley, and these are the first shows I attended at Sidebar. And this spread of musicians was hardly a fluke. Instead, it is emblematic of what the venue has so effectively offered. A local club, most of its shows consist of New Orleans-based musicians, many of whom have made their name in other musical circles but have meanwhile maintained a deep interest in experimental music. Think: Nealand and Albert, the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars, Nicholas Payton, and, of course, the incomparable Kidd Jordan. Often enough, Andy is also able to get national and international musicians – ranging from Berne and Grdina to Frank Gratkowski, Ingrid Laubrock, and the Humanization 4tet – to join these locals and create some pretty magical evenings.
Alright. This is too quickly turning into a love letter to a club and a time temporarily past, so I will get to the point. I am not exaggerating when I say that in just five years, Sidebar has become the epicenter of free jazz in New Orleans and Andy Durta has been central to that process. The interview above is somewhat sprawling. It starts with a recent show by Swedish concert-hall trombonist Elias Faingersh and wends into stories about years of concert organizing, gratifying passages of name-dropping, and an interesting claim about how many of the most exciting shows that Andy has organized have simply “fallen into (his) lap.” More seriously, the interview also digs into some of the real challenges and frustrations of organizing shows both before and during Covid, and the merits of the struggle to keep improvised music live and accessible. And, if you bear with us for the entire hour, you will hear some colorful stories about Andy and Louis Moholo as they raced to the Yells at Eels show that Ayler Records would later release as Cape of Storms, as well as some beautiful final thoughts.
NB: This interview was recorded at the end of May. The references to upcoming events are therefore outdated. However, I just got word that the Sidebar is celebrating its fifth anniversary with a Webathon of performances from some local jazz and blues musicians (including the local legend Walter “Wolfman” Washington) and sprinkling of more progressive players such as Isabelle Duthoit & Franz Hautzinger, both of whom are featured in the interview. Shows will run August 7-9. Afterwards, the venue will go quiet for a few weeks as Keith and Andy take a well-deserved break. Here’s hoping the hiatus does not last too long.