Category: Music

BLStet – 1/3/19

Performance Date: 1/3/19

Artist: BLStet

Song(s): “Detitled”, “Green Finch”“Milestones”

Full lineup:

  • Brady Lewis – Trumpet
  • Kendrick Smith – Alto Saxophone
  • Jawwad Spann – Tenor Saxophone
  • Jesse Gannon – Piano
  • Bernard Terry – Bass
  • Dhoruba Shakur – Drums

Trumpeter Brady Lewis made his debut at the Dark Room with a band that featured some of the heavier hitters on the local jazz scene. I’ve personally witnessed each and every one of these players destroy the stages they play on!

It’s always fun to hear a new band perform at the Dark Room, because I don’t know what I’m going to hear. I never know if I’ll hear all jazz standards, original songs, or a combination of both. It’s impressive when a set of mostly originals keeps an audience’s undivided attention. Such was the case when Brady Lewis’s band played at the Dark Room early this year.

Lewis’s compositions showcase both an excitement and a sophistication. Almost none of the songs feature the straight-ahead, swing-style rhythm that we’re used to hearing in jazz, yet all of the songs have an indescribably familiar quality. Maybe it’s simply that the playing is so strong; there’s no weak link in this lineup.

This performance is pretty much gold throughout, but here’s a couple of my favorite moments:

Watch the whole performance here:

Anita Jackson – 3/8/19

Performance Date: 3/8/19

Artist: Anita Jackson

Song(s): “Brick House”, “Proud Mary”, “At Last”

Full lineup:

  • Joshua Krump – drums
  • Teddy Brookins – bass
  • Darius Savage – piano
  • Anita Jackson – vocals

Whenever Anita Jackson takes the stage, there are bound to be some surprises…

Her Dark Room performances tend to bring in some of St. Louis’s most storied soul singers, as well as some of the city’s most highly-respected jazz musicians. It can turn into a literal game of musical chairs!

It’s not only an interactive experience between the musicians though. The crowd gets to make their mark on a performance as well, by making song requests and dancing, sometimes with Ms. Jackson herself! Her band is adept at fielding requests, though they joke from the stage that they’ll “butcher them all.”

Though the band plays wonderful renditions of R&B classics like Deniece Williams’s “Free” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” in the first set, it was the second set on this particular evening that had the crowd going. The ultra-high-energy mood that you’ll see here really sums up what an Anita Jackson show is all about: having a good time. Sometimes we can be too serious with our music preferences or hold unnecessary ideals about what is art. I say, look no further than the Dark Room stage while Anita Jackson stands on it. None of those high-minded conversations matter, when all we really want to do in this life is have a good time…

The second set contains an all-out extravaganza of funk. First, Jackson invites Silky Sol to the stage to sing A Taste of Honey’s “Boogie Oogie Oogie”, complete with an amazing bass solo by Teddy Brookins. He catches so much fire that Jackson ends up fanning him off!

Then, in honor of International Women’s Day, Jackson starts off the Commodores’ classic “Brick House” by singing the bass line. She then proceeds to sing the song from a different perspective: the woman’s perspective. It’s really a must-watch moment, with Brookins continuing to reach deep down into the funk, with percussive slap bass perfection.

Next, she invites Chuck Flowers up to sing a request, Bobby’s Womack’s “You’re Welcome, Stop On By”.

The crowd is riled up by this point, but soon they really get rollin’ during the American classic, “Proud Mary”. When the band transitions to the famous fast section of the song, the crowd loses their collective minds!

Watch the full performance here:


Kim Fuller & Tom Byrne – 9/2/18

Performance Date: 9/2/18

Artist: Kim Fuller & Tom Byrne

Song: “Dock of the Bay”


One thing I love about Dark Room performances is hearing all the different influences that go into each artist’s personality. Jazz overlaps with other musical styles on a regular basis, and the individual voice of each artist determines what kinds of other influences you might hear in a performance.

Kim Fuller has been a wonderful artist for the Dark Room Stage, especially for our brunch. She has a very nice, bright voice and such a radiant personality! Once during a performance, she wound up doing an impromptu tap dance!

After an Aretha Franklin tribute of “Chain of Fools” and “Respect”, she and Byrne did a version of another great soul song, “Dock of the Bay,” which famously features a whistle during the outro.

Fuller asked if there was a whistler in the crowd because she never learned to whistle. No one volunteered, but when it got to that section of the song, Fuller asked the crowd again. Right on cue, a young woman started to whistle, and she sounded great. She whistled that whole section before the crowd erupted in applause and laughter. It was a fun moment, with smiles on faces all around.

These are the kind of special moments that happen at the Dark Room that truly make it a special place.

