I HAVE ONLY BEEN in the Lloyd D. George U.S. Courthouse jury assembly room twice. As you can imagine, neither visit was voluntary. In fact, I wanted to be anywhere but — especially the last time, when the chatterboxes sitting by me were extolling the ideology of Mark Levin and other Fox News wingnuts. That room represents a civic purgatory from which I have narrowly escaped. (Sorry, attorney friends.)
However, today, I stop by based on my own free will. I’ve come to watch a jazz band, of all things. Because in Las Vegas, jazz happens in the damndest places, and the damndest things happen in Las Vegas, and either way, I want to be there.
I walk into the large room five minutes early for the lunchtime concert, and no joke, more than 150 people are already there. Some dude speaks at the podium about wills and probate law, his largely elderly audience simultaneously preparing for death and accelerating its prospect with large handfuls of complimentary cookies. For a split second, I wonder just how many jury waiting rooms this courthouse has until a guy with a ponytail and a leather jacket walks in.
Shortly thereafter, the speaker wraps up his spiel and introduces the Emanuel Schmidt Quartet, led by the European-born Schmidt, a jazz guitarist who moved from Sydney to Las Vegas to teach music at UNLV and perform jazz. He is joined by a drummer (Mike Mechem), a bassist (Steve Flora) and a trumpeter (Skip Martin) who is also a member of Kool & the Gang.
Friday’s program includes the music of Miles Davis, and the ES4 get right to it with 1958’s “Milestones,” as people continue to eat and shuffle in. A kid sitting next to his mother watches with rapt focus; I ask myself, is he a future candidate for the UNLV jazz studies department or the future bassist for Mystere — or both? Two other children nearby are less attentive, and probably do not appreciate the injection of culture I only wish I had been exposed to at their age.
For most of the hourlong set, Martin and Schmidt either take turns soloing or play off each other, with Martin assuming the role of Miles Davis, both with his horn and in-between-song banter, the latter enhanced with a gruff, if humorous appropriation of the famously mercurial jazzman. Some of his solos blast out like clarion calls; others feel like nighttime whimpers coming from a quiet streetcorner. Schmidt plucks out clean licks and smooth lines, befitting the cool jazz Davis pioneered. During “Blue in Green,” the band ably demonstrates the importance of space in between the notes of Davis’ music. And it pays homage to the recently deceased jazz great Dave Brubeck with “In Your Own Sweet Way,” which Davis famously covered.
The brightness of the space aside, this is not surreal — rather, it’s oddly comforting, a great Friday stress-reducer, preparing us for the weekend ahead. I imagine this being an even more rewarding midday reset on a Tuesday. And I’ve already forgotten whatever limbo and irritation I’ve previously experienced in this room; the music neutralizes its bad juju.
That said, the DMV shouldn’t get any big ideas.