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One year in, Virtual Jazz Club continues its streak of nightly concerts 

click to enlarge Pianist Laura Dubin and drummer Antonio Guerrero have performed a daily concert for its Virtual Jazz Club series, with no exceptions, since March 16, 2020. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Pianist Laura Dubin and drummer Antonio Guerrero have performed a daily concert for its Virtual Jazz Club series, with no exceptions, since March 16, 2020.

It was a decade ago last August that pianist Laura Dubin and drummer Antonio  Guerrero first met, while performing together in a jazz trio on a Holland America cruise ship. The Rochester-area couple, who married in 2014, has been playing together ever since that first gig, with no signs of stopping.

In fact, the duo’s performance schedule has been literally unceasing for the past year. As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States, Dubin and Guerrero decided to play a 45-minute, live-streamed set on March 16, 2020 — from the comfort of their own home, delivering jazz enthusiastically to listeners while maintaining the prescribed social distance.

Exactly 365 days of consecutive online concerts later — dubbed Laura and Antonio’s Virtual Jazz Club — the duo has been a constant source of live music at a time when such events have been all but nonexistent. The one-year anniversary concert of the DIY jazz series takes place tonight at its regular time, 8:30 p.m., streaming live on YouTube and Facebook. Archived performances can be found on Dubin’s website.

“We didn’t really consciously state that we were going to do it every day for a year straight, but we just didn’t want to stop doing it,” Dubin says. After many weeks had gone by, it was really amazing to have it part of the daily routine.”

Guerrero, who calls the concerts “therapeutic,” recalls times in which minor complications threatened to derail that night’s performance: a leak in the house that had to be dealt with; a unstable internet connection; untimely updates to YouTube and Facebook that could interfere with streaming.

Dubin says that on the more challenging days that it was all the more important to play as a way to uplift their spirits and those of their audience. Even on holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve — the pair stuck to their six-song sets, played entirely live and without any prerecorded tracks.

The pace is undoubtedly grueling, with preparation lasting the entire day. Dubin and Guerrero practice together and individually, before a brief final run-through. After each concert, the couple watch back the evening’s performance and take notes on what could be improved.

But Guerrero doesn’t see it as a chore. “When we have this opportunity to do this everyday, it’s not hard. It’s actually kind of a relief,” he says.

Dubin and Guerrero think they may have the longest consecutive-day performance streak of any jazz musicians — if not all musicians — and have reached out to the Guinness Book of World Records for confirmation. They have yet to get a response. “Obviously, they require evidence, and we’ve got it all on the internet,” Dubin says with a chuckle.
click to enlarge PHOTO PROVIDED
As the series progressed, so have its production values. At the outset of Virtual Jazz Club, the livestreams consisted of only three camera angles, a video resolution of 720 pixels, and one microphone per instrument. Now there are two microphones for the piano and four for the drums, Full-HD quality at 1080 pixels, and seven camera angles complete with picture-in-picture shots — including instrument close-ups that fans couldn’t get even in a club setting.

“No matter which venue you’re in, if you’re not in one of the front rows, it’s hard to see that close-up,” Dubin says. “And so, our slogan that we like to say is that ‘Everybody has a front-row seat at our club.’”

“This was our goal from the beginning, to do not just live-streaming with our phone or something,” she explains.. “We want them to really feel like they’re enjoying what they’re hearing and seeing, and that it’s a cool experience to watch a livestream.”

It’s one thing to hear jazz standards written by legends such as Duke Ellington and Oscar Peterson performed with precision and style, and it’s another to get a tactile sense of the musicians playing in synchronicity. Viewers of the livestream can see Dubin’s fingers fly around the keyboard, as well as the piano’s hammers striking the strings inside. They can see Guerrero’s feet establish the groove with the bass drum and hi-hat.

Although one-time or recurring donations can be made to the musicians at Dubin’s website, the concerts are free. The duo doesn’t want people to feel obligated to pay in order to experience the music.
click to enlarge PHOTO PROVIDED
“We really feel like we’re kind of providing a service, and it feels good to be able to do that for free, and have people be able to just enjoy it when they want to,” Dubin says.

Even with a year’s worth of unabated jazz performances behind them, and the prospects of forthcoming live concerts becoming more real, Dubin and Guerrero have no intention of shutting down the Virtual Jazz Club.

“We’re not only seeing this as a way to hold us over until the pandemic is done,” Dubin says. “It’s been such an important part of our lifestyle now that we want to continue it even when or if we are able to perform in public venues again. We still want to keep doing this.”

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s arts editor. He can be reached at
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