The intimate atmosphere of the room really lends itself to organic performer-listener engagement.

Watch the full performance here:


The Unity Quartet – 11/29/18

Performance Date: 11/29/18

Artist: The Unity Quartet

Song(s): “Sandu”,  “Bernie’s Tune” 

Full lineup:

  • Ben Reece – Tenor Saxophone
  • Austin Cebulske – Tenor Saxophone
  • Ryan Marquez – Organ
  • Demarius Hicks – Drums

One of the most consistently strong groups that has played The Dark Room is the Unity Quartet. The unique instrumentation is enough to perk up the ear, and the strength of the musicianship entices listeners back again and again.

Led by saxophonist Ben Reece, the quartet featured Austin Cebulske on tenor saxophone, Ryan Marquez on organ, and Demarius Hicks on drums, on this date. Each one of these guys can play up a storm, so having all their voices combined on the same bandstand made for some dynamic musical conversation!

One highlight was early in the set, during “Sandu”. Cebulske takes the first solo, and with Marquez providing a strong harmonic foundation, he eventually blasts off into a higher register, giving the whole band a sound reminiscent of the Saturday Night Live house band during the show’s closing credits. It’s an all out organ-drenched swingin’ soul jam!

The band is great at taking an old standard and updating it with modern, impenetrable rhythms and stylized phrasing. A good example from this set is “Bernie’s Tune.” The groove has a “sneaky” quality to it that is irresistible.

Hicks keeps it extra funky during his drum solo, and a nice exchange develops between Reece and the funky drummer, keeping things interesting, before the main theme of the song reemerges.

Watch the full performance here:

Owen Ragland Quartet – 8/17/18

Performance Date: 8/17/18

Artist: Owen Ragland Quartet

Song(s): “Afro Blue”, “Someday My Prince Will Come”“Let You Go” 

Full lineup:

  • Khamali Cuffie-Moore – Trumpet
  • Tilton Yokley – Bass
  • Owen Ragland – Piano & Keyboards
  • Keith Bowman – Drums

A night with Owen Ragland and crew is guaranteed to be chock full of chilled-out grooves that have more of a modern tilt, with neo-soul, hip-hop, and even electronic influences. Eighteen-year-old Ragland brings this multi-stylistic approach, bolstered by years of piano training, to every Dark Room performance, and it’s a wonder to be able to experience the growth of this young musical mind.

One of the standouts from this particular evening was the now-classic, “Afro-Blue” by Robert Glasper (ft. Erykah Badu). During trumpeter Khamali Cuffie-Moore’s solo, the beat morphs into an impeccable, glitchy modern groove held down by Tilton Yokley (bass) and Keith Bowman (drums).

As we saw in an earlier post, musicians who play with each other consistently start to anticipate their bandmates’ every move. You can see this band developing these complex, non-verbal interactions, which you might call interplay. Wonderful, spontaneous moments able to occur more freely when a band becomes more familiar with each other’s playing style.

A good example of this can be heard here. The open-ended jam begins out of abstraction, like something Philip Glass might come up with. Then, sensing a moment to bring up the energy of the band, Bowman takes his solo. He brings the energy up, takes it down, and then brings it all the way back up again, before silencing himself resolutely to let Ragland’s beautiful piano shine and take the song out…


A couple other highlights:

  • Not only does the band do great “Nu jazz”, they’re also adept at the classic jazz sound, exemplified with the group’s rendition of “Someday My Prince Will Come”. Note sprinkles of the blues throughout Cuffie-Moore’s smooth and thoughtful solo.
  • “Let You Go” by Moonchild: Another perfect example of the undeniable groove this band is capable of. The vibe of the group can be credited heavily to both Yokley, whose hip-hop influenced bass sound provides rhythmic variety and harmonic counterpoint, and Bowman, whose heartfelt beats are the foundation for it all.




Kasimu-tet – 8/8/18

Performance Date: 8/8/18

Artist: Kasimu-tet 

Song(s): “Maiden Voyage”, “The Sidewinder”, “Caravan”

Full lineup:

  • Kasimu Taylor – Trumpet
  • Ben Wheeler – Bass
  • Jesse Gannon – Piano
  • Demarius Hicks – Drums

The Kasimu-tet has been a mainstay at The Dark Room since its inception in 2014. As part of the weekly Wednesday Night Jazz Crawl in Grand Center, bandleader Kasimu Taylor is able to draw in a wide range of listeners during his exploratory sets.

