“When you’re playing off-center music, if you want to keep playing, you have to have a lot of bands because no one wants to hear the same one over and over again,” he said. “Each of them brings something different.”
Crompton performs May 31 at No Tomorrow in Underground Atlanta, not with one of those bands, but as a duo on the broader side of instrumental music: He joins guitarist Mike Baggetta for a gig of “pretty lyrical stuff to skronky guitar sounds”. said Crompton. Music starts at 8 p.m.
Baggetta and Crompton met while playing with musician Rev. Fred Lane. Baggetta sat on guitar during a show, and the two hit it off, but they never performed as a duo. In fact, Crompton said there probably won’t be time to rehearse, so the show will be entirely improvised. This doesn’t bother the seasoned saxophonist, but in most of his work Crompton leans towards composition.
His most substantial composition to date is a 30-minute opera about New Orleans trumpeter Buddy Bolden, the legendary father of jazz. With a grant from the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, the opera was to be performed with a full cast of singers and music from Crompton and his Edgewood Saxophone Trio. This plan became another casualty of the pandemic, so Crompton decided to tape the performances individually, put it all together, and publish the opera on www.buddyboldenopera.com. Crompton hopes to find an organization that will create a full production of the live opera soon.
The saxophonist also has ideas for symphonic compositions, but for those looking for an entry point into his music, Crompton suggests something shorter: his compositions “King Oliver in Savannah” and “Tutweiler Depot”. On Bandcamp, the 2017 7-inch disc containing these songs is described as “multi-track saxophone pieces that celebrate, in a contemporary and avant-garde way, the history of Southern music”. Crompton plays all saxophones and clarinet on the tunes. He also likes “New Normal” by Three Way Mirror, his group which brings together the saxophonist in a trio with Bill Pritchard on tuba and John Arthur Brown on congas.
While Atlantans’ appetite for jazz has never seemed so voracious — with the sole exception of the Atlanta Jazz Festival in Piedmont Park — Crompton sees a demand for his type of music. “There’s a pretty young audience that just wants to hear interesting music, and they don’t care what it is,” he said.
Crompton will always play straight jazz, just with a slightly different perspective, like he did on a chilly May evening in Cabbagetown Park. Crompton, on an improvised stage with his band Standard Practice, told a small group of locals and onlookers to prepare for “a weird little tune from Monk” before launching into the offbeat blues “Bright Mississippi”. The trio, with drummer Kenito Murray and bassist Chris Riggenbach, is Crompton’s first band devoted to jazz standards and tunes from The Great American Songbook. The band doesn’t exactly place him in the Atlanta jazz community.
“There are great jazz musicians in Atlanta,” he said. “But even when I play standards, I don’t want to play them right all the time. It’s like I want to play this flurry of notes that don’t match the chord and that’s going to shock everyone, I want to do it.
Whatever the public and other musicians call his music, Crompton will continue to sand the contours of that definition with new sounds and perspectives for as long as he continues to perform and compose.
Jeff Crompton and Mike Baggetta
8:31 p.m. May. Free. No Tomorrow, Underground Atlanta, 84 Lower Alabama St., Atlanta. facebook.com/NoTomorrowUnderground.