It’s Sunday evening, and a small group of people huddle around one end of Bruce Anderson’s dining room table, pondering the contents of a shallow casserole dish. A woman slides a spatula into the thick red sauce and lifts out a flat chunk of something solid.
“What do you think it is?” she says, her voice low beneath the clinking of glasses and the buzz of conversation around her.
“Fish, maybe?” posits the man beside her.
“I’m not sure,” says another.
“Well, whatever it is,” says the woman, tilting the spatula toward a space on her plate between the brightly colored seafood paella and the rich, brown beef stroganoff, “if Bruce made it, I’m sure it’s good.”
Her plate full, the woman threads her way through the crowd and into the living room, where neat rows of fold-up chairs, nearly 50 in all, face a gleaming black grand piano and a tangle of other instruments. She finds a seat toward the back, just as Barbara and Robert Korenberg slide into a pair of seats in the front row.
“I love being able to sit so close,” says Barbara. “I’m just fascinated by watching the pianist’s hands, the way they fly across the keys. It’s so different from being in an auditorium.”
Soon enough, the seats in the living room are full, and a group of six well-dressed musicians files to the front of the room, wedging themselves into what little space is left.
The crowd quiets, and Bruce Anderson steps up to a microphone, beaming.
“I’m glad we’ve all got room to sit tonight,” says Anderson. “Last night, due to some bad math on my part, we couldn’t all fit. So welcome to my house, and welcome to another DalyJazz.”
It’s like this every time, whenever Anderson opens his house on Daly Avenue for an evening of live jazz music. Once an aspiring jazz musician himself – he plays the saxophone – Anderson came to the idea of producing occasional house concerts after spending several years in Paris, where the old traditions of salons and private concerts still thrive.
“I got to visit some really nice small private venues that people did there, and the intimacy of that experience is unmatched,” says Anderson, a hydrologist and water resources consultant by day. “You’re right there with the musicians who are right there with you. It’s an entirely different experience than a large concert hall.”
When he returned to Missoula in 2001, Anderson found not only a dearth of house concerts, but of jazz in general.
“There used to be quite a bit of live jazz in Missoula in the mid- to late-’80s, all kinds of opportunities to hear it downtown,” he recalls. “But by the time I got back here, it seemed like those had really thinned out.”
Then he heard about a series of house concerts run by architect Frank Cikan of Bozeman. Sometime around 2005, Anderson attended his first concert at the Cikan house.
“It was just a great experience there; they opened their home, and the community came out,” recalls Anderson. “I thought, I could do that. Actually, I wasn’t at all sure I could do it; but I thought, a good idea generally works.”
Anderson certainly had the connections to make it work. The former husband of local jazz singer Eden Atwood (the two are still friends, and share custody of their adopted son, Ben), Anderson had become friends with a broad range of American and French jazz musicians over the years. And he had the space, in the form of a
30-by-15-foot living room in the heart of Missoula’s University district.
So in August of 2008, Anderson arranged his first DalyJazz concert, featuring local saxophonist Taylor Herron, along with Atwood and the David Morgenroth Trio.
“It was great,” recalls Anderson of that first concert. “People were really appreciative and attentive. It turned out that there was still a community that’s hungry for good jazz in this town.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Anderson feeds them a first course of gourmet food. Though he says he budgets around
$5 per person for the food, the smorgasbord at last Sunday’s concert seemed considerably richer than that.
“I love to cook for people,” he says. “When it’s just me, it’s usually a tuna sandwich over the sink. So it’s nice to have a reason to cook.”
Since that first concert, Anderson has hosted a parade of visiting musicians, some of them known nationally: saxophonist Grace Kelly, pianist Joey Calderazzo, saxophonist Azar Lawrence (a former sideman of Miles Davis), pianist Geoffrey Keezer, and others. Numerous Montana players have performed, including Chuck Florence, Sam White, Sam McKenzie, Pete Hand, Mike Freemole, and others.
Anyone is welcome at the concerts, although reservations are required at this point, as the available seats often fill up days in advance. While Anderson asks for a donation at the door, any proceeds go to the musicians. He pays for food out of his pocket. For those musicians who don’t live around here, he often pays for their airfare as well.
“I subsidize quite a bit of the costs for doing it myself,” says Anderson. “Some people are loading up their 401(k)s with stocks and bonds; I figure I’m loading up on music for the community. To have the ability to provide music that people would otherwise have no chance to hear around here is exciting. Especially if they’re some of the best musicians I can think of in the jazz world.”
On that recent Sunday night, Bozeman’s Jeni Fleming Group provided the entertainment, swinging through a holiday-themed program of original and classic tunes. The experience was a far cry from Fleming’s gig on Saturday afternoon, singing the national anthem at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, prior to the University of Montana’s nationally broadcast playoff football game.
“I was so nervous for that,” said Fleming before taking the microphone at Anderson’s house. “I’ve never sung for such a big crowd.”
As to which venue suited her better, Fleming didn’t hesitate.
“This is such a great environment to perform in,” she said of Anderson’s house. “People really listen.”
Fleming’s husband and bandmate, guitarist and saxophonist Jake Fleming, echoed that sentiment.
“We’ve done a lot of house concerts, and they’re all different,” said Jake. “Bruce really goes all-out; it’s really cool to get such extravagant food to go with some great music.”
Not that performing in such tight quarters doesn’t come with its challenges.
“People are practically right in your lap,” said Jake. “It can be intimidating at first. But once you get comfortable, it’s wonderful. You know, before television and radio, families would make music together at home. I like to imagine that this kind of concert is a reflection of that older tradition carried on today.”
As to the audience at Sunday’s concert, none complained of leaving hungry. Instead, they riffed on a refrain of “amazing” and “blessing.”
“The quality of these musicians has been amazing,” said Robert Korenberg, a Missoula dermatologist who has attended several past DalyJazz events. “It’s just an incredible thing to have such great music in such an intimate setting.”
“I feel like I’ve learned things that I never knew about music,” said author David Cates, who likewise has become something of a regular at Anderson’s events. “It’s a totally different experience, being in such close quarters with the musicians. I hear things at these concerts that I’ve never heard before. It’s just an awesome venue.”
After the concert, as the crowd began to dissipate, John Newman frolicked with two friends in the snowy boulevard in front of Anderson’s house.
“I just can’t believe this place is here,” said Newman, who attended the concert after hearing about it from a friend. It was his first DalyJazz experience; but he predicted, it won’t be his last.
“I’m just blown away,” he said.
Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photographer Linda Thompson can be reached at 523-5270 or at email@example.com.