The Kasimu-tet features a stellar lineup of sidemen, with Jesse Gannon on piano, Ben Wheeler on bass, and Demarius Hicks on drums. However, part of the broad appeal of these special Wednesday night sets is that Taylor opens the stage as an open jam for the second set. Anyone possessing the skills, or simply the courage, to join the band is welcome. It’s an atmosphere that can create many wonderful spontaneous moments.


Here’s a few moments from one such inspiring set of jams:

~The Kasimu-tet starts their set with an abstract yet dynamic rendition of “Maiden Voyage” by Herbie Hancock. Gannon’s solo takes us through a wide range of harmonic territory during his solo, before passing over to Taylor, whose solo climaxes with phrasing that pierces through Hicks’s wild, flailing drums.


~In the second set, the composite jam group tackles Lee Morgans’s 1964 hit composition, “The Sidewinder”. Equal parts funky and jazzy, this version features great solos from Kwanae Johnson, followed by Kasimu Taylor, as well as guitarist Josiah Joyce.


~The last song of the night (but certainly not least), the Duke Ellington-penned “Caravan”, also had some great moments, featuring trumpeter Danny Campbell and budding vocalist/pianist Alexis Adams, who added “squeezebox” (a.k.a. accordion).

Watch the full video here:

Chrissy Renick – 12/15/18

Performance Date: 12/15/18

Artist: Chrissy Renick

Song(s): “Nardis”, “Valerie”

Full lineup:

  • Andrew Stephen – Keyboards
  • Jake Stergos – Bass
  • Tim Moore – Drums
  • Brady Lewis – Trumpet
  • Chrissy Renick – Vocals

Chrissy Renick has recently proven her formidable talents as a featured vocalist during Mo Egeston’s ‘Late Night Grooves’ sets on Saturday nights. One night last December, she took full rein with her own band.

The crowd was captivated by Renick since the first note she sang during sound check, and she commanded their attention until the end of the night.

The second set in particular held a couple of highlights, including a spacy version of Miles Davis composition “Nardis” and an energetic “Valerie”, a Mark Ronson song famously sung by Amy Winehouse.  Both songs feature fantastic solos from Stephen on keys, Lewis on trumpet, and Ms. Renick herself scatting, pitch-perfect.

Watch the full performance here:


Ptah Williams Trio – 9/7/18

Performance Date: 9/7/18

Artist: Ptah Williams Trio

Song(s): “Mandela City”, “Tones for Joan’s Bones”

Full lineup:

  • Ptah Williams – Piano
  • Darrell Mixon – Bass
  • Gary Sykes – Drums

Jazz is all about interplay and even intuition. Players have to anticipate their bandmates’ every move. And of course, the longer the band has been playing together, the more the band is able to communicate on this almost telepathic level. Such is the case with Ptah Williams, Darrell Mixon, and Gary Sykes, who have been playing together for over 30 years.

I wanted to share this video, which captures the return of drummer Gary Sykes, who was absent from the Ptah Williams Trio for months last year due to heart complications.

It was a breath of fresh air to hear Sykes on the drums again with his longtime musical comrades. There seems to be an effortless synergy that happens when the three of them get together. Check out their rendition of Chick Corea’s “Tones for Joan’s Bones” or the Williams original “Mandela City” to see what I mean.

Their performance is a testament to the power of the unit—not Williams, Mixon, and Sykes as individuals, but the group as a whole—which truly becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Watch the full performance here:


Mo E featuring Snoopy, Jingo, and Dhoruba – 9/1/18

Performance Date: 9/1/18

Artist: Mo E featuring Snoopy, Jingo, and Dhoruba

Song: “Butterfly”/”Everybody Loves the Sunshine”

Full lineup:

  • Eric “Snoopy” Tyler – Bass
  • Duane “Jingo” Williams – Percussion
  • Dhoruba Shakur – Drums
  • Mo Egeston – Piano/Keyboards

Even though I came into my job as a reasonably knowledgeable fan of Herbie Hancock’s work, for some reason I had always skipped over his 1974 album “Thrust”. So, I’d never really heard the classic song “Butterfly” before the summer of 2016, when I started working with the Kranzberg Arts Foundation. It turns out to be one of the more popular songs for artists to reinterpret on the Dark Room stage.

The version I present here is the most electrifying version I’ve heard while performing sound engineering duties here (so far). It features Mo Egeston on keys, Dhoruba Shakur on drums, Eric “Snoopy” Tyler on bass, and Duane “Jingo” Williams on percussion.

Egeston flies just like a butterfly on electric piano before switching back to synth, at which point Shakur breaks it down, and the song takes on an early ‘90’s techno vibe. They play the “Butterfly” rhythmic motif once more in a climax, before transitioning seamlessly into Roy Ayers “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” for more abundant jams!

Watch the full performance here: