WRUR 88.5 Different Radio

Jeff Spevak

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle. He has also been published in Musician and High Times magazines, contributed to WXXI, City newspaper and Post magazine, and occasionally performs spoken-word pieces around town. Some of his haikus written during the Rochester jazz festival were self-published in a book of sketches done by Scott Regan, the host of WRUR’s Open Tunings show. Spevak founded an award-winning barbecue team, The Smokin’ Dopes, and believes Bigfoot is real. His book on the life of a Lake Ontario sailor who survived the sinking of his ship during World War II will be published in April of 2019 by Lyons Press.

Music is a time machine. Thirty-six years, "It's hard for me to get my head around that … " says Joe Locke.

It's been almost four decades since the birth of "In Front of the Silver Screen," if you're lucky enough to find a vinyl copy of it, the only form in which it officially exists. It's the hard-to-find debut album by who was to become one of the world's pre-eminent jazz vibraphonists. The liner notes insist the album was recorded on June 1 and 2, 1983, although Locke thinks it might have been two sets in one night. But he concedes his memory of the event might be a little off. He was only 22 at the time, and maybe a little caught up in the moment.

His first album!


Black Violin is not a Frankenstein creation, where we can see all of the parts stitched together, the bolts sticking out of the neck, the lumbering gait. “We approach the performance like rappers, but the music is approached sort of like Beethoven,” says Kev Marcus.

Black Violin. Kev Marcus on violin, Wil B on viola. Plus a DJ and drums. On Thursday, they’re bringing this surprising fusion of classical and hip-hop to Kodak Center, 200 W. Ridge Road.

The band’s new album, “Take the Stairs,” was released earlier this week.

There are times when Greg Townson seems to be spread so thin, you can read these words right through him. He’s a co-founder of The Hi-Risers, the glorious garage-rock trio, a steady part of the Rochester scene since 1989. Playing guitar on tours with soul singer John Ellison and pop singer Eleni Mandell. Or he’s jetting back and forth between here and London as a hired guitar, or to produce a record for a band like the Swiss rockabilly outfit Hillbilly Moon Explosion. The song, “My Love For Evermore,” Townson says, “is a standard in Europe, people have it tattooed on them.

Water Street Music Hall, which had been the most-significant club on the local scene since the late 1980s, is rising from the ashes of discord once again. The two-headed entertainment center announced its return Wednesday afternoon with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the red brick, turn-of-the-last century old warehouse tucked away off of Andrews Street in the St. Paul Quarter.

Owner Peter Sewell explains that the extensive renovations are working alongside a repurposing of the two rooms, a restaurant called Jack’s on Water Street and the larger music venue side, Water Street 2020.

A re-branding of Water Street was essential. Sewell says the venue’s nights of bad economic management and hip-hop brawls are over.

David McClister / Futurebirdsmusic.com

This is the start. It’s like the opening moments of a“Star Trek” episode, where you know the new young guy in the blue shirt will be the one to die at the hands of an alien, before Captain Kirk works it out. Likewise, the editors at WXXI have shot down all of my suggestions, so you can help name this column. Until then, it’s called “Your Name Here.”

Bat McGrath died Tuesday night, in much the same way as he wrote and sang. With no drama, no fuss, quietly, at his mountainside home in Tennessee with his wife Tricia Cast, all on his terms.

A member of the Rochester Music Hall of Fame, the 73-year-old McGrath was diagnosed with cancer on Dec. 12. A suspicious colonoscopy result led to the discovery that the cancer had spread throughout his liver. With treatment, it was estimated McGrath might have another 1½ years to live. But these procedures would seriously compromise his quality of life, and McGrath and Cast made the difficult decision to decline treatments. A decision, they were told, that would leave McGrath with mere months to live.

He was a Southern black man who helped shape American music in the late 1920s. He moved to Rochester, gave up music and lived in obscurity for two decades before he was re-discovered during the mid-1960s blues and folk revival.

He resumed his career, touring and recording before his death. A few years ago, his life even inspired a musical.

That story is one we know well here in Rochester.

But I'm not talking about Son House, the iconic bluesman.

It is also Lesley Riddle's story.


With a blast of Trombone Shorty's horn, the Rochester International Jazz Festival roared to a satisfying close Saturday night.

Responding to a final day of gorgeous weather over its nine days, the fest drew an estimated 208,000 people, pretty much matching last year's total. 

This was only the second time in its 18-year history that the fest escaped rain. The only other time that happened was in 2007. So the gods were with us. "I made a few phone calls," festival co-producer John Nugent said.

Minding history

The centuries haven't been kind to humanity. There really isn't a lot we need to relive about the past. Except the music. 

Backed by an acoustic trio of guitar, bass and piano, Rochester International Jazz Festival favorite Catherine Russell overlooked no detail in mining the 1920s, 30s and 40s Friday night at two packed shows at Temple Building Theater. 

Playing in a band, it's tough work, as Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters made clear in their performance at Geva Theatre Center's Fielding Stage.

Pages