Tag Archives: blues

Curly Martin

July 29, 2018 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

If Curly Martin has something to say, you can best believe you will hear it if you’re within earshot. 

“Man, tell me who came up with this idea for a story about the Chitlin’ Circuit, I know it had to be a white boy,” Martin says during a boisterous conversation. “First, make sure he gets it straight; it’s not chitterlings. It was called the Chitlin’ Circuit!”

While chitterlings—chitlins for short—are a soul-food staple made from the small intestines of pigs, the Chitlin’ Circuit refers to venues in the South (and into the Upper Midwest) that supported traditional rhythm and blues acts. Martin finds the term as repulsive as its namesake.

“I know they think the Chitlin’ Circuit was for the mediocre musicians, but let me tell you, the Blues and R&B Chitlin’ Circuit was different from the Jazz Chitlin’ Circuit. Jazz players ruled Omaha and always stayed sharp. We dressed like pimps and players because that was our clientele.”

There are still jazz heavyweights living on Omaha’s northside, and Martin is testament to the fact. In the music room of his modest home, nestled near Belvedere Point, he collects an assortment of recording equipment and memorabilia: a 1972 Fender Rhodes keyboard, albums worked on with smooth-jazz innovator Grover Washington, and an award for the 2017 Best Jazz Musician in Omaha from the Omaha Entertainment and Art Awards.

“They told me I would have to pay to pick it up, but somehow it wound up here,” he says of the OEAA award. 2017 was an eventful year for Martin. In addition to the local award, he was also nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Album alongside his world-renown, West Coast producer/songwriter son, Terrace Martin.

“Grammy-nominated for Velvet Portraits and Homer’s didn’t even have the album,” Martin recalls. “I brought Terrace to Make Believe Recording Studios to record that album, but these fools in Omaha won’t acknowledge it! There’s even a song named ‘Curly Martin’ my son did with Robert Glasper. Now that’s a tough tune.”

When asked if there are remnants of the jazz scene he once knew in Omaha, Martin scoffs.

“The ‘decision-makers’ on the music scene don’t like me because I’ll tell them to their faces they can’t play,” Martin states unapologetically. “I don’t think Omaha artists have enough range, and they’ll get mad at me for telling them the truth!”

One of the few people Martin considers an ally is Kate Dussault, founder of the Hi-Fi House. After hosting a series of successful Jazz Labs with Martin, she acknowledges him as an unappreciated artist in the local music scene.

“Curly is a hoot, but he is passionate about passing his knowledge on to the younger generation,” Dussault says. “He is more akin to a mentor than an academic teacher. I can recall him saying that you can go to class all day and do your homework, but where is the inspiration?”

“They don’t even know that I sold out the Holland Center back in February, man,” Martin asserts. “I brought out some of the best guitarists in the world that still reside in North Omaha like Wali Ali and Calvin Keys or saxophonist Hank Redd. These guys have worked with The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and Tony Bennett. Musicians around here aren’t as diverse as we were, so they can’t compare to back in the day.” 

Martin goes on to describe the Jazz Circuit lifestyle: thousand-dollar diamond rings, mohair suits, and alligator shoes that had to match the belt. They would play seven days a week traveling between the Blue Note in Minneapolis, Allen’s Showcase in North Omaha, O.G.s in Kansas City, KC Lounge in Denver, and the BTW Hotel and Lounge in San Francisco.

“Man, we rotated through those clubs throughout the ’60s,” Martin reminisces. “Mr. Allen at the Showcase let a lot of us jazz players get our feet wet, but there was also Alice’s Lounge, Shirley’s, and the Black Orchid in North Omaha. Even for the white folks, if they wanted to hear the baddest of the bad they had to come to the northside and downtown!”

Morning breakfast dances from 6-10 a.m. on holidays, Sunday jam sessions, and good music playing on every corner is the North Omaha jazz mecca that Martin remembers.

“I was probably 14 when I started drumming for my first band, Daddy Long Legs and the Rocking Nighthawks. I even had a gig downtown at Mickey’s with a checkerboard band called Danny and the Roulettes because mixed-race bands were popular. We were jamming downtown when the so-called riots of ’69 went down. After that uprising, our era started to wind down.”

These days, Martin focuses on the future. With a new album in the works and another project with Dussault upcoming, he is eager to give back to his community. 

“They tried to get me involved with WeBop, but I’m not trying to be a babysitter,” Martin says, referring to the early childhood education program. “I want to get kids when they’re serious about their craft, and show them that North Omaha has a rich background. I can’t let them bury our history; this generation can see me and say, ‘If Curly lived this wonderful life then I can do it, too.’”


Terrace Martin produced Velvet Portraits and is producing his father’s upcoming album. Follow @terracemartinmusic on Facebook for updates. 

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

Sexy & Slow

March 31, 2017 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Is it terrible the pain in Peedi Rothsteen’s voice is musically satisfying?

His honest mix of pleasure and vulnerability blended over incredibly sexy slow jams makes your knees buckle.

Rothsteen knew he was tapping a vein when he emerged on Omaha’s music scene nearly two years ago with a brand new sound unlike any of his other rhythm and blues projects.

