Keeping Jazz Alive in Dayton
By Khalid Moss
Jazz Central, located at 2931 East Third Street, is living up to its name. It is truly the nucleus for jazz in the city of Dayton. That mantle used to belong to Gilly’s nightclub where, for many years, jazz was the centerpiece, the “piece de resistance.” But times change and with the winnowing down of the overall jazz scene in general, Jazz Central is the only place in Dayton where musicians can jam and patrons can listen to live jazz and blues on a consistent basis.
Jazz Central fulfills the vision of Charles “Butch” Stone, an entrepreneur, jazz advocate and, lately, jazz DJ with a one-hour slot on the Dayton City Schools radio station, WDPS.
“When I bought the building it wasn’t a jazz club,” Stone recalled. “It was just a building. I said this would be a good place for a jazz club. My first artist was a blues guy, Piney Brown.”
“Piney was known in Dayton but actually he had a top ten record in the nation,” Stone said. “Actually Piney helped construct that stage he performed on. He was also instrumental in bringing my first jazz guy, (vibraphonist) Johnny Lytle. Johnny, in turn, introduced me to a lot of people who eventually played the club.
Throughout the years, Jazz Central has been well stocked with notable musicians such as “Brother” Jack McDuff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Albert Collins, Rusty Bryant, Hank Marr and many others.
“I had to stop Rusty from talking and get him to playing when he was here,” Stone said. “This was in the heyday of jazz when jazz was kickin.’ I had calls from all kinds of folks; some I stayed away from because you can’t just jump out there like that.”
Stone, a huge man with shaved head and a deep sonorous voice, bemoaned the decline of jazz in the city.
“Jazz is not king anymore,” he said. “But we still draw good. We have jazz, we have smooth jazz, we have promotional groups that come in once a month and also the Dayton Blues Society uses our place. They really pack it out.”
Currently ensconced at Jazz Central every Sunday is a house band consisting of Kenny Baccus on organ and Greg Webster on drums. The host and MC is John Hampton Wagner, who sings and plays trumpet. Wagner described a typical night at Jazz Central’s Sunday night jam session.
“Usually, on a typical night, me and Kenny and (conga drummer) Cliff Darrett will do a couple of songs and then we invite people to sit in,” Wagner said. “Usually someone will pass a note to me to let me know who is out there and what instrument they play.
“People usually check in with me to sit in. It’s not proper etiquette to just walk in and play. We had one kid from UD who just walked in, pulled out his horn and started blowing. He had no regard for protocol. He just started blowing. I had to holler at him. I had to cool him out. Another time some gal came in and said she wanted to sing. I asked her what song and she said ‘I’m just gonna scat.’ Afterward she asked me ‘How did I do?’ I gave her three words of advice. Learn a song!”
For Stone, the biggest job now is to get the word out about his club, which is clustered in a residential area of East Dayton -not considered a prime location for a jazz venue.
“I believe a lot of people know about the club,” Stone explained. “But you have to give them what they want. If it’s not what they want, then…. Take for instance Saturday night (In March 2012). We were packed. If you’re giving them what they want, they will come out. But there are definitely obstacles to being a minority business. Sometimes my ice just ain’t cold enough (chuckles). My mother told me that! She said don’t look down. Keep going forward.”
The one thing Stone said he valued most during his trek through the iffy business of jazz is loyalty.
“John Hampton Wagner has been with me almost fifteen years,” he said. “He’s always there. He’s a very loyal guy. I’ve seen a lot of them who thought they were going somewhere but never did. You see a lot of that. I would have to say that (organist) Lincoln Berry is the most loyal entertainer that I’ve ever encountered. He never wavered. He eventually moved to Minnesota but he still comes back here once a year to play. He packs them in.”
Stone’s radio program, called Jazz Beat, is broadcast on WDPS-FM, Mondays at one o’clock.
“At the station, they call me the Iceman,” Stone said. “I forget who put that on me. But it stuck.”
Iceman, business man, jazz man; Butch Stone is in it for the long haul.
Contact DCP freelance writer Khalid Moss at KhalidMoss@DaytonCityPaper.com