The BLOG: Culture

Timely and topical tunes on tap at Jazz at the Arsenal

It once made ammunition for the U.S. military. Now it makes music – and sculptures, and paintings. Where once there was the clang-clang-clang of metal being forged into bullets, there is now the ping-ping-a-ding of a ride cymbal setting the pace for a saxophone solo.

The Arsenal Center for the Arts, on the site of a former munitions arsenal in Watertown, is home to theater, creative art classes, visual art exhibitions, artist forums, and musical performances. On one Monday night a month, it is home to the Jazz at the Arsenal series, featuring faculty members from the renowned Berklee College of Music.

(Courtesy Arsenal Center for the Arts)

(Courtesy Arsenal Center for the Arts)

John Baboian, a Berklee professor of guitar who runs Jazz at the Arsenal, tries to keep the concerts timely and topical. In December, it was “A Jazzy Christmas,” with Baboian’s own quartet playing holiday tunes. Monday, Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jeff Ramsey and George Russell Jr. performed numbers that personified the civil rights movement as well as numbers that are related to the life of Dr. King.

The next Jazz at the Arsenal concert, on Feb. 15, the day after Valentine’s Day, features, guess what? Yes, love songs. In a concert entitled “Taking Love Easy: Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass,” the Patrice Williamson Group will play tunes popularized by the singer and the guitarist.

In March, pianist Mark Shilansky performs with his Fugue Mill, which he describes as “jazz-meets-bluegrass-meets-Celtic-music.”

The eclecticism is intentional, says Baboian, Jazz at the Arsenal’s music director.

“I try to keep it as varied as I can, but with the idea, that just like anyplace else, we need to have an audience,” he said. “I try to balance it out, so that we have our share of vocalists as well as instrumentalists, as I know the general public tends to enjoy vocalists. We have so many faculty members at Berklee that I’ve been able to spread the wealth, so to speak, and not have the same people coming in over and over again to perform.”

The audience for Jazz at the Arsenal is slightly different than for performances held on Berklee’s Boston campus, even though the two are only several miles away, Baboian said.

“We have a great mix of people attending the concerts,” he said. “There’s a core group who are Arsenal members, and people who live in Watertown. The groups attract their regular fans, which also helps. And sometimes we get Berklee students to come as well.”

The Arsenal Center for the Arts,, at 321 Arsenal Street in Watertown, is on the bus line from Boston, which makes it accessible for the students. And unlike so much of Boston, there’s ample free parking, including many spaces in the complex itself.

The Jazz at the Arsenal series is held in the Black Box Theater, one of two musical performance spaces in the center. The Black Box has a capacity of 100. Tickets for the series are generally $20 per performance; $18 for members; and $15 for students, plus fees. To purchase tickets, call the box office at 617-923-8487.

Tom Nutile

Tom Nutile

Tom Nutile can be reached at [email protected].