The mood is one of hushed reverence as Kenny Warner sits at the grand piano to begin his set at Nashua’s Studio 99. The cadence of breathing is audible in the intimate performing space, with devotees wait ing for the music to come.
Jonathan Lorentz believes it’s exactly how a jazz show should feel.
“A really devoted music fan is almost religious about it,” he said as Warner took a break. “It’s the closest I have to church right now, coming out to these jazz clubs and seeing my friends, these people I’ve met through a mutual love for jazz.”
Once a month, Lorentz’ NH Jazz Presents books a big name like John Abercrombie, Dave Liebman or Delfeayo Marsalis for a four-day run through the region. It’s a shoestring operation — “me, my toddler and a laptop,” he joked during his introduction of Warner — done mostly out of sheer love for the art.
“I started with no money, and I still have no money,” he laughed. “But I haven’t had to take a business loan. It started on a whim … it’s a general experiment. Can we have a listening room outside of Boston or New York and sustain it long enough to have a crowd?”
Lorentz, a saxophone player who’ll perform at next month’s series, then answers his own question.
“We have,” he said with a smile.
It began in mid-2011 in Laconia, where Lorentz lives with his wife and child. It now includes Nashua, the Vermont town of Bradford, and most recently the Press Room in Portsmouth.
The crowds vary, said Lorentz, with a lot of repeat business.
“We’ve seen as many as 160 and as few as eight — the range between utter failure and screaming success. … It’s all over the map, it’s touch and go, but we hang in there, and quality is the only thing I’m going for.”
The criteria for his rooms are simple.
“We make sure there aren’t any TVs on the wall, no distractions,” said Lorentz, adding that good acoustics and a working grand piano are also essential. “There’s no way I’m getting Kenny Warner on a keyboard.”
The caliber of fans is impressive, he said. No one needs a reminder to turn off a cell phone.
“There’s actually a large percentage of musicians in here tonight, a lot of very heavy hitters, people I’ve produced shows for, who tell me, ‘I’m here for myself, to enjoy the show,’” Lorentz said. “That’s a tip of the hat … it brings the whole thing to another level of consciousness.”
Lorentz, “a very jaded 36,” spent a number of years in New York City before moving upstate in the mid-2000s. He landed in the Lakes Region when his wife, a Laconia native, became executive director for the Belknap County Economic Development Council.
“I’ve always been the loose cannon in the family. I take some gigs, do composition work, scrape together a living as a musician,” he said. “But I have a very stable spouse with a wonderful job. She’s our backbone.”
He’s due to begin teaching a 10-week adult education course in jazz appreciation.
“It’s going to be very non-academic, lots of listening and learning how to develop active listening skills,” Lorentz said.
The rich history of jazz in America will also come up.
“When you really get into the struggles behind it — the drugs, crimes and hustles — it’s just fascinating,” said Lorentz. “It could only happen in a country where all these cultures are forced to be living together through a kind of nasty means — making a society out of an absolute mess.”
As Lorentz warms to his subject, it’s apparent he expects to also learn a few things himself during the course. “After years of listening to jazz, I’m still getting my head around it,” he said. “I’m a musician, but I’m always a student.”