Jazz Is

Saints Session draws big, and plays proud. The jazz tradition didn't die with Deep Deuce gentrification, which is very good news.

story by Veronica Pasfield | photos by Trace Thomas

Let’s just cut right to the chase.

In short, Saints Session is legit jazz, y’all. For jazz nerds, that’s all we need to know. Better said: there is nothing to know if that is not in place.

A really beautiful thing blossomed in the Plaza District last winter, and continued to grow through spring—the monthly Saints Session jazz concerts at Saints Pub. There can be a real prejudice against academy musicians (guilty as charged). The supposition is that real life makes for better art. It can also be a race thing; jazz is definitely, but not exclusively, a Black art form. Oklahoma is teaching otherwise. Many of the mainstay artists who gig with Saints Session also play together at church events, traveling across racial, geographic, religious and cultural borders to play good music. Is there any reason to cast a stink eye on that?

Smalls Jazz Club, a tiny but mighty performance space in Greenwich Village, serves as primary inspiration for Saints Session. The Village was primary in the growth of jazz in NYC. By the time Smalls opened in 1994, clubs such as the Blue Note or even the Wynton Marsalis-driven Lincoln Center jazz series, had a much more main-stage feel. Smalls is musician-directed, pulling serious talent into its itty-bitty basement space.

Evoking Smalls emphasizes some nice parallels for the Plaza District project. Saints Session seems purely focused on getting the very best players on stage. Also, series principals enthusiastically acknowledge they’re standing on the shoulders of Deep Deuce clubs and players such as Charlie Christian. (Check out saintssession.com to hear drummer Jemar Poteat’s hip take on giving props.)

“When people say that what we’re doing is so cool, I appreciate it,” said series co-founder and promoter Christian Pearson. “But people don’t always know I’m not doing anything new. It’s all been here before in Oklahoma City.”

Pearson further reminds that collaborators such as Adam and Kizzie Ledbetter have been building their skills and careers for a decade or better. The project also benefits from the next-level talent of Oklahomans such as guitarist Grant Goldstein, who studied at the Manhattan School of Music, and local jazz stalwarts such as OU instructor and musician Jay Wilkinson.

Josh Jefferson oversees programming at Saints Pub. He reports most concerts draw a standing-room-only crowd, and bring folks not regularly seen in the Plaza. Chef Jon Turney puts out special menu items, giving Session a chic dinner-club vibe. “I love everything about it,” Jefferson said. “We get the best players in the state. It’s a great feeling, as a lifelong jazz fan, to see a roomful of people geek out on my favorite music."

Saints Session runs the first Thursday of the month: August 3, September 7. Saints Pub, 1715 NW 16th St. @saints.session