Joe Barna: The Man in Front of The Jazz Scene – By: Rob Smittix
Written by Staff on November 10, 2022
RRX: Well, it’s nice to finally talk to the man behind the jazz scene.
JB: I would say I’m the man in front of the jazz scene.
RRX: That’s a better way to put it, yeah.
JB: I think everybody knows, the cat’s out of the bag.
RRX: It is and you are really bringing jazz to Troy in particular, how’s that going for you? What
do you think the response has been?
JB: The response is overwhelming. I just did a what was originally a four-day but turned into a
five-day jazz festival at 518 Craft in Troy. They basically wanted to honor me for all of the work
that I’ve done for the jazz scene in Troy, so they gave me five nights in a row. They wanted me to
have five different bands featuring five different styles of jazz. The first four nights were
standing room only, it was packed in there. Every night was insane.
RRX: That’s great. How did this all get started?
JB: I lived in NYC and went to SUNY Purchase. I was living in Manhattan and I was working a
small jazz club. I was the front end manager of Mezzrow. Every night I was hanging out with the
elites of the history of jazz. I was responsible for taking care of them when they were performing,
making sure that they got paid correctly, making sure they got drinks, making sure the stages
were set up for them, they had the backline they needed and made sure nobody was bothering
them. So, I became friends with essentially the top jazz musicians in the world and I did this
every night. Befriended them, got to play with a lot of them in jam sessions. It became a network
and more about building relationships than the fact that we were musicians. It has allowed me
an opportunity that very few people in the Capital Region or smaller areas have had. It’s because
of the proximity to NYC, not because I’m special but because I know other guys are doing this
but they live in Idaho or Nebraska or they live in Florida. They don’t have the access to these
musicians where they can drive in their car last minute and come up two and a half hours to
RRX: That makes a lot of sense.
JB: The proximity to these people, the city and the five boroughs has opened up a floodgate of
opportunities for me. I don’t think anybody outside of maybe Nick Brignola or a couple of his
contemporaries. It’s given me an opportunity to do some special things.
RRX: Speaking of special opportunities, tell us about what you have going on at Alias Coffee.
JB: Alias Coffee Company is at 219 4th Street in Troy. It’s this little tiny coffee shop, right? This
gentleman, Hernan, moved up here from NYC is a master barista. He was serving coffee out of
518 Craft, where I play every Monday night. He wanted his own shop and space, so he left, and
he started building up this spot. I went in one day to try the coffee and just say hi, it’s like the
size of a closet. You’ve got this little counter, little shop with a couple of chairs and off to the left
is this tiny little kitchen area. I got talking to him, I tried the coffee, which is amazing, it’s like
velvet in your mouth. The guy is a genius.
RRX: I’m drinking Stewart’s right now, but you’ve got my mouth watering.
JB: No man… you won’t go back after you’ve had Alias. So, in this little corridor it looks like
there’s a maintenance closet where you would have mops and buckets and crap. I open up the
door and it opens up into this enormous, industrial wide-open space. No posts, no poles, no
obstructions and there’s two skylights. I walked in and I said, “oh, my God!” I’ve been looking
for this space for 20 years. I asked Hernan, “is this yours?” He said “yeah, yeah I rent the whole
building.” I said, “do you understand what you have here?” He replied, “I don’t know what
you’re talking about.” I said “Hernan this is a bonafide world-class level performance space.
You’ve got the potential for one of the greatest performance spaces the Capital Region has ever
had.” He said, “do you really believe that?” I said, “not only do I believe it, I will take on the task
of doing it for you.” He said “well, if you’re willing to help me, I’m willing to do it. I was looking
for something special to do with the space, but I just didn’t know what to do with it.” I said “look
man, I will do it myself, I will help you clean it, I will organize the space for you, I will get a
carpenter to build the stage and let’s get a grand piano in here. This will be the premiere music
space in the Capital Region.” Mark my words.
RRX: That’s encouraging.
JB: I’m not saying that other spaces aren’t fantastic but there’s something about this room that
when you walk in, you don’t want to walk out. It’s bizarre. The exposed brick, the concrete floor,
the two skylights with sunlight or moonlight coming in, it’s wide open and the sound is
absolutely impeccable. I said, “please don’t do anything to the room, the sound right now is a
performers dream come true. Don’t mess with it, it’s EQ’d perfectly. There’s very little high,
there’s a lot of warm lows and some mids but the highs get sucked up by the wooden ceiling.
This is going to be my project, let me do this for you.”
I already did one show there, we had a soft opening last month. We only had about two weeks to
advertise it and had about 54 people there. They all paid $20 to come in. I put out a buffet of
food. People donated and my friends were helping subsidize it. We had Defazio’s Pizza, my
mother made these really nice artisan cookies, and we had a fully stocked bar. You’re paying for
the performance, $20 towards the band and then you get everything else for free! Food, drink or
whatever you want is on the house.
RRX: You cannot beat that.
JB: As long as you come and support the music, you can have everything else for free. It’s on us.