Firehouse 12 in New Haven is a lot like a great jazz composition—it has a theme and an arrangement, but it’s the improvisation that makes it swing. Nick Lloyd is the talented improvisor at this unique establishment—the only club in the state that promotes live jazz exclusively.
Most Friday nights you’ll find everyone from local up-and-comers to accomplished jazz masters performing in a high-tech recording studio that doubles as a performance space. A stylish bar downstairs primes patrons with Harvey Wallbangers and other old-school cocktails, but music is king here. When asked about the types of acts he books, Lloyd says, “I don’t have a hard-and-fast rule about the particular subgenre . . . I like to book groups that are doing something new and creative within the broad outlines of jazz or improvised music, not simply rehashing styles and conventions of the past.” It’s no wonder musicians like to gig here.
We sat in on a session with the Marty Ehrlich Rites Quartet. Ehrlich is considered to be a leading figure in experimental jazz, and there was an air of excitement in the audience, obviously knowledgeable about the music they were about to hear. With just 75 seats, the room had the feel of a gathering of friends. Reedman Ehrlich and the band played nine of his original numbers from current CD Frog Leg Logic. Each player demonstrated virtuosity in compact, terse solos, then rejoined the combo on the last verse and chorus. At the end of the night, concertgoers clearly felt they'd gotten their money’s worth. Ehrlich said, “I love to play here. The club has a real New York City feel to it, acoustics are fantastic—and it’s so much easier to find a parking space.”
Lloyd bought the 1905 firehouse on Crown Street from the city of New Haven in 2000. Renovations took years; he and his wife, Megan Craig, moved into the upstairs loft in 2004, while construction of the studio continued into 2005. Although Lloyd's recording business keeps him busy, jazz is his passion. “For me the most exciting stuff happening right now is with young groups and musicians who are indifferent to the stylistic boundaries of the past. For them, there is nothing to separate traditional from avant-garde.” he says. “My goal, from a curatorial perspective, is to present this music in a setting that allows the audience to experience all the nuance and fine gradations of expression in a performance—the things that make jazz/improvised music so compelling in the first place.”
Bill Frisell’s Beautiful Dreamers featuring Eyvind Kang and Rudy Royston will perform on Jan. 25, and the Spring Jazz Series runs Fridays from March 16 through June 8.
For schedule & info call (203) 785-0468 or visit firehouse12.com.