Saratoga Springs in recent years become a city well known for its kinship with the arts in general, with music being a big part of that. There are few cities in the Capital Region than can boast live music in bar after bar within walking distance—especially in the summer months. And that doesn’t include other venues like Universal Preservation Hall, the famed Caffe Lena and a new jazz concert series held this year at the Spring Street Art Gallery.
Jazz is a significant part of the Saratoga scene and it’s growing, with a lengthening list of places that include jazz from time to time. Add that to full-time jazz places like 9 Maple Ave. or the Mouzon House, among others.
Injected into that is the arrival, kind of quietly to the general public, of two world-class musicians who have made the Spa City their home. They make a difference in the variety and quality of music that can be found.
Jorge Gomez, a native of Havana, Cuba, and a conservatory-trained pianist, appeared on the local scene in 2016. He could be found sitting in at various locations (and still does on occasion). He also has two bands, Alta Havana and Tiempo Libre, that have brought authentic Cuban music to venues like Caffe Lena and Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Three of Tiempo Libre’s seven albums were nominated for Grammys. The band has toured around the world, including China, and has performed at famous jazz festivals and clubs. Gomez has also performed with the likes of Gloria Estefan and flutist Sir James Galway.
He said he found Saratoga to be “amazing. Better than Miami, if you’re talking about jazz. In Miami, there was like three or four places to hear jazz. And not every day. When I came here, you could hear jazz almost every single day.”
Four years ago Chuck Lamb, a virtuoso jazz pianist, was splitting time between Colorado and Saratoga, but is transitioning to Saratoga full time. He has been a member of the renowned Brubeck Brothers Quartet for nearly 15 years, a gig that takes him around the world. But he can be found leading a quartet at the intimate 9 Maple Ave. club in Saratoga Springs, and this year he started a monthly jazz series at Caffe Lena. Lamb’s trio plays the second Tuesday of the month with a special guest from the world of jazz. Clarinet wizard Ken Peplowski is next up on Dec. 11.
It was inevitable the two — who are also composers, arrangers and involved in education — would meet. They became fast friends and occasional collaborators.
“He’s amazing,” Gomez said of Lamb. “He’s not only famous, he’s one of the best pianists in the world. In the world, not in Saratoga. And he’s a very nice person.”
They met at a Caffe Lena show where Lamb was performing and soon started talking about doing things together. It led to a couple shows at the SPAC-created Jazz Bar at the Hall of Springs and a Cafe Lena show on the eve of last year’s Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival. There is more to come.
“I love it here,” said Lamb. “For a small town, and being connected on the SPAC level, the Skidmore level, UPH … I’ve been embraced. And of course Caffe Lena. It’s an amazing opportunity. For a small town, it’s pretty awesome.”
At a small venue like 9 Maple Ave., “I do my original stuff, try out new tunes. I do have set guys that know my book that I try to get. But I enjoy playing with different people too … 9 Maple is a hip, funky, fun spot to play.”
Adds Gomez, “This is a different thing, because he plays jazz. And I play Cuban music. It’s good for the town, because now you have different things happening, like rock, folk, jazz, Cuban music. I don’t know how many Cuban bands you’ve had here in Saratoga.”
The answer is none, outside of the annual jazz festival.
“He always says he’s not a great jazz player, but that’s” not true, said Lamb. “The way he swings the eighth note with that Cuban thing, where it is placed … the whole rhythm. When we’re playing a swing tune and where he puts it, that’s what I love, that dynamic between us. Because we’re swinging the eighth notes in a little bit of a different pocket. It’s a little hard to describe. But it’s a sweet spot. It sounds different. That’s what I want to explore with this dude.”
The next plan for that is a duet, double-piano album that is in the early planning stages. Meanwhile, Lamb is working on a CD of Beatles music that will be done in duets with different players, including Chris Brubeck. The arrangements will be Lamb’s.