On February 17 of last year, guitarist Jacob Deaton climbed the basement stage at the Elliott Street Deli and Pub in Castleberry Hill, hoping to find a new audience, in a fresh venue, thirsty for original jazz. Since then, a growing list of musicians have taken the stage twice a month, turning Elliott Street into ground zero for a new offshoot of the always evolving Atlanta jazz scene.
To mark the first anniversary of his “Sounds From the Underground” series, Deaton has put together a week-long celebration that begins tonight. From Monday to Wednesday, two bands will take the stage each night starting at 9. Thursday will feature Stephen Wood, the Ayah Drummers and saxophonist Eric Fontaine with strings. Prices each night are $8 at the door or $5 through BrownPaperTickets.com.
On Friday night, alto saxophonist Mace Hibbard will bring his quintet to the club for two sets, and Saturday will feature two sets by the Tree-O of Love, an ensemble led by drummer Justin Chesarek. Tickets for each of those nights are $10 at the door or $7 online. Deaton will lead a jam session following the two weekend shows.
Most of the bands that have played “Sounds From the Underground” are made up of younger musicians yearning for a place to perform original music, and Deaton has given it to them. To increase their exposure, he has even recorded and posted most of the performances on YouTube. Over the year, every night of the series has featured at least four acts, and only two have played the series twice.
“That’s a lot of different groups that are writing creative music,” Deaton said. “What we needed was a place where people could expect to hear the best or the newest thing hot off the press in Atlanta, a place where people could come and just check out music — art music that’s original to the artist and improvisational in nature.”
Some of the music is strongly rooted in contemporary jazz, but much of it is somewhat off the beaten path. These are acts that might not draw much of an audience at other jazz venues in Atlanta, but at Elliott Street Deli, where each show has been free for the 30 to 50 people who show up, they have a sounding board.
Deaton also isn’t limiting himself to jazz. He has presented a string quartet and has a clarinet duo on the roster for March. While the audience typically ranges in age from the early 20s to early 30s, reflecting the ages of most of the performers, Deaton said he’s seen people in their 50s and 60s check out some of the strangest music he has presented.
“I realize this music may be different from what you normally listen to, but give it a chance,” he urged. “Take away all preconceived notions of what you think you like or what you’re not going to like. Throw that all away.” For the anniversary shows, Deaton has mixed some established acts with the lesser-known ones, keeping his goal of showcasing a younger generation of musicians at the forefront.
Most of all, he wants “Sounds From the Underground” to provide a space for original, improvised music to flourish in Atlanta. Since he started the series, the Elliott Street venue has begun showcasing jazz on other nights of the week, and Deaton is in talks to book jazz at a new venue opening up in the Edgewood area.
Deaton didn’t start out trying to spread his scene across the city. But he’s been working hard at developing an Elliott Street following, and if new venues open up, that’s all the better, he says.
“It’s a dream. I don’t think it’s a pipe dream. It just takes a serious group of musicians under dire circumstances. This music is surviving. It’s survived thus far. It’s going to survive the next 50 years. It’s going to survive the next 100 years.“
The lineup this week:
Monday: Kenosha Kid, Brian Hogans.
Tuesday: Nick Rosen, Ede Wright.
Wednesday: Christopher Alpiar, Trey Wright.
Thursday: Ayah Drummers, Stephen Wood, Eric Fontaine with strings.
Friday: Mace Hibbard Quintet (two sets), late-night jam.
Saturday: Tree-O of Love (two sets), late-night jam.