- Shaun Nelson
"Everything keeps spinning out of this," says Caril Jennings one morning during a conversation with City Weekly about, mostly, the conversion of the long-running program Jazz at the Station to a new online format. In a fittingly jazz-like fashion, her use of "everything" is not just one thing, but many moving parts. The conversation is halted by the phone cutting out due to her pacing around her home, which is followed by her fervent apologies. But she keeps pacing, radiating the kind of restlessness you'd expect of a jazz player—even though she isn't one herself. She's a self-proclaimed "wonderful audience member," or a "vampire" who feeds off the "twitterpated" enthusiasm of Jazz at the Station's younger performers. Most of all, she's one dedicated person responsible for helping to carry on the jazz tradition in Ogden, to both honor its history and to open it up to more people.
In 1998, pretty much the only places to see jazz music locally were the 21+ clubs—which presented a problem for students in the jazz appreciation program at Weber State University, who were required to see a handful of shows per course. Jennings, then the marketing director for the WSU Department of Performing Arts, knew this impediment had to change, and so the Jazz at the Station concert series was born. Blessed on it's very first night by a performance from the godfather of the Ogden jazz scene, the sadly late Joe McQueen, the series quickly earned legitimacy in the local jazz circuit.
The series has since continued, despite the loss of funding from WSU and a new reliance on its alumni and help from the Union Station Foundation to fund the program and pay the professional performers. For 22 years, Jazz at the Station has featured one show every second Wednesday of the month, plus special events like the Heritage Jazz Festival featuring junior and high school student ensembles.
Of course, the pandemic has put a halt to performances as usual. But with the help of one of the very students who found an outlet in the program, Jazz at the Station is finding a new home online. "Jazz is something that has a very prominent history in Ogden," says Ogden musician DeSean Bryant, "especially [related to] the late, great Joe McQueen, and I feel as though we cannot let that die just because we are in a pandemic. Jazz music is survival music, and it's music that's good for the soul."
Bryant, the drummer for the jazz band Metro, played the very first virtual concert on July 8, and was also the one who came to Jennings with the idea and ability to move Jazz at the Station online. "An online platform would allow that escape to the world of music and a world of togetherness," Bryant says. "Streaming Jazz at the Station will be a new step in the direction of reaching people all throughout Ogden and even all of Utah. A live event is always an amazing experience, but with the times we are in we still want to keep people connected to jazz in any way they can while offering that same live experience."
His point is echoed by Jennings who admits that, though viewing music online isn't her preferred entertainment experience—especially as a woman in her 70s who is less comfortable with technology than younger collaborators like Bryant—moving Jazz at the Station online offers the chance for more young people to see it and be moved by it.
The way the two worked together to address the problem represents the generational diversity within the Jazz at the Station community, and in jazz music as a whole. As Jennings puts it, "different ages and experience kind of fall by the way, it just kind of depends on how well you know that tune."
Besides bridging age gaps, Jazz at the Station's companion project—the travelling art exhibit Jazz from the Station—closes any gaps in public memory about jazz's role in ending segregation in Ogden clubs. The aforementioned Joe McQueen, besides being one of the West's great jazz legends, was instrumental in ending segregation in clubs around Ogden. As his popularity grew, he demanded that the white clubs that wanted him so badly let his black fans into the white-only clubs. McQueen grew his popularity and craft at the Porters and Waiters Club, a hotel, restaurant and lounge on historic 25th Street, just steps from the Union Station where black railroad workers could go to rest, eat and enjoy performances from greats like Fats Domino, BB King and Marvin Gaye.
The exhibit focuses on this time in Ogden's history, and the planned fourth installation will feature in particular tales of the Porters and Waiters Club's owner, Anna Belle Weakly. Jennings, who became good friends with Joe McQueen, cites his last wish to her being that Weakly's role in creating space for the Ogden jazz scene to grow and thrive should not be forgotten.
Though the art show will not return until 2021, the accompanying sounds of jazz in Ogden will still be loud and clear thanks to Jennings and Bryant—and, of course, the tradition of Jazz at the Station. Visit facebook.com/Jazz-at-the-Station for info on upcoming Wednesday streams and ways to watch.