Warping Nirvana, ABBA and more, The Bad Plus entertains both uninitiated and experienced jazz fans

Jazz in June featuring
The Bad Plus, Guy Forsyth, Suzanna Choffel and more
7 p.m. Thursday-Friday
Brookhaven Village
3700 W. Robinson, Norman

6 p.m. Saturday
Andrews Park
201 W. Daws, norman

Most beer drinkers don't begin by sipping microbrews and exotic imports. It's something you develop an appreciation for with experience " like music. 

In this respect, The Bad Plus operates as a gateway to jazz. This isn't meant to diminish the instrumental trio, but explain what it offers by mixing familiar rock and pop standards with their avant-jazz originals. After spending a little time with The Bad Plus' jazz-inflected covers of Queen's "We Are the Champions," Black Sabbath's "Iron Man," ABBA's "Knowing Me, Knowing You" or Vangelis' theme from "Chariots of Fire," heavyweights like John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman probably make more sense.

"The reason we did it is because as young musicians getting interested in jazz, it's what we would've wanted to hear," said bassist Reid Anderson. "The history of jazz is, up to a certain point, to play the popular music of the day, and that kind of got left behind. It was just a really innocent thing in a certain way, like, 'Wouldn't it be great to hear a jazz group playing Nirvana?' Just the idea of that thrilled us so much at the time, that when we finally got a chance to do it, it was a very natural thing."

Not only did covering Nirvana provide a connection point with audiences, it attracted the attention of Columbia Records. The Bad Plus formed in 2000 around Anderson, drummer David King and pianist Ethan Iverson. They released their self-titled debut in 2001, and Columbia signed them a year later and released 2003's "These Are the Vistas," which included covers of Blondie and Aphex Twin. The guys released two more albums there before parting ways in 2006, but have no regrets about their major-label experience.

"It happened at the right time. We were as surprised as anybody that it got as much attention as it did. But at the same time, we weren't like, young guys plucked out of nowhere. We had been around as professional musicians laboring in obscurity for 10 years," Anderson said.

The act's latest studio release, 2008's "For All I Care," takes its name from a lyric in Nirvana's "Lithium," one of a dozen tracks on the all-covers album (including compositions by Yes, Wilco, The Flaming Lips, Pink Floyd and the Bee Gees).

The Bad Plus performs 9 p.m. Saturday at Andrews Park as the headline act at Jazz in June's "Jazz in the Park" concert, which starts at 6 p.m. The musicians are already gearing up for their 10th anniversary and the September release of their seventh album, which will feature all originals.

"It's just kind of embracing the sound of what we do," Anderson said. "We've been lucky enough to have some really supportive labels behind us, and ultimately to own the masters and make all the decisions ourselves. It's a great position to be in. Then again, historically speaking, no jazz band has made a lot of money selling records." "Chris Parker

After 27 years, Jazz in June is still trying to shake a most unfortunate label.

Courtney Van Amburgh, marketing coordinator for the Norman event, said the free outdoor concert series got its start in 1984 and has grown exponentially every year, yet hears the same excuses for why people haven't attended before.

"People usually say, 'I don't like elevator music,'" she said. "It's jazz. It's not like elevator music " it's anything but nowadays."

The three-day event starts Thursday with "Blues Under the Stars" in Brookhaven Village. Oklahoma's own J.D. Thompson and his new band, The Big Bad Wolves, will open the night before Austin native Guy Forsyth sends people home after rocking the folk out of them.

The event has staged some of the biggest names in jazz in recent years, like Lloyd Jones and Chuck Mangione, but Van Amburgh said the 2010 lineup is young, new and exciting.

"None of our jazz artists sound the same, and our blues artists are all very different," she said. "Being able to progress and showcase new talent and show the local talent, as well as pulling in the national talent and the big names that everybody knows, that's what we want to do."

The second day of Jazz in June starts with a special tribute.

Norman's Ashlee Madison died in a car accident on April 17. Madison was a prominent figure in the Oklahoma jazz scene and her band, along with singer Miss Cooki, will honor her memory with a 7:15 p.m. memorial show.

Saturday's show in Andrew's Park opens with another Austin native, Suzanna Choffel, before headliner The Bad Plus wraps up the festival on the right note.

Van Amburgh said Jazz in June's goal is simple: "To show how extensive the community of supporters are in the OKC metro area that support and enjoy this kind of music.""Adam Kemp

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