Mondays With Morgan is a new column in London Jazz News written by Morgan Enos, a music journalist based in Hackensack, New Jersey. He will be diving deeply into the jazz that moves him — his main focus being the scene in nearby New York City.
For his third feature for LJN in the series, Enos visited BRVSH CUL7UR3, a brand-new jazz club in neighbouring Teaneck – and had this to write about it:
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About a month after BRVSH CUL7UR3, a brand-new jazz club, opened on 482 Cedar Lane in Teaneck, New Jersey, the liquor shelves were half-stocked; between them, a fireplace loop played on a flatscreen TV, reflective of the waning winter.
A month later, both shelves were populated with various genres of booze; against a blackdrop of slick silver paint, the screen blasted a video of sunflowers in a meadow – the greens and yellows a slightly blinding clash against the earth-toned decor.
Coming from someone going on year four of putting roots down in Bergen County, this digital scene of vernality felt like a metaphor for BRVSH CUL7UR3’s existence: a flash of colour, of potential, in a county where this kind of experience is difficult to come by. Previously, to see world-class jazz, a Bergen County resident would typically have to traverse bridges and tunnels. Now – if you’re in a neighbouring town like Hackensack or Englewood – it’s minutes away.
“When I looked at starting to do a jazz club, people assumed I would do it in New York – my lawyers and teammates and things,” Rodney Green, a well-regarded jazz drummer for 25 years and the founder and owner of BRVSH CUL7UR3, tells LondonJazz News. “They pushed me to do it in New York, but I would be just another one of those. You’d have to try over three jazz clubs to get to mine, versus going the opposite way.”
To Green’s understanding, there are “one or two” other jazz venues in New Jersey. “But they operate on a sometime basis,” he says. “Or, they don’t really have a dedicated space, like my stage. Or, they dont have a piano that they get tuned several days a week, or have jazz every night.” But as he’s quick to point out, BRVSH CUL7UR3 – pronounced “brush culture” – features all of the above.
“We stand alone,” Green says. “And that was our purpose.”
In this old-school, working-class neighborhood on the upswing, wedged between a Judaica store and a building for rent, catty-corner from the beloved health-food restaurant Veggie Heaven, BRVSH CUL7UR3 is a simple room with a stage, bar, kitchen and floor seating. Onstage, a simple PA system, some combo amps and a well-maintained piano. There’s a $20 cover and a sliding minimum, depending on whether you seat yourself on the floor or at the bar.
The talent is not cheesy singers, or a pianist tinkling “Night and Day” for tips. Green and company seem to exclusively book the real deal. On the evening of the fireplace video, the spectacular pianist Roberta Piket’s trio graced the stage. On the evening of the sunflowers, the masterful pianist Luis Perdomo – a two-time GRAMMY winner – brought his.
On the April calendar, a duo led by vibraphonist Monte Croft; trios led by guitarist Nir Felder, pianists Oscar Perez and Jeb Patton, and drummer Ronnie Burrage; quartets led by trumpeter Freddie Hendrix and pianist Pete McCann; and a quintet led by bassist Mike Boone. (Elsewhere, there’s a “vocal jam session” led by singer Carrie Jackson, and a Monday-night jam session led by Green.)
How did Green land such big gets? That’s less a matter of a promised windfall of dividends than the jazz community’s enthusiasm for – and investment in – BRVSH CUL7UR3’s success. “I’ve been in the business for 25 years,” Green notes, and admits: “Most of the musicians that are playing, we’re not able to pay them their normal rates, for transparency.”
Rather, it’s an all-hands-on-deck operation: Perdomo has swung by to tune the piano. Revered drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, himself a GRAMMY winner, has been a prominent booster: Watts booked a gig in New York, Green says, with the contingency that they be freed up to head over to Teaneck to support BRVSH CUL7UR3.
As opposed to cosy, historic rooms in West Village and environs, everything about the BRVSH CUL7UR3 experience screams: We’re figuring it out.
While the space is clean and inviting, the walls could use some warming-up – with some old, framed jazz photographs, or the like. The simple-yet-satisfying menu – veggie poppers, a cheese and fruit board, grilled chicken, a green salad – is up to par. The service could use some tightened screws, which is understandable given the club’s greenness.
The building that houses BRVSH CUL7UR3 was once occupied by Shelly’s, a beloved dairy-kosher cafe and local landmark that operated for three decades. As Green points out, if you look up the block on Google Maps, it reads “Shelly’s Way.”
“They gave the lady the key to the city, and her husband still owns the restaurant across the street,” Green relates. “They’re Jewish, so they called that their dairy restaurant, and the meat restaurant was across the street.” When the couple had to give up the location due to pandemic struggles, Green was able to secure it and begin construction.
