SATURDAY, May 30 — “Uhn — uhn — uhn, two, three, four!” Tuesday night at 7 p.m., drummer Jeff Shoup counted off the Wes Montgomery tune “Unit 7” and the world moved a few more inches toward normal.
After 10 weeks of solitary lockdown, Lansing jazz lovers dug the sound of a simmering trio again. Shoup, guitarist Rick Hicks and organist Jim Alfredson stirred their plinks, licks and lines together and resumed the livestreaming version of Moriarty’s Jazz Tuesdays in Alfredson’s studio basement.
Now that it’s legal for 10 or fewer people to gather in Michigan, jazz musicians can be jazz musicians again and ply their collective art, at least online.
Until live concerts come back, Jazz Tuesdays, featuring a revolving cast of the area’s top jazz musicians, will return each week, along with Organissimo Sundays, featuring organist Jim Alfredson’s funky-jazz trio of national renown. Both gigs start at 7 p.m.
Before Tuesday, Shoup hadn’t played a gig in two months — solo drum gigs are hard to come by — but he coolly described Tuesday’s reunion as “workmanlike.”
“It was like, ‘We’re back in business, let’s do it. Lets hit,’” he said. “But we were smiling. The first few notes, things felt pretty good to everybody.”
The livestream experiment hit pay dirt with the first Organissimo on performance March 22, giving hundreds of followers a view of Alredson’s clock collection, fluorescent socks and funky basement paneling.
But the trio only managed to sneak in one collective gig before the ban on social gatherings came down.
Alfredson held the fort alone as a one-man quartet — two hot hands on the keyboard and two fleet feet on the pedals — for a staggering 10 Sundays in a row.
Alfredson said he had never done a solo gig before, although he was thinking about recording a solo album before the pandemic hit.
If any musician and instrument could hold your interest for over an hour, it’s the protean mind of Alfredson and his mighty Hammond B-3, with its plethora of timbres and registers.
But a big door swung open when Hicks’ singing and guitar artistry and Shoup’s drum kit went into the mix Tuesday.
“This is the first gig any of us has played with another musician in about two months,” Shoup said. It didn’t show, as the trio sauntered through more than an hour of mellow balladry, lilting pop, aching blues, straight-up jazz and Latin jazz rhythms.
If anything, the musicians underplayed the moment, adding to feeling that normalcy was still possible in this world.
“We all talked about how great it was to be back together,” Shoup explained. “But we were rehearsing in that room since 5 o’clock, so by the time we hit, it was like just another gig.”
Shoup is in his third year as impresario of Jazz Tuesdays at Moriarty’s, a showcase of local and regional combos that had an unbroken run until the pandemic hit.
He admitted that going online was a bit “weird,” but the drummer hosted WDBM’s “Jazz Spectrum” series for two years, so he’s used to playing music in a studio with no visible audience. “It felt more like a radio broadcast,” he said. “I did my chatter between tunes and put my brain in DJ mode, only with live music.”
Hicks prefers to play in a quiet mode, Shoup said, so the other two had to balance accordingly.
“There are so many things you have to worry about that you don’t when you’re setting up in the corner of a restaurant,” Shoup said. “It seems like it takes an hour to get the mikes placed and all the lines running from the cameras and everything else.”
The schedule for upcoming Jazz Tuesdays is still coming together, but Shoup plans to feature Jordan VanHemert, a virtuoso alto sax player based at Hope College, June 2, with Alfredson again at the organ, and stellar bassist/composer Paul Keller of Wayne State University June 9.
Extra horns may be in the offing, but a nonet or a tentet is unlikely. The law is no longer an impediment, but the distancing room in Alfredson’s basement might be.