Locals Only: : Go Cat Go

Locals CatCity fills the Jazz Fusion hole in Cincinnati's music scene

Dale M. Johnson


Anytime one hears about a great band within our music scene here in the 'Nati, it is usually assumed its another Rock band, or somebody who is going the distance to do something that breaks the seams of the proverbial pocket, causing either a horrible or interesting result.

Because so many bands fit into these categories, one does not ordinarily get too excited about bands that are carrying on the musical traditions of some of the oldest genres. But, with some, hearing about them from more than a couple of people is enough to stimulate the curiosity of even the most close-minded individuals. For people like this, who have never taken the time to appreciate Jazz, the group to see is CatCity, hands down.

Although the band does not play "traditional" Jazz (which is a topic of debate in itself among Jazz scholars and fans), the current lineup has been performing their brand of Jazz Fusion every Sunday at Cincinnati's most well known Jazz club, The Blue Wisp, for approximately one year. The original band was started in 1986 by bassist Don Aren and sax player Steve Hoskins, among others. According to Aren, "Jazz Fusion combines the harmonic and rhythmic complexities of Jazz with grooves from Rock and World music into an improvised whole. A little something for the mind and body."

Aren and Hoskins, along with guitarist Ted Karas, drummer Brad Elliott and keyboardist from Lars Potteiger, follow a strong band philosophy which states, very simply, "Play it like you mean it." According to Aren, "People can appreciate music on different levels.

We play with a strong groove and intensity that most people can relate to. Like most things in life, the more you listen to and think about all music, the more you appreciate it."

"We're the only band in town putting out Jazz Fusion on a regular basis," notes Aren. "There was great music from Weather Report, Chick Corea, The Yellow Jackets, Tom Scott and others to get us going. The band might take a standard or Jazz tune in a new direction. Then Ted joined and we added hot guitar from Pat Metheny, Mike Stern and Lee Ritenour to the set list. We've been writing original songs and arrangements ever since."

Influence like this makes it easy to understand why CatCity has generated the attention they have, and why it is likely that more is on the way. The name CatCity seems obvious in its conception. After all, isn't it only beatniks who play Jazz? Don't they all regularly use words like daddy-o, and hepcat? Well, perhaps, but CatCity's name was not such an obvious choice for the quintet until one fateful afternoon in the rehearsal room.

"At one of our first rehearsals, our two cats (now four) were getting in the way more than two cats should have been able to," according to Aren. "My wife Diann said, 'It's cat city in here.' Steve, knowing a good thing when he hears it, said, 'That's it!' "

While the band's members might not be a bunch of cigarette-smoking, beret-wearing beatniks, Aren, when posed with a question of the differences between the ideas of far out and groovy, provided these words of wisdom: "Far out and groovy — as they say, if you can remember the '60s you weren't there. I don't remember."

For the music lover in anyone who has given up on the vast ocean of the ordinary that is our music scene (and most others), as well as the corporate monopoly of commercial radio (and their inability to quit playing the same old crap), CatCity is a refreshing nuance of a classic genre. For those who haven't sought out Jazz bands in the past, it is understandable, as they can get heavy. But when you get past the avant-garde nature of some of the genre (which in reality is just its lack of the usual crap), you will find music that speaks to all listeners, and often, without any words. The communication that exists musically between these guys leads one to wonder whether Jazz is a musical genre or a science. Either way it is worth your time.

CATCITY performs every Sunday night at The Blue Wisp

Scroll to read more Music News articles

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.