Cincinnati boasts a strong, slightly unknown jazz culture that comes to life when the streetlights turn on in Over-the-Rhine, Northside and Downtown Cincinnati.
Dominic Marino, a local jazz musician and former professor at the College-Conservatory of Music, spoke with The News Record about his personal experience with the genre, Cincinnati’s jazz history and his own jazz venue —Urban Artifact.
TNR: Do you play jazz around Cincinnati?
Dominic Marino: Yep, yep. I’m a trombone player — I play with the Blue Wisp Big Band every Wednesday.
I taught at the University of Cincinnati’s CCM jazz studies program for three years prior to this —directed jazz lab band, taught jazz composition arranging, taught jazz history. So, yeah, I’m a jazz musician by trade.
TNR: Did you grow up in Cincinnati?
DM: I grew up in Fairfield, Ohio.
TNR: What introduced you to jazz around here?
DM: I just got into it when I was in the band program up there in Fairfield and I sought out some teachers. Brian Hogg, a local jazz player and head of jazz studies at NKU, was my first jazz teacher in like 2000.
TNR: Did you play at The Blue Wisp club when it was still open?
DM: The last two Blue Wisps. I joined the band about six years ago, so there was one that was on Eighth, but that is now a parking lot.
Then we moved to a spot on Race, then we went to Jap’s for a little bit and then The Pirate’s Den, and the band has been here at Urban Artifact for about 22 weeks straight now.
TNR: What are your thoughts on Cincinnati jazz in general, after playing in a band and teaching it as a subject?
DM: Well, I think Cincinnati has a really strong, talented and historic jazz scene, both in the older generation and the new generation.
TNR: Can you talk a little about the older and newer generations of jazz in Cincinnati?
DM: The Blue Wisp started in the early ’80s —they’re sort of the elder statesmen around here.
Ed Moss has his little Schwartz Point venue on Vine. That place takes you back in time —I played in that band for almost two years.
There is that generation, and then there is the generation sort of between the new cats and the older cats. People like Dan Carlsberg, Brad Myers —he’s a guitarist around here. Cats like that.
And then there’s the new generation that is like 30 and under. I guess I am a part of that group, even though I am lucky to play with all of these cats, older and newer.
It’s a nice community here and the young cats really dig the older cats and the older cats are into what the young guys are doing.
TNR: What are some other jazz venues around here?
DM: There is the weekend series that happens at Washington Platform. Then, The Greenwich is a classic club that is still operating and has some big shows a few times a year. It’s a place for a lot of jazz musicians to play. It has great sound in a classic room that has a lot of history.
TNR: And then, of course, there is your bar and venue —Urban Artifact. What all do you do there?
I’m in charge of the church. So, I am the bar manager. I book all the acts for the listening lounge, as well as managing the employees and the inventory. I run sound most of the jazz nights and some of the other nights.
TNR: Urban Artifact is an old church, what kinds of things do you take into account when redesigning a space for a performance?
DM: Mostly, it has to sound good.
We started here with a big square room with concrete floors and brick walls, so we had to do a lot of acoustic diffusion both on walls and the ceilings, we put a shell behind the stage, we also built a shell behind the audience that separates the bar and the listening lounge.
TNR: Urban Artifact hosts a wide range of music, but you have a whole lot of jazz, right?
DM: We have Blue Wisp Big Band every Wednesday, and then we have jazz —a lot of it local and some national — every Thursday.
Then when we have really big jazz acts, we might put them in a Friday or Saturday slot.
TNR: Do you brew your own beer here at Urban Artifact?
DM: Our brewery is a 30-barrel system. We distribute with Cavalier out to over 100 bars right now. We have 12 taps of our own and we focus on wild and tart beers.
For instance, the Rock n’Roll Carnival in Northside, we made a double IPA. And the latest one we released is called Hearth, and it’s a wild dark beer. It’s got nice, deep smoky flavors —a hearth is a fireplace fixture from days of yore.
Urban Artifact is located at 1660 Blue Rock St. It is open 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until 1:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.