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Jazz conversation flourishes on Saturday
Kevin Bales performs with along with drummer Quentin Baxter and acoustic bass player Ricky Ruvelo Saturday night at the Smithgall Arts Center as part of the Evening of Intimate Jazz concert series.

0219Bales-On The Sunny Side Of The Street

Kevin Bales performs "On the Sunny Side of the Street."

Kevin Bales Trio

Evenings of Intimate Jazz concert series

When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Smithgall Arts Center, 331 Spring St. SW, Gainesville
How much: $25
More info: 770-534-2787

If you want to listen in on a musical conversation between old friends, you can attend the Evenings of Intimate Jazz concert this Saturday and take in the Kevin Bales Trio.

The concert will feature Bales, a pianist, along with drummer Quentin Baxter and acoustic bass player Ricky Ruvelo.

Bales has played piano for more than 30 years, beginning when he was 10. First it was classical, then rock ‘n’ roll, but it wasn’t until his 20s that he settled on jazz.

Bales, who lives in Atlanta, said he decided to be a jazz musician in the ’80s — when it wasn’t the most lucrative career choice — but he hasn’t looked back since.

A full-time performer and teacher, Bales spends his time between classes at Georgia State University, traveling and playing at venues like Lincoln Center in New York and The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Bales said jazz musicians are like a "large family," and he has played with well-known members including Wynton Marsalis, Ira Sullivan, Marcus Printup and James Moody. Bales currently is touring with jazz recording artist Rene Marie.

Baxter also tours along with Bales with Marie, and Bales toured previously with Ravelo.

"No one plays the drums like Quentin. He’s a world-class musician," said Bales. "And Ricky Ravelo, the bass player, he plays acoustic bass, the bass violin. He has a very unique sound and approach to playing that instrument."

Bales said there won’t be a rehearsal for Saturday’s trio performance, because it’s the improvisational element of jazz that makes it ... well, jazz.

"It’s community music. Any given performance, large portions of the songs come out different every time. So, it’s a conversation among the musicians," he said. "So there’s an advantage to having a different musician involved in the music, because it leads to different things that might happen."

That "community" aspect is what keeps him in the genre, Bales added.

"That’s one of my favorite things about it," he said. "It’s a large family of musicians all around the country. We all know each other, and we all get to play with each other in a large, different kind of setting."

Bales said the Evenings of Intimate Jazz concert will be a "special situation for the three of us to play together."

"We’re not going to even have a specific song list. We’re going to present each song as a spontaneous conversation. I’m not going to even tell the other musician what key or what the song is, and then let the conversation unfold live in front of the audience. I’ve done this the last three or four concerts I’ve done with other musicians and it’s worked out great," said Bales.

The spontaneity also gives audience members a chance to learn a little more about jazz.

"It really lets them see how jazz works. The way I’m describing it to you might seem grossly experimental or avant garde or something, but you know it really isn’t," he said.

Bales said the group will play the melodies of songs "because we all know all of them. Well, I say all of them — we probably know a few thousand songs between the three of us, and we try to make it as recognizable as possible to the audience and tuneful, with a lot of blues and spirit and groove."

And because this musical "conversation" isn’t rehearsed, it will make for a better, more spontaneous show.

"Rather than have a bunch of stuff worked out ahead of time — that would be more like trickery," he said. "This would be more, very organic, the way people have conversations. I think it’s a lot of fun to watch. And the best compliment I’ve ever gotten from someone from these types of concerts is, ‘Normally I don’t like jazz but I like what you’re doing.’

"And then I get to tell them, ‘Well, this is really what jazz is.’"

Arts Council Director Gladys Wyant said the council is "very fortunate that we can attract (this) kind of act to our intimate setting."

Wyant said the council tries to foster a relaxed atmosphere at Evenings of Intimate Jazz concerts, and visitors are welcome to get up and grab a cup of coffee during the performance.