Music as Art: Sunday Jazz Jam & Grand Stafford Theater

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Greg Tivis' Jazz Jam is the First Sunday of every month at Downtown Uncorked.

Music As Art

Stories by Allison Kendall / Photos by Crystal Littrell & JP Beato III

First Sunday Jazz Jam

Live music: it’s more personal, more in your face, more pulse-throbbing than anything your iPod or MP3 player can manage. The Bryan/College Station area has experienced a flood of new live music venues including Luigi’s, Veritas, and Downtown Uncorked. First Sunday Jazz Jam, founded by professional musician Greg Tivis, is everything Bryan/College Station. It’s your grandfather, your father, and your neighbor, even your kids, all coming together to play – and enjoy – great music.

How did the First Sunday Jazz Jam come to be?

Tivis says he noticed the influx of live musician jazz jams to the area, but also noticed that most didn’t see long-term success. “The jazz jams that I’ve seen were a weekly jam, and played mostly modern jazz music,” says Tivis. “Modern jazz has a much smaller audience, and weekly sessions are harder to maintain.”

Tivis once played on the Mississippi Queen where he grew to love the feel and sound of New Orleans jazz and got to work with many older musicians. When he moved to Bryan/College Station, he knew he needed to start a jazz jam with the “NOLA” theme. With the opening of Downtown Uncorked in 2009, Tivis had found the perfect venue.

Greg Tivis’ Jazz Jam is the First Sunday of every month at Downtown Uncorked.

Music As Art

Stories by Allison Kendall / Photos by Crystal Littrell & JP Beato III

First Sunday Jazz Jam

Live music: it’s more personal, more in your face, more pulse-throbbing than anything your iPod or MP3 player can manage. The Bryan/College Station area has experienced a flood of new live music venues including Luigi’s, Veritas, and Downtown Uncorked. First Sunday Jazz Jam, founded by professional musician Greg Tivis, is everything Bryan/College Station. It’s your grandfather, your father, and your neighbor, even your kids, all coming together to play – and enjoy – great music.

How did the First Sunday Jazz Jam come to be?

Tivis says he noticed the influx of live musician jazz jams to the area, but also noticed that most didn’t see long-term success. “The jazz jams that I’ve seen were a weekly jam, and played mostly modern jazz music,” says Tivis. “Modern jazz has a much smaller audience, and weekly sessions are harder to maintain.”

Tivis once played on the Mississippi Queen where he grew to love the feel and sound of New Orleans jazz and got to work with many older musicians. When he moved to Bryan/College Station, he knew he needed to start a jazz jam with the “NOLA” theme. With the opening of Downtown Uncorked in 2009, Tivis had found the perfect venue.

He created a structured program that plays a genre popular to all – Dixieland jazz music – the “New Orleans” style of jazz associated with riverboats and Mardi Gras. “Some jazz jams come and go, but the New Orleans genre conjures up a different theme; think of Louis Armstrong and Al Hirt.”

At its core, what is Jazz Jam? Who performs at the monthly event?

The First Sunday Jazz Jam held at Downtown Uncorked not only stars Greg Tivis’ band, but also features other local and out-of-town jazz players. “Two-and-a-half years into it, I pretty much know everyone who will walk through the door, but sometimes we’ll get new people. Last time we had a 78-year-old trumpet player.”

Musicians who want to play will be called up one at a time and featured; it’s like a show. The Jazz Jam attracts all types of professional musicians even symphony players often sit in. The finale? Songs made famous by Louis Armstrong himself including “When The Saints Go Marching In” and “Hello, Dolly!” According to Tivis, musicians will often begin parading up and down the restaurant sometimes ending up in the streets of Downtown Bryan.

How has Jazz Jam attracted such a loyal following?

“The First Sunday Jazz Jam is the only place where you can hear this kind of music at a good quality without traveling to big cities like San Antonio or Austin.” Tivis notes that one of the biggest draws is that people don’t know who is going to be there or what they are going to bring to the table.

How does live music contribute to the community?

“As a professional musician, I used to make a living playing at weddings, but that has pretty much dried up.” Couples are now starting to use iPods and stereo systems to accompany their receptions; but it’s just not the same. “I haven’t given up, I just had to diversify.” Tivis teaches private lessons and jazz community lessons, and still performs live music three to four times a week.

“I’m lucky to have a really good house band as dedicated to keeping the jam alive as I am. I’m very pleased and hope the jam session continues for many more years. I hope it becomes part of the downtown vibe, which I think it has.”

Greg Tivis’ First Sunday Jazz Jam is from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month at Downtown Uncorked.

The Grand Stafford Theater in downtown Bryan will reopen as a live music venue September 6.

Grand Stafford Theater

In its original incarnation, it was the voices of such luminaries as Grace Kelly and Marlon Brando that echoed through the Dixie Theatre’s walls in Downtown Bryan. Then came years ofsilence interrupted only by the cooing of pigeons as the once-grand theater stood empty after a fire in the early 80’s. Managing partners Cody Marx Bailey and Jose Arredondo discuss the venue now known as the Grand Stafford Theater and what the future holds.

What kinds of music will the Grand Stafford Theater feature?

The partners agree that all genres of music will be featured in the new-and-improved venue, from Classical to Heavy Metal and Americana to Electronic. The performances will be kept diverse so that every demographic in Bryan/College Station will be catered to: “Over time, we feel that the community will know us for quality,” says Arredondo. The pair says they are booking regional and national acts. This fall they have three Grammy nominated artists.

The Stafford has gone through a lot during its 100-year history. How is the new Grand Stafford Theater going to be different?

“It’s going to be what’s called a listening room – a live music venue,” says Arredondo. The new Grand Stafford isn’t the typical Northgate-esque bar where socializing is the goal and the only real purpose for music is background filler. “We’re aiming to bring an experience that’s on par with any city in America.”

Why is live music important to the community?

“A healthy society has a substantial appreciation and strong support for artistic expression,” says Bailey. The two partners agreed that Downtown is ripe for a full-fledged live music venue.

Will any of the historical elements remain the same?

While the historic aspects of the venue will be kept, features such as lighting, sound equipment, acoustic treatments and the small things like the eye-sore of an “exit sign” that had been inconveniently placed above the stage will be improved. “So much thought – so much meticulous detail – we’re making sure when the artist arrives to town, the entire experience has been as well thought out as any other stop on their tour,” says Bailey. “Putting the musicians first is the key to being able to pull the quality acts we’re aiming for.”

How are you planning to attract an audience?

Bailey and Arredondo both say that in order to effectively promote each show booking will be done three to four months prior to the performance. Because the community will know in advance who is coming to town, people can plan well in advance to attend the shows. This will also help with word of mouth.

While the performances at the Grand Stafford Theater are the main attraction, the theater will include a full-service bar featuring classic cocktails and an extensive beer list. “This isn’t the type of place where you will find karaoke night and cover bands,” says Arredondo.

The Grand Stafford Theater will open September 6 with Dallas-based “Ishi” followed up by Grammy Award Winning Latin Rock band “Grupo Fantasma” on First Friday. For more information and full concert calendar, visit grandstaffordtheater.com.