Many may know him as lead singer to Voodoo Method or “P. Minor,” a local R&B artist and former radio personality, but he’s since evolved from typical masculine crooning. His delicate vocals now have depth. Musical grit, if you will. And, ultimately, rock influenced his creative trajectory.

Watching the evolution of Rothsteen has been quite entrancing. A lyrical twist intrinsically influenced only by time and experiences.

Music is second nature to the Chicago-born singer, who played trumpet and French horn as a child. He sang for his high school and church choirs. In fact, he got his start as a scrawny 7-year-old who took his church talent show stage in an oversized suit, patent leather shoes,  and a skinny black tie belting out Bobby Brown’s “Roni.”

Music was a persistent influence in his early years, but he stepped into his own in 2006 while working at Omaha’s hip-hop radio station Hot 107.7 FM.

P. Minor became a local R&B crooner who opened for some of the early 2000s’ hottest hip-hop musicians, including Donell Jones, Ciara, Akon, Ludacris, Ying Yang Twins, and Yung Joc. At the time, his single “Can I” was one of the most requested songs at the radio station. He garnered radio play outside Nebraska. His song “Keys to the Club” played in Arkansas, Missouri, and Minnesota.

Omaha’s R&B scene still is relatively small. Only a handful of soulful singers have landed regular gigs or made successful albums. He was tired of being stuck in a genre filled with repetitive melodies and predictable style. So he tried his hand at a new genre: rock.

“I liked the energy of rock music,” he says.

Minor was introduced to a couple of guys who were putting together a band. After a few jam sessions in 2007, the group formed Voodoo Method. With that band he toured and learned more about music than he’d ever imagine.

Voodoo Method featured an unexpectedly good combination of punch riffs, accurate lyrics being soulfully delivered by Minor, who almost always sported a tuxedo shirt and bow tie.

In the eight years performing with the band, his songwriting, voice, and look changed. He stepped into his own distinctive, expressive style. It was multi-dimensional.

“In rock, you have to be ready to take it up another level,” he says. “You have to be able to get out of your level. You have to be a magnetic frontman and push your vocals. And, without being in a band, I wouldn’t … my sound wouldn’t have developed that way.”

Voodoo Method is still around.  “We’re taking our time writing and just exploring music,” Minor explains.

But he got the bug for R&B music again.

“I wasn’t trying to get out or push anything, just exorcise my own demons,” he says.

He knocked the rust off and started producing again.

“What if I take what I’ve learned with the band and some of those experiences and move them over with R&B,” he ponders. “I might have success.”

All the while, he was producing a podcast and doing audio production.

“I wanted to create something new.”

He quietly started making R&B music again, he says. “A few songs here and there and then it started to feel good.”

So, here he is: a promising, ambitious, and talented songwriter and musician with one foot in rock, and the other in soul. This musical metamorphosis brought him to create his stage
persona, “Peedi Rothsteen.”

“Peedi” is a family nickname that stuck and Rothsteen is homage to Sam “Ace” Rothstein of Martin Scorsese’s brilliant and brutal 1995 film Casino.

Ace’s claim to fame is being an excellent gambler, he says. The way he approached the game. He knew all the ins and outs to gambling and could pick a winner.

“That the way I feel about music,” he says. “I know a song, what it needs. I know how to pick a winner. That to me, it’s symbolic.”

Hence, the brilliantly collaborative Peedi Rothsteen.

“There aren’t many things I can do great,” he adds. “Music is one. I work really hard, too. What comes out in the end is something people can enjoy.”

In 2015, Rothsteen released his debut EP Moments Before,  a five-song compilation of incredibly soulful lyrics. The music scene took notice. That same year, Rothsteen took home the Best New Artist award at the 2015 Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards.

Exactly a year to the date, Rothsteen released Moments During, a five-track EP follow-up. The songs are full of foot-stomping grooves and fiery grooves vocals. Two songs to wrap your nodding noggin’ around are “Righteous Giant” and “Clap.” Rothsteen hopes to continue his music collection by releasing Moments After this summer–same June 11 date, of course.

His audience is just as diverse. Young. Old. Black. White. Metal. Soft rock.

“I don’t want to be just one thing,” Rothsteen says.

“In rock, you can go anywhere you want,” he says. “Good music will never be bad. It doesn’t matter how you box it up, how you deliver it.”

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Jazz: A Louisiana Kitchen

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Walk through the wrought-iron gates of Jazz: A Louisiana Kitchen, and the beads and feathers tell you you’re no longer on 15th and Farnam. You’re on Bourbon Street. “I’ve had more offers than I can count for that,” says Jordan Jackson, nodding at a huge white show cape pinned to a wall. “Shangri La” it reads, letting diners know this is the place to laissez les bon temps rouler.

Jackson has been letting the good times roll as the general manager of Omaha’s Jazz for two years. “We have a full-on Cajun menu,” he says. “Like ètouffèe, it’s just not something you find much outside Louisiana.”CrawFish copy

The original Jazz in Lubbock, Texas, (and consequently all five other Jazzes scattered across the nation’s middle) was heavily inspired by celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme. The Louisiana native popularized Cajun cooking with his restaurant, cookbooks, and TV shows. Omahans can enjoy his time-honored flavors as prepared by head chef and co-owner Justino Gomez, who’s cooked for Jazz for 20 years. “I love the Cajun food,” Gomez says. “It’s healthy, and it’s just good, you know?”

