My Montrose: Woody Witt, Concert Booker at Cezanne Jazz Club
Woody Witt is a jazz saxophonist and music educator who has been booking the acts at Cezanne for much of the past 15 years. He also performs at Cezanne, as part of a wide variety of ensembles, on most weekends.
How long have you been involved with Cezanne? Were you there from the beginning?
No, Cezanne opened in the mid-80s, initially as a piano bar. Then it eventually transformed into a jazz club. I booked the place for around 10 years, from 2000 to 2010 or so. And then I started doing it again about a year ago. It’s more than just booking; it’s also the management of the club.
You had played there before as a musician, right?
Yes, I played there fairly consistently. For a long time there weren’t any really regular, week-in-week-out performers.
What makes Cezanne a special place? Why do you like playing there?
It’s a unique room, a true listening room. It’s got very nice acoustics. It’s small, intimate—it only seats about 50, 55 people. It’s kind of like playing a concert in someone’s living room. There’s not a stage per se, there’s just a space where the players perform, so the audience is sitting right next to you. Which, of course, has pluses and minuses. If you have a really good audience it can be great; if you have people who aren’t listening it can be atrocious. Most of the time it’s a great listening room and people respect that. And I’ve continued to push that upon people when they come in. I’ll diplomatically ask people to keep their conversations down while the music is going, put their focus on the musicians.
One of my friends, a jazz aficionado, said it’s the only true listening room in Houston.
That’s true. I’ve traveled around, played the Elephant Room in Austin, played rooms in Dallas, New Orleans, New York. And Cezanne is really unique. It’s not anything like those places. The Elephant Room is kind of noisy—you might have people sitting next to the stage, but in the back it’s just a regular bar. Same with some of these other venues. Because of its size, Cezanne demands that you pay attention to the music.
How would you define a listening room as opposed to another type of jazz venue, like a bar?
Well, the music is the focal point. There’s a bar, but without the music, it doesn’t really have a purpose. And the other thing is that, because it’s small, everyone has to be quiet and listen. If they’re not really listening, it’s not a listening room. It’s more of an informal concert-type setting. And even the bartenders pay attention. When they’re mixing drinks they try to do it quietly.
How do you book the acts?
I try to maintain a really high standard with the music, with a focus on straight-ahead, traditional, mainstream jazz. And I book myself there on most Friday nights, although I play with a rotation of groups. There’s a wide variety of musicians I play with, including groups from in town and out of town, and sometimes groups that are put together for the occasion. I’ve played all over the place, and it’s one of my favorite places to play.
Cezanne Jazz Club, 4100 Montrose Blvd (above the Black Labrador Pub). cezannejazz.com