The Southside Railroad: a 132-mile ribbon of iron running along the south bank of the Appomattox River between Petersburg and Lynchburg, VA. In the early 1900s, railroads like the Southside facilitated the great diaspora of jazz, from the the streets of New Orleans to the speakeasies of Chicago, into the boroughs of the Big Apple and beyond. Today, in our jet-slick age of the Internet, this art form is practiced and developed by musicians of uncountable cultural stripes in all corners of the globe.
And so it is that jazz has come to reside even in the unlikely rural reaches of southern Virginia. Over recent decades this region, soaked in its indigenous sounds of Bluegrass, C&W, and Piedmont Blues, has also become home to a number of outstanding musicians whose passion is the art of jazz improvisation. Four such musicians make up the Southside Jazz Quartet, a group from the whistle stop of Farmville that has been sounding the jazz message along the Southside corridor since 1994.
The music is neo-classic, in the mainest of jazz mainstreams. Saxophonist Charlie Kinzer, a musical product of the Deep South (Alabama and Louisiana), contributed the two originals, both inspired by the somnolent ambience of the rail line through hamlets like Rice, Tuggle, and Prospect. The melodic core of his playing is especially well complemented by the strong rhythm work of pianist Stan Smith and drummer Gordon Smith, brothers and natives of the Southside. Their unified musical conception stands out on the second-line treatment of “Well, You Needn’t” and on Duke Ellington’s sinuous anthem of the deepest jungle, “Caravan.”
Pat Lawrence, born in Indiana and trained on the Midway of Chicago, supplies a red carpet of bass throughout and shines in a solo role on the Bill Evans favorite, “Sometime Ago,” as well as the medium-tempo “Lady Bird.” The quartet is joined by a frequent guest, trumpeter Rick Neller, for an understated, acoustically funky interpretation of Jeff Lorber’s “Tune 88.”
The title of the collection is borrowed from Clarence Cason, author of a searing review of the American South in 1934. Certain significant philosophical aspects of the cigar-clouded, laconic outlook of the SSJQ and its jazz are aptly reflected in Cason’s musings: “The southerner acts intuitively. He does not deem rationalization or scientific vindication necessary before his head can rest easily upon the pillow. Indeed, in the face of the deeper questions of life, persons of consequence in the South[side] would simply rather go fishing.”