A Small Venue Makes A Big Impression

All That Jazz: Mar. 2010

Artists entertain a full house on Tuesday night during a performance at the intimate jazz club Zwe on Floßgasse | Photo: David Reali

The smoky air is vibrant with the sounds of glasses clinking together, people chatting, and jazz playing from the speakers in the background. Once the quartet steps onto the stage, everything quiets down and on the “one, two, three, four” count, the room comes alive in a different, more effervescent way.

This is ZWE, a jazz club on Floßgasse in the 2nd District, a mere two-minute walk from the U2 station at Schottenring. Founded in 2007, this is a place for the real thing, where musicians, ranging from good to great, come to play with one another, and the rest of us get to listen in. Even for Vienna, with its rich venue count, this is a rare establishment.

Among the things that set the ZWE Jazz Bar apart from others is the atmosphere. There is a milieu of spontaneous music-making among friends and fans, where you can walk in off the street and feel at home.

Coming through the small door and down the steps into a crowded space, you maneuver among the people sitting and standing in the entry and on the stairs; suddenly, you’re in the midst of a jam session. The small dimensions of the locale quickly become an advantage; barriers disappear, casual conversations spring up easily as people settle in to groove on the music being born right on their laps.

Upon entering and finding a seat at one of the two natural-wood bars, the proprietor, Zwe (short for Zwetschke, meaning a small plum) whose nickname has christened the locale, will offer a drink. His real name is Helmut Reiner, but you get the nickname; he is an elfin man with a warm smile, forever sporting a riotous wool cap. And for those of you who speak kein Deutsch, he also speaks great English.

From the back of the stage, John Coltrane and Louis Armstrong look down, seeming to give their blessing to the wonderful music being emitted from the four musicians. The walls bask in an orange light coming from behind the air duct, running around the room in the corner between the wall and the ceiling. The stage is a humble 10 centimeters above the floor, edged with orange rope lights.

Blues, funk, soul, jazz, and contemporary Viennese jazz share the stage here from whatever band happens to be playing, or the house DJ when they’re not. The jazz-cat crowd is warm and accepting, and usually includes a very wide range of ages from students to Vienna’s masters of the genre.

On that night there was a live session already underway when I arrived, a kind of open mic where any serious musician with their instrument in hand could play.

The show started with a superb set by the regular session artists: Raimund Aichinger (saxophone), Klemens Marktl (drums), Karol Hodas (bass), Nicolaus Stanovic (piano) – an hour -and-a-half show with plenty of soloing for each musician, as well as an Aichinger original, entitled “Yo,” was warmly received by the diverse crowd.

“In Your Own Way” by Dave Brubeck followed halfway through the set and served as a fine vehicle for the pianist’s talent, not to mention Aichinger’s cool style (eyes closed) of soloing on his tenor sax. The drummer startled everyone on two occasions with two-minute long drum solos that left the audience clapping approvingly. With the orange light and a room swarming with people rubbing elbows, the jazz being played puts the cherry on the cake, creating a superb atmosphere.

Willia Quarda, a long-time jazz saxophonist and professor at the Wiener Konservatorium, comes to ZWE several times a week and often joins in on the Live Session. “I like this place because of the real mixture of people, and especially artists, like Raimund,” he said after Aichinger’s superb performance of “Recordame.” Quarda also performs at other clubs and bars throughout Vienna. “The jam session is a very good time for the local musicians to practice and grow musically, as you can see now,” he said, gesturing toward the stage.

While mingling with the crowd and making my way to the back room of the bar, where couches and booths can be found, I met the self-proclaimed Dr. Jazz, a tall Austrian in a black leather jacket with penchant for cool, ‘jive’ talk.

Doctor of Jazz?

“Because I’ve been living the jazz scene for the past 30 years, baby!” Everybody seemed to know him and called him Dr. Jazz to his face; never once did I hear his real name.

“I love it here,” he enthused in his best plantation English. “The jazz is good and it’s a cool place to be.” And that was that, he was gone just as fast as he had appeared and I had apparently met the authority on the jazz scene in Vienna, right then and there.

As I left this tiniest of jazz clubs on the Ring, I wondered if any of it was true… and decided it didn’t matter.

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