Adversaries on both sides of the human rights boycott have played the race card. Cincinnati's club owners just want musicians to play.
"We wanted to do something to celebrate our local diversity," says Mark Yates, co-owner of the Greenwich in Walnut Hills. "(Boycott organizers) are blocking national acts from coming in, so we decided to showcase what we already have here."
On Saturday, one day shy of the one-year anniversary of the murder of Timothy Thomas and flashes of rioting that still make city leaders anxious, the Greenwich presents Sounds of the City.
"It fell, as it turned out, at the beginning of April," Yates says. "Musically, it's about as mixed a bag as you'll get."
In the shadow of a boycott that's brought threats of lawsuits and countersuits, calls for a boycott of the boycott and more splintering of an already fractured community, the concert is an answer, of sorts, to a dilemma facing many area club owners. Is booking local acts in opposition to the boycott? Is the boycott intended only for national acts?
Does the boycott hold for the entire city? At what point do small business owners, in support or opposition, deem it OK to make money for themselves and, ultimately, how will they rebound financially?
Sadly and suddenly, there'll be a weekend when even music is weighed down in politics. But as corny as it sounds, Sounds of the City could be a healer.
The showcase features Jazz trumpeter/composer/arranger Mike Wade leading saxophonist Randy Villars, William Menefield on piano, guitarist Paul Cavers, vocalist Kim Lawson, Daryl Roth on drums, bassist Tony Whack and percussionist Charlie Schweitzer. They burn through Jazz, R&B, Funk and originals.
The group, in its third appearance with a revolving lineup, is multi-racial, and its players hail from Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati. Sounds of the City premiered at the Greenwich in November 1999 according to Jazz promoter Laura Gentry, also Wade's manager.
"It was very successful," Gentry says of that first show. "Mark wanted to try to tweak that formula for another show. He was really the person who said, 'Maybe this can be a reflection of people coming out, coming together."
The boycott notwithstanding, Gentry says music fans are confused by the boycott's physical and theoretical boundaries. In other words, where can music fans spend their money and where shouldn't they?
"We did a benefit at Clark Montessori (High School) and everybody was saying, 'Where's Mike playing next?' And most of the audience was white," Gentry says. "I said, 'Next week he's doing a weekend at the Blue Wisp.' They said, 'Oh, I don't know. That's downtown. What about the boycott?' "
Like Gentry, Yates says the boycott has fans reconsidering allegiances. And that has forced many to stay home.
"The people who are uptown, say, Forest Park, they consider the Greenwich to be downtown so it's made them more hesitant," says Yates, Greenwich co-owner for nearly five years.
Gentry and Yates say the misgivings held by potential touring acts are based in reality. They agree the boycott is indeed warranted.
"The city does need shaking up. I'm with them to that extent," Yates says. "But they need focus. It wasn't King's idea that the bus boycott go on forever. I'll take a hit if something good's gonna come of it."
"I'm not completely on one side or the other on the boycott," Gentry says. "Anybody who's lived in Cincinnati for any length of time knows it's conservative and knows it's repressive — especially for blacks. There's some white people here — some of the powers that be— that don't want to see it changed. The boycott organizers have some legitimate concerns that are not things that just happened overnight.
"Timothy Thomas had to die for shit to hit the fan," she continues.
As a promoter, Gentry has brought hard-hitting and respected Jazz players here. Saxophonist Javon Jackson, guitarist Fareed Haque, vocalist Renee Marie and the New York supergroup of bassist Cecil McBee and pianist Mulgrew Miller, among others, are some of the Jazz players Gentry has invited here.
Likewise, the walls of the Greenwich are lined with photographs of some of the world's late and living Jazz legends. The boycott may have dealt a hard blow to the club's sometimes spotty, pre-boycott roster.
Still, Sounds of the City may serve as the soundtrack to the next day's events whether they turn out to be violent, peaceful, thought provoking, regrettable or forgettable.
"Musicians still need to be supported," Gentry says. "We have some great talent here and I think we forget that. I can say about this show, come and support these local musicians.
"Even if you're a boycott supporter, I don't think it'll tear you in two."
SOUNDS OF THE CITY is at the Greenwich, 2440 Gilbert Ave., Walnut Hills, on Saturday with shows at 8 and 11 p.m.