It’s an ordinary Tuesday evening in the Magic City, except I’m wearing sequins. While going out midweek hasn’t been my tradition, I’m looking forward to establishing a new one: listening to jazz at True Story Brewing Company in the Crestwood neighborhood. Walking into the beloved community brewery, I’m greeted by musicians who are beginning the evening’s set-up; jazz fans enjoying a brew before showtime; and a few soon-to-be-lucky beer drinkers, who, along with yours truly, have no idea what a glorious display of talent they’re about to encounter.
The group of Tuesday night musicians runs the gamut from those who have played with frontman Daniel Jose Carr, an Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame member, for decades, plus younger talents who are excited to finesse their craft. I sit down to chat with the legendary Carr, a guy brimming with the magnetism of a true musician, yet also remarkably humble.
“I’m an old Ensley guy,” he laughs, taking the seat beside me like we’re old friends. Soon, I learn how Carr got introduced to the world of jazz — by his fourth grade band teacher, Dick Clark (not to be confused with Dick Clark who hosted New Year’s Rockin’ Eve all those years), who was known for playing around the city with his brother, Chuck Clark. “They were playing around Birmingham in the 1940s,” Carr says. “Dick Clark died first, and that’s when I met the rest of them —- his niece, Chuck Clark and all the Clarks. There were a lot of them, and all were musicians.”
Carr has a lot of fond memories about music from over the years — including that time he traveled to California with the Birmingham Heritage Band and played at a mansion belonging to a cast member of “The Jeffersons” — but the current jam sessions at True Story are particularly special to him. “I’ve had a lot of jam sessions, and I’ve never had them supported like this,” he admits.
Margaret Walter Wilson, a singer better known by her stage name, Margeaux, agreed with him: “This area is passionate, open-minded and loves the arts. They come and hear the music once and want to come back,” she says. As someone who moved “from the shower to the stage only eight years ago,” Wilson is now one of Tuesday night’s most enthusiastic regular participants. She also sings in her own band, Margeaux and the Cat’s Meow.
In fact, when the group’s former jam location became unavailable in the wake of pandemic lockdowns, it was Wilson who decided to reach out to Craig Shaw and his wife, Anna, who own True Story Brewing. “I knew Craig had a stage that would work for us. I called and said, what do you think about a Tuesday night jazz session? He said, ‘Bring it on!’”
As you read this, Tuesday nights at True Story are approaching the one-year anniversary, as well as other milestones. Matthew Bellisario, a self-declared jazz fanatic and sound engineer, released his recording of Tuesday Night jazz the very night I was there. The recording’s lineup is Daniel Jose Carr on trumpet; Bernard McQueen on bass; Tyler Greengard on tenor sax; Willie Jackson on piano; Tim Huffman on drums; and Bo Berry on trumpet. However, each Tuesday night is different, and any given week has a number of musicians who hope to get onstage and prove themselves, plus singers who bring plenty of passion to the mic.
The night I attended, for example, a woman going by the stage name of Mockingbird — and a “spitfire” according to Wilson — is part of the jam, while other singers, including voice artist Nancy McLemore and 21-year-old Samford student Lydia Yates — “God, what a voice she has!” interjects Wilson — have shown up as well.
Bellisario is hard at work on a documentary highlighting the thriving jazz scene of Birmingham. He anticipates it will be finished this fall, just in time for the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame to reopen to the public and remind locals and visitors about the incredible musical talent we are fortunate to have among us.
“The energy of this room — with so much of the audience thrilled, intrigued and wrapped up in the sound and the musicians wrapped up, too — becomes a euphoric atmosphere of beautiful music,” Wilson says.