I recently visited The Chatterbox twice in one week. The small, cozy jazz club on Mass Ave is often overlooked as one of the better places in downtown Indy to grab a beer and hear some amazing music.
On Tuesday, EN2 guitarist Robert Coates occupied the stage with an eight-string guitar in his lap and an accompanying percussionist tucked tightly in the corner of the small stage. Propped up against the south wall, Coates faced the attentive audience with supreme confidence. The Chatterbox was not to the point of standing room only (yet), but few open seats remained as ears were awed by Coates’ matchless dexterity on the unique instrument; unquestionably, a rare skillset seen on display in Indianapolis.
Twin Cats saxophone player Nick Gerlach, who frequents the club independent of the band regularly, had come to soak in the sweet sounds of Coates’ eight-string as well. To the surprise (and delight) of Chatterbox patrons, Gerlach brought his horn and eventually stepped onstage to perform with the duo. It was refreshing to hear a part of The Twin Cats’ signature sound removed from its traditional context and presented in a new environment; the band’s influence was detectable, but certainly on reserve. Rhythms and patterns in the music were obscure and ever-changing, stimulating and pleasureful.
When Gerlach stepped down, local jazz and R&B vocalist Goldie Johnson stepped up. Goldie’s voice was instantly captivating- from the soulful Tracy Chapman classic “Give Me One Reason” to a moving cover of Nora Jones’ “Don’t Know Why” that drew a tear to the eye of one listener. When I returned to The Chatterbox later that week on Saturday night, Goldie continued to reinvent familiar songs from a variety of genres- not just jazz and blues. “Gravity” by John Mayer made the final cut, as well as a time warp back to the mid 1990’s with Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine”- performed with such emotion and conviction one would have thought the song belonged to Goldie, not Carter.
A different saxophone authority was at The Chatterbox on Saturday (Jared Thompson of local jazz/hip hop/fusion group Premium Blend) and a spoken word artist, who was only identified as Allison, performed twice. In the first set, Allison recited “Chocolate Lemonade”, an ode to the object of her affection during which bold subject matter and sexual undertones incited claps and cheers across the bar. Later, she delivered a poem opposite of the previous one’s tone that ended each verse with the repetitive line, “We are. I am. This is. Tired.”
With live jazz six nights a week, seeing and hearing something new at The Chatterbox is almost always inevitable. The dive bar atmosphere provides a safe environment for music enthusiasts of any age and background to gather and meet new friends, exchange stories with one another, and enjoy local talent together. With a 2-2 running record at the club as of late, I’ll vouch for a guaranteed good time at The Chatterbox any day of the week.