Its Wednesday night at Morrisvilles Travinia Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar, and the Jim Ferris Trio just got through jazzing up the place. Every other Wednesday, they provide a cool, smooth soundtrack for diners to enjoy their scrumptious pasta.
At the end of the evening, Jim Ferris, the sax/flute-playing front man, is digging into one of those dishes himself (eggplant parmesan, if youre curious along with a Manhattan to wash it down), as he discusses his career as a musician. I stopped playing for about six years altogether, he says.
The Raleigh-based veteran musician hung up his instruments for a while to concentrate more on being a 9-to-5 provider for his family. And then my son was playing sax, and he was actually playing my sax. I kinda got encouraged to go out and start kinda playing again.
In 2005, he began playing sax in church alongside local jazz pianist Bruce Smith. Smith soon got him together with his brother-in-law, Knightdale drummer Mike McPherson. Three years later, they began playing together as the Jim Ferris Trio. (Smith left the group earlier this year and has been replaced by a rotating lineup of keyboardists, including Raleigh organist/vocalist Grant Osborne.)
The trio has been a staple of the restaurant scene, playing gigs at such upscale spots as Travinia, Peak City Grill and Irregardless Café, usually hitting patrons with some comfortable-yet-still-swinging jazz covers. Since its the holidays, the trio has been inserting jazzy versions of yuletide standards into their sets. We enjoy doing restaurants, says Ferris, but what we really, really love is playing in a place like C. Grace.
Ferris and his boys find the downtown Raleigh basement lounge, which theyve played on occasional Saturday nights since late spring, to be an ideal place to play the loose, freewheeling jazz they cant play at other spots. They can do funk covers from Herbie Hancock, Grover Washington Jr., Ronnie Laws, etc. At C. Grace, we get to really play with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy, says Ferris. And theres also the crowd reaction, because theyre there for the music.
The band does appear to feed off the youthful vibe of the crowd. Those people, theyre all in the 20s, says McPherson. And theyre really into that jazz scene. Theyre coming down there for cocktails, but we have quite a few people that sit there and really get into it. Its good to see that with the young kids.
They certainly feel they have more room to breathe at C. Grace, as opposed to someplace like Irregardless Café.
I mean, you got tables right on top of the band, Ferris says about Irregardless. And you have to play so very, very soft there. An old lady will sit down and you havent even started playing yet theyre already telling us to turn it down. But we enjoy it.
Ferris and his band mates are grateful for those old ladies and the other people who show up to see them perform. Doug Largent, who recently joined the trio as one of the rotating keyboardists, knows how difficult it is for any local band to get people out of their homes for a night of music. I think its the same for every form of music, says the Carrboro resident.
As they move into the coming year, the Jim Ferris Trio hopes to pick up more listeners with their enthusiastic stylings. We play with a lot of energy and drive and were having a blast, says Ferris. And were hoping that transcends into the audience and it often does.