Green is the epitome of an “ideas guy”: as a restauranteur, he’s undergone the mother of all crash courses. “I just make things,” he says. “I believe in just sitting down with a piece of paper and getting the idea. And it never looks like what I wrote down on the paper from the beginning, but the general idea stays the same.”
After potential designers came and went, a fortuitous recommendation – a friend of a friend – helped manifest Green’s vision. “Right on a wall – I actually kept that piece of the wall – he drew what now is BRVSH CUL7UR3,” he says. “It took him all of 10 minutes.”
Right then, Green took the piece off the wall, gave it to an architect, had him draw it to scale, measured it for accuracy – and that was BRVSH CUL7UR3.
Aside from the day-to-day pressures related to the bottom line, Green has faced his share of criticism from attendees. One is over the $20 cover. “Something’s got to give,” Green responds. He cites Manhattan toll prices: “You couldn’t even get into New York for what our cover charges!”
Another sticking point is the minimum – $30 at the table, $20 at the bar. “My place is super clean; we have cleaning crews and staff, and we’re running a full kitchen,” Green says in response. “If people are going to sit there and take up space, we’ll just close up.”
Even the all-caps, letters-and-numbers name is getting flak. “It’s spelled both ways,” Green says. (It’s not hard to imagine that he’s explained this dozens of times.) Why the SEO-style brand name? “Because I hope to make a few more of these,” he says – a BRVSH CUL7UR3 chain. “I want to own the name.”
(Whatever the degree of disapproval, it means Green won’t divulge his location, “for the safety of my kids and for anyone that doesn’t like what we’re doing.” Though, he’ll allow, he’s “about 20 minutes away.”)
That being said, Green acknowledges that not everyone can afford such a night out. “We are in a recession,” he notes. (Debatable.) Because of this, he’s eyeing ways to give back to Teaneck: a free concert series, as well as children’s concerts.
“Children don’t even know what musicians’ instruments sound like,” he says. “Bass, they think comes from a computer. Or they heard drums, but they think it comes from a little pad. Many kids never touched a drum, never touched a trumpet. So, we want to do that to help grow the jazz community and listenership, and also make it part of the soundtrack of your life.”
While he’s full of rejoinders to the haters in their audience, Green is mostly bowled over by the response. “It’s been incredible – the sense of community, the outpouring of love,” he says. “We’ve had musicians donating amps and bringing things by: ‘Hey, can you use this?’”
After our call, Green is getting ready to head to BRVSH CUL7UR3 to play with his trio. “Today’s my birthday,” he says, noting that cake will be served. “And the one-month birthday of the club. I normally would not celebrate a one-month anniversary. But with all I went through to get this place, I’m celebrating this day.”
Granted, Green’s drumming chops have deteriorated a tad. “I’m out of shape, because I haven’t been playing so much drums or doing anything other than learning how to run a restaurant and bar,” he says. “Which looks easier on TV!”
But this ideas man is undeterred: he sees a future where you can stop at a BRVSH CUL7UR3 in Trenton or Montclair. “You’ll know that [it] started in Teaneck,” he prognosticates. “What was a Starbucks before Starbucks? What was a vanilla latte Frappucino? Did you order like that?”
Through the entrepreneurial bluster, though, it’s worth considering the musicians’ perspectives – how it feels to be on that stage.
“I was playing with two of my favorite musicians and good friends, so the vibe was pretty great,” pianist Roberta Piket, who has lived in Teaneck since 2009, says of her set with bassist Andy McKee and drummer Billy Mintz – the night before the birthday party.
“As far as the club, and playing in the club,” she continues, “it’s a beautiful space. And it’s obvious that Rodney, being a musician himself, is very serious about creating an environment in which the musicians can do their best and the audience can really appreciate the music in an atmosphere of love and respect.”
When BRVSH CUL7UR3 was opening up, Piket didn’t know Green, or anything about him. “My first thought was, like, Man, good luck. You’re going to need to know what you’re doing,” she says. “But having talked to him and having been there, I think he does know what he’s doing. He’s not naïve about the challenges he faces.”
So, how can those in this suburb of New York City who care about elevating jazz support this burgeoning spot – perhaps the only one in this U.S. state that fosters and hosts New York-level talent? Obviously, drop by, and try to do so regularly. But one thing is crucial.
“Tell a friend to tell a friend to tell a friend,” Green says.
LINKS: BRVSH CUL7UR3 website
Helena Kay’s 2021 interview with Rodney Green
Categories: Feature/Interview, Mondays with Morgan
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