Lagniappe Continues Its Role as a Jazz Incubator While Patrons Isolate

Lagniappe's director of music, Mark Small, hopes to continue to introduce Miami audiences to new sounds.
Lagniappe's director of music, Mark Small, hopes to continue to introduce Miami audiences to new sounds.
Photo by Amanda Kowalski
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You could easily miss Lagniappe's small, unassuming building on NE Second Avenue if it weren't for the fact that the New Orleans-style wine bar is perhaps the worst-kept secret in Miami. Before the novel coronavirus shut down bars and restaurants, Lagniappe's garden, with its mismatched, worn furniture, throbbed with bodies as guests picked at platters of charcuterie and sipped wine and craft beer while waiting for the live performances to begin at 9 p.m.

Since opening in 2012, Lagniappe has maintained an impressive program of nightly live-music sessions. Because Miami has so few jazz-centric venues, the quaint spot usually comes highly recommended to those in search of a relaxed vibe with tip-top music.

After Lagniappe shut its doors last month, Anthony Alvarez, manager and co-curator of the bar's beverage selection, barely skipped a beat. He reached out to owner David Tunnell and music director Mark Small to see how they could keep the music programming running while patrons were stuck at home.

Having seen a slew of musicians go virtual, Alvarez thought Lagniappe should expand its reach online, to allow some of its regular performers to keep their gigs and to inject a note of culture into another monotonous day on the couch for self-isolators.

"I wanted to remind everyone that there's still a community here, and despite what's going on, we can still commune even if we're not physically together," Alvarez says.

Lagniappe's first streaming session will happen on its Instagram page, which, until now, went as untended as the adorable stray kittens that roam the venue's garden. This Saturday, April 11, at 9 p.m., Small and Tim Jago will kick things off, and plans are to keep up a weekly schedule.

The livestream promises to maintain Lagniappe's important role as an incubator for Miami's small but thriving jazz scene. Though the Magic City is often associated with EDM, the city's network of jazz musicians and clubs is a crucial element of its musical culture, thanks in part to academic institutions (such as the University of Miami's Frost School of Music) that inject new talent into the city, and in part to those who stay and play the dual role of organizer and collaborator.

Lagniappe is not the only jazz source in town — Ball & Chain, the Globe, WDNA-FM, and Le Chat Noir are only a few of the others — but it has earned its stripes as a place to perform and a place to be. Though Miami isn't considered a significant player in the American jazz scene, that status works in the city's favor: Freedom from expectations gives local musicians more leeway to pursue out-of-the-box ideas.

The wine bar-cum-venue has had nightly music programming since its inception in 2012.
The wine bar-cum-venue has had nightly music programming since its inception in 2012.
Photo courtesy of Lagniappe House

Over the years, Lagniappe's role in making jazz accessible to the curious and the devoted alike has figured in its success. Its willingness to branch out into digital territory is an extension of the labor-of-love attitude of its management team.

"Musicians are great, but I think the most important thing when it comes to [a venue] in any city is a culture of management that just wants to keep it going," says Alejandro Elizondo, a member of the Wynwood String Band. "When a venue really supports something like that, they create a culture in a city that then becomes infrastructure for the music."

Elizondo points out that the bar might have done just as well with a Pandora playlist in the background yet has chosen to present world-renowned jazz musicians.

"Lagniappe has introduced a lot of people to jazz music," Elizondo says. "They are eating their cheese and their wine, and then they're like, 'Wow, what is this?' Even those who don't come to Lagniappe for the music, when they show up here, it leaves an impression on them."

Tunnell says music was always at the forefront of his vision for the bar.

"The best way to bring a community together is through the arts," the owner says. "A place where people gather, are in the moment together, produce, and experience — Lagniappe makes it possible for these things to come together, but everyone in the room plays their own role. I'm just happy to be able to provide a place for that to occur."

Initially, live performances took place on the back patio, a larger and more functional space for musicians than the smaller interior foyer. But after fielding noise complaints from nearby residents, Tunnell had to bring things inside. Despite the setback, the backyard vibe of Lagniappe has endured, and its inclusive atmosphere has allowed for creative osmosis.

"Lagniappe has a specific contract that is built between the musicians and the audience there. It's a social atmosphere," music director David Small says. "Now, I could change that. I could put placards on the tables that say 'No Talking' and shush people, but that would change the whole dynamic of the place."

In some respects, the livestream medium is better suited to the genre than laying down a record. Though Small was initially skeptical about taking the sessions to Instagram, he changed his mind when he realized that livestreaming captures essential elements of jazz.

"I really liked the idea that people want to see something that's happening at that moment," Small says. "That's one of the things about jazz that's so powerful. It's an experience that is unique for that moment, for that crowd. That is what livestreaming is. It's the closest thing to creating a unique experience for people who are locked in their homes, and it's another way to expose people to something new."

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