Exploring Jazz Return to Denton's House Show Scene

In most college towns, a house full of twenty-somethings rocking out to some smooth jazz on a Saturday night may be a peculiar sight, but Denton is definitely no ordinary town. At their jazz night back in February, Mordor House was packed with a crowd eager to hear jazz groups like Pete Fucinaro’s Winter Horns and Roger Hunt’s Denty’s All-Star Breakfast project. Lately, jazz has been making its move back into the house show scene, and Denton seems to be here for it.

Strangely enough, for a show made up of primarily UNT jazz students & alumni, there were hardly any jazz students there, aside from the performers. Most of the people at the Mordor Show in particular were younger college-aged Dentonites looking for somewhere where they could hang out and drink, seeing the music as an added bonus. There was also a wide variety of music fans at math-jazz/prog-rock band Ray Toaster’s recent show in their private house. There may be less jazz students in the audiences at house shows because many of them are busy with their own paying gigs. But even so, jazz acts still know how to pull a crowd! Denton is a special scene filled with skilled musicians who are also passionate and cognizant of other styles of music and their audiences, making them perfect acts to book at house venues.

At a recent Sound Garden show(the venue, not the band), members of the audience turned to one another as Abram Olivas' Double Drum Quintet played their first set of original arrangements, asking, "What's this band's name again?" But the group wasn't a typical band; these musicians routinely form small ensembles as a part of their instruction at UNT. To jazz majors, forming small ensembles at the drop of a hat is second nature, and that process differs from most other bands in Denton who may have formed years in advance. The Abram Olivas Double Drum Quintet had assembled for their first practice session only hours before their gig - and yet, the group played without major hiccups, and the audience at Sound Garden loved it.

When some people think of jazz, they may think of cheesy scat solos and finger-waggles, but that’s hardly the case at house shows in the area. Rather, Denton musicians have been known to blend jazz with many different genres including pop, R&B, gospel, funk, rap, EDM, prog-rock, indie, singer/songwriter, and folk music. This blending of genres keeps the music accessible while still being exciting and eclectic. While there is a thriving DIY scene in Denton, many house venues that would typically hire jazz acts are no longer open; back in 2015, now-closed venues like Hot House, Jagoe House, and Dane Manor would have jazz groups play on a fairly regular basis, but it seems like within the past two years or so, it is far less likely to catch a jazz group on a line-up. Fortunately, great new performance spaces like Mordor House and the Bean Cave have been booking jazz acts every now and then.

Colin Lush of Mordor House pointed out that the “genre constraints the Denton music scene had” was initially why they wanted to start their own venue. “We always tried to have something different going on, and jazz was just something on our list that we were interested in doing.”

With such a wealth and diversity of musical groups in the area, hopefully more house venues will continue to follow suit in closing the gap between the DIY scene and the jazz scene. The large turnouts of enthusiastic listeners at these shows prove that the interest in different genres is totally there, and as long as we have places to play it, there is definitely a great potential to see a resurgence of jazz acts throughout the Denton house show scene.

Header image courtesy to Winter Horns and William Nathman
Header image design by Holden Foster