How does the food compare to what you’ll find in The Big Easy? “This is a little more Midwestern,” Jackson admits. “Cajun food is spicy, and that’s not what everyone up here is looking for.”

Those looking for authentic heat need not sweat the Midwestern standard. Each dish is made to order down to the sauce. “You want it mild? I’ll just put in the garlic and chives,” Gomez says. “You want it spicy? I’ll add more cayenne.”Untitled 2

Night owls know that finding decent food downtown can be a chore with most kitchens closing at 10 p.m. Jazz’s full menu is available until two hours before closing (which is 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and midnight the rest of the week), but Jackson swears by the late-night menu. Basically the only part of the regular menu not included is anything using the sauté station, like pastas, house specialties, and the (of course) sauté menu. “You can still get a good meal late,” Jackson says. Get the crab cakes a la mer. The best appetizer, in his opinion.

If you’re the type that insists on unique drinks to go with your unique food, Jackson makes sure local craft beer is in good supply. “Whoever’s got the better beer menu, that’s where I’m going for dinner,” he says. Usually all but two of the restaurant’s 12 taps are craft brews like Keg Creek, Chefs in Black, Blue Blood, and of course, Lucky Bucket.20121116_bs_4037 copy

What is dinner without a little music? Jazz brings in local musicians to complete the ambience every Thursday through Saturday. “It’s mostly jazz and the blues,” Jackson says, “but we do have one Dixieland band.” The Street Railway Company performs every third Friday of the month. Bands play on a stage overlooking the dining area from 7 to 11 p.m. Diners looking for a mellower evening should come on Thursdays, when the music only lasts until 10 p.m.

“Downtown’s becoming more than just the Old Market,” Jackson said. “If someone’s going to a show at the Orpheum, I want them to just know, oh yeah, Jazz’s right around the corner.”

Jazz – A Louisiana Kitchen
1421 Farnam St.
402-342-3662
jazzkitchen.com

The Blues Reign at Havana Garage

August 20, 2012 by
Photography by minorwhitestudios

Thanks to the island atmosphere (think moody Rat Pack, not kitschy Cheeseburger in Paradise), guests at the Havana Garage are swept away to a more sophisticated era when jazz and the blues were kings in the music scene.

“A cigar, a drink, great live music you don’t have to shout over…it’s a social style,” says Chaz Kline, owner of Havana Garage, a cigar bar in what he calls the Old Market’s lower east side. “There comes a certain point when you want to graduate to a different level of socializing.”

The Garage doesn’t have live music every night, but expect it on Fridays and Saturdays and maybe Thursdays, if you’re lucky. “We’ve talked about curating an open mic night on Sundays, too,” Kline says. Regular performers include trumpet player Darryl White, the OK Sisters, and a couple different bands that Matt Wallace, esteemed local saxophonist, plays in.

Crime Sena, for example, is a kind of ‘70s rock band. “You know, what was on the radio in the ‘70s,” Wallace says. “People think they’re getting their last drink, and then we play something they haven’t heard in years. A few songs later they’re still in the back there singing along.” Thomas Sena, founder of T’eez Salon, plays piano in the band, a fact that has forced Wallace to take stock of his ego. “You really think you’re something until you play with him, and all the women are like, ‘Is that Tom Sena?’”

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Though live performances can be planned out months in advance, Kline will leave a few holes here and there in the calendar to fill in when something extra special comes up. “We haven’t found enough bands in Omaha with that Sancho Panza feel, you know?” he says. “What you’ll find most often is Mexican, a mariachi flavor. We’re looking for something more Cuban, more Caribbean.”

There’s usually no cover, but if you show up after 10 or so on a night of live music, you might get charged $5, depending on the band. “We’ll probably still promo a drink though,” Kline says. “This is Omaha. It’s not New Orleans with lots of places like this to choose from. We’re an adjunct to the music scene here. It’s not our whole angle, but it’s definitely the cherry on top of the cake.”

If you’re new to the rest of the cake, Kline suggested selecting a mild cigar from the humidor downstairs that has over 300 different facings. “Maybe Romeo y Julieta. Or Monte Cristo,” he says. “Those are some of the oldest names. They’re actually from Cuban seed.” Then, with a signature Havana Garage cocktail in hand (Brazilian rum, ginger beer, mint…think mojito meets Moscow mule), have a seat in either the backyard bodega for a low-key chat or in the bar area to listen to the Latin strains of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

If you need a snack to complete the picture, Kline noted with pride that Havana Garage rubs shoulders with some of the oldest restaurants in the Old Market. “People bring over their dinners from Ahmad’s or Twisted Fork or Indian Oven a lot,” he says. “We’ll get you the menus, we’ll phone next door.”

That sort of service is de rigueur as far as he’s concerned. “We’re all kind of little ambassadors here on the lower east side. The best compliment is, ‘I can’t believe you exist.’”