It’s halfway through the second set, and standing in front of a glass wall exposing an impressive display of wine—along with three other musicians—trumpeter Mike Gonzales and saxophonist Andrew Friedlander launch into a chord progression together, the longtime bandmates in sync but hardly mirroring one another. Drummer Eric Schauer and bassist Justin Peterson establish a rhythm much slower than the spry number that preceded it, and, when joined by pianist Matt Green, create a vampy, funkier mood that’s closer to R&B and soul than jazz. Contrast that to the spry bop of the next tune on the setlist: Thelonious Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t,” where Green naturally gets some shine time. The variety of styles nearly mirrors that of Ferraro’s wine.
We’ve been here before—three years ago, in fact, when Ferraro’s first gave Jazz Workshop a slot to play music that isn’t featured much in this town but should: instrumental jazz steeped in a midcentury tradition from which it occasionally ripples out. Back in 2012, the restaurant’s late-night manager, Brege Shinn, discovered Gonzales at a Double Down gig and quickly sensed he and his sound would be a perfect complement to the after-hours/reverse happy-hour program, and a weekly Jazz Workshop session was launched. But it ended not long after she left Nevada in 2013.
Fast-forward to last November when Shinn returned to Las Vegas and Ferraro’s. After catching up over drinks with photographer Erik Kabik and KUNV DJ George Lyons, where they all reminisced about their old hangout/jazz sesh, she sought once again to strengthen the restaurant’s late-night programming and received encouragement to revive the weekly Jazz Workshop gig—especially from Gonzales. She wouldn’t consider anyone else. “I trusted his genius years ago, and then I trusted it this time,” Shinn says. “When I was in my early 20s and living back East, I would frequent jazz clubs in New York City regularly. His sound reminds me of those spots. I knew people would respond.”
Once convention season quieted down and the Ferraro family signed off on another stab at late-night jazz, a May 26 relaunch was set. According to Kabik, who helps push the promotion, it was well-populated and well-received. Last Thursday’s edition saw the same room at least half-filled, with people coming in and out during the three sets. That performance also introduced Friedlander and Peterson to Jazz Workshop, which three years ago was just a quartet, sans piano.
And that’s not the only way Gonzales is differentiating now from then. “This time around, we are focusing our energy into writing our own material, which is something I personally have been neglecting,” he says. “Ferraro’s has been great for us, and we are happy to be back.”
If the gig runs a little late for non-industry, non-night-owl jazz enthusiasts, there’s actually an earlier promotion to enjoy, albeit with a lighter, kitschier vibe—think cocktails, not wine. Over at the Golden Tiki, instrumental trio The Sharps are the Thursday resident band, led by charismatic saxophonist Charles McNeal. And while they skew more bossa nova, swing and lounge—including their covers, which can range from Marvin Gaye to the I Dream of Jeannie theme song—they maintain a similar evening mood ideal for drinks and light conversation. It’s a welcome reminder that the Vegas jazz experience doesn’t always have to include Prohibition-era standards, evoke the Rat Pack or overlap with contemporary pop.
Jazz Workshop Thursdays, 11 p.m.-2 a.m., no cover.. Ferraro’s, 702-364-5300.