Chronicle Live Music Venue Guide

Elephant Room

Walking the length of the Elephant Room, from entryway to stage, the volumes of conversation and music adjust at inverse proportions. In back, the music is audible, the musicians visible, but as with most clubs, the people in these nether regions are here to talk with the music as a backdrop. Up front, by the stage, folks are leaning forward on their seats or settling back in booths, listening hard, watching the hands and mouths on stage intently, unraveling the complex mysteries of jazz.

photograph by John Carrico

As different offshoots of jazz come and go in the popular music sector, the Elephant Room has remained the home of traditional jazz in Austin since 1991. They are not impermeable to fancy; the influx of world music and the occasional jump blues band to the Elephant's schedule belie the abundance of jazz talent in Austin, but the club continues to provide the essentials -- jazz. Local saxmen and longtime regular performers Tony Campise and Tomas Ramirez are balanced with world groups like the Afro-Caribbean soukos ensemble Tamasha Africana and Latin folk and jazzers Ta Mère, as well as up-and-coming jazz players like trumpeter Ephraim Owens and the occasional touring act.

In the true spirit of a jazz venue, the Elephant is home to a jazz jam every Monday night, hosted by the club's booking agent and trombonist in his own right Michael Mordecai. The new and the well-seasoned stand side by side at these jams, trading licks and bending melodies until the standards take on new life, blooming into a new composition or a new combo.

This is a place for grown-ups. A long list of beer on tap and a full bar with more than adequate table service provides anything you might need for a night of jazz, without the interruptions of amateur swing-dancers or drinking game chants. In a time when the perception of a jazz club has become tainted by the transiently hip martini-and-cigar-bar set, the Elephant Room stands firm as it has for the past eight years -- a dark, smokey, brick-walled basement bar where, if you go on the right night and pay attention, you might learn something about this music that will change you forever

-- Christopher Hess