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Richmond just may be experiencing its Golden Age of jazz. 

All that Jazz

There are two ways to look at Richmond's jazz scene.

Frankly, it looks pretty meager compared to the impossible standard set by New York, where more famous players perform in a week than visit Richmond in a year. One strategy is to note this obvious fact with a tinge of cosmopolitan regret, stay at home by the fire with a snifter full of finely aged brandy, and make gentle fun of the bourgeois strivers on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

Of course, if you do that, you'll miss a lot of good music.

Richmond is going through a fairly good period for jazz. Maybe not a Golden Age, but who can tell — ages don't turn golden until they're over. You can hear jazz every night on Peter Solomon's program on WCVE, or you can go out and hear it live somewhere every night of the week. There are a number of great players around, and a lot of places to go and see them.

Possibly the biggest buzz is being generated by The Devil's Workshop big band. Organized late last year by Stephen Norfleet, the band features a lineup drawn almost entirely from people associated with Virginia Commonwealth University's jazz program. "They have one of the tightest horn sections around," says Rene Marie, a locally based singer on the verge of the national release of her new album on MaxJazz. Marie built a strong local reputation as Rene Croan and has faced some controversy for changing to her given name from her married surname. But she dismisses the naysayers. "I think the music is what counts," she insists.

Marie, one of the hardest-working musicians in town, has a regular Thursday night gig at Carnivore's. Her album's release, in April, will most likely be celebrated with a local party, followed by a tour that will take her, among other places, to the famed Blue Note in New York.

Another local jazz band with an imminent new release is Glenn Wilson and the Jazzmaniacs. Their CD, "One Man's Blues" (Sunnyside) was recorded live at Bogart's Back Room last year during a memorable three-night stand.

The venerable Back Room is one of Richmond's longest running jazz venues. And after being closed briefly last year, it has reopened with the same ambience (and a new PA system) and new Thursday shows featuring a jazz trio with special guests.

"It's going over pretty good," says owner Mark Karakas. The musical guests are a wild card. "You never know what is going to happen."

And the Richmond Jazz Society will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Saturday, April 29, at the Renaissance Ballroom (formerly the Cornerstone). The group promises two floors of music, Cajun cuisine, and a host of musical acts that have not yet been announced. (Although Marie confides she will be there.)

And this only scratches the surface of the local scene. In an interview before his recent Richmond appearance, bassist Christian McBride said that a lot of jazz musicians prefer to play in a club setting. "They feel like they play better when they are in that intimate environment," he said. With someone playing jazz somewhere in town every night of the week, there is never a bad time to find out what he means.

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