This isn't supposed to make Laura Gentry out as some kind of hero or martyr. But you have to give it up to a woman who, in this be-all-you-can-be-high-tech-get-it-just-to-have-it world, does the work that moves her. It's work that she was put here to do.
How many people do you know who can honestly say that?
Gentry's one. She's not researching a cure for cancer or AIDS. Neither is she working to eradicate world hunger or global warming.
She's a Jazz promoter and personal manager. You read that right — a Jazz promoter and manager.
This might be a man's world, but it wouldn't be nothin' without this woman's work.
And if you know anything of Cincinnati's Jazz scene, you know that promoting Jazz isn't very easy and neither is managing someone who plays it for a living. There is now a smattering of Jazz clubs and other businesses that present Jazz around town, namely The Greenwich, The Blue Wisp, Sonny's, Kaldi's Coffeehouse & Bookstore and Borders Books & Music.
But what of those dark, cavernous and funky holes where you could sit right up next to the players, an arm's length from the bandstand? Where are the players, the major and minor talents?
Back in the day, Cincinnati was bustling with Jazz. You wouldn't know it by perusing its current musical landscape, but this city once played host to Count Basie, Duke Ellington and, yes, once had a joint named the Cotton Club.
But that was then and this is now. Gentry, downsized from Gibson Greetings after 11 years as an accountant, got serious about her passion for Jazz and decided to do something about it.
"Around 30, I had an epiphany," she says, her normally deep alto even huskier from a late-summer cold. "I didn't want to be an accountant the rest of my life. I felt the creative side of me was lost. I knew I was really getting back into my passion for music."
A Middletown native raised on a diet of Rock, Jazz, Blues and Hip Hop, Gentry, 34, says she found a passion for music at an early age.
"I am passionate about Jazz," she says. "Music can move you. There is a level of people who just enjoy it, and there's a level of people who it's just a part of their soul and that's me."
This revelation bubbled up like a Max Roach solo.
Gentry says that by the time she graduated from Xavier University with an accounting degree, she was "burned out on the numbers game." Like most of her generation, though, she stuck with the sure thing.
It was a trio known around town as The Jazz Mafia — Al "Bug" Williams and Greg and Kenny Turner — who inspired Gentry to again dip her toe into the rhythmic wading pool.
Williams is the foreboding brotha who runs a monthly Jazz salon called The Loft Society. Greg Turner is a Jazz announcer with a Rain Man-like knowledge of Jazz. His brother, Kenny, is a garden-variety hardcore fan.
"Greg is the one who always talked to me about different musicians and their histories and why they play the way they do," Gentry says. "I went with Greg, Al and Kenny to see Elvin Jones play at Gilly's in Dayton and I tell everybody that was my baptism by fire. One year later I promoted my first show, which was (trumpeter/composer) Mike Wade. (Greenwich bartender) Kenny Jones came up with the idea for me to promote my first show."
That was in 1998.
Gentry now is Wade's manager and executive producer of Reality, his latest FunkHipHopSoulJazz gumbo. Meanwhile, she's brought to Cincinnati shows featuring saxophonist Javon Jackson and a New York all-star lineup headed by pianist Mulgrew Miller, heir apparent to former John Coltrane sidekick McCoy Tyner.
It's more difficult than it sounds, this faxing, phoning, e-mailing, writing, cajoling, begging, booking, contracting and contacting. Especially in a city whose club owners seem mired in complacency with the same acts week in and week out.
"The scene of Jazz here is lacking and it could be better," Gentry says. "We have musicians here and enough resources to make it better. I think there's complacency here. A lot of people complain about things, a lot of people try to be cheap about things. Get rid of that cheap, complacent mindset.
"If you can't make things happen, at least support it."
Tell that to the half-empty room during the next gig. Hopefully someone will be listening besides the regulars.
contact Kathy y. wilson: [email protected]