For ‘refined’ flavor of jazz, locals turn to Bob Niederriter Trio


Guitarist Bob Niederriter is the leader of a jazz trio.

Mark Oprea

Jazz guitarist Bob Niederriter, leader of the eponymous Trio, is an artist’s musician. As an accomplished glass blower and painter, he’s always been involved in the act of composition, on and off the stage. But Niederriter said his art — in whatever form it takes — is sure to “have a certain degree of sophistication.”

Niederriter will bring his Trio to the Stone Tavern Friday, Sept. 5 at 9 p.m. He has been headlining the local venue since its grand opening in 2010. Niederriter preformed his swing and bebop music in clubs in Columbus, Cleveland and Dayton, and played at summer festivals such as Nelson’s Ledges and Classic Fest, which usually attract a jam-band crowd, rather than hardcore jazz guys.

What “refined, intelligent music” like Niederriter’s can do for a local scene, he said, is provide a cultural niche that may be missing. And Niederriter doesn’t mind being the show-all jazz guru for educational purposes.

“I really like going and exposing (jazz) to people, even if they don’t understand it,” he said. 

But Niederriter’s nothing less than the real deal. Apart from studying glass blowing at Kent State with Henry Halem, Niederriter was playing swing with the university’s big band. 

Niederriter said because art came easy to him he shifted his sights to jazz because it was a struggle and he wanted to challenge himself. 

Surrounding himself with the music of Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian, Niederriter not only aimed to mimic complex phrasing and tackle guitar arranging, but also find inspiration in an area lacking the style he was after.

Although he was eager for serious improvement, jazz teachers around Cleveland told Niederriter he’d be better off finding his sound in New York City. There, he said, people were playing all these styles of jazz, and were “really hip” doing it. Niederriter attended the New School for Social Research in NYC on scholarship and graduated with a BFA in music. 

Yet academia was only so helpful for the guitarist, who’s racked up a solid 14 years in arts education. 

“Jazz ain’t that way,” Niederriter said. “You really learn the most simply from playing with a lot of great players in a small group setting.”

And Niederriter’s more than grateful for those musicians he’s brushed up against and learned technique from. He not only studied with Cleveland musician Ralph Russo, but he’s also jammed with Oscar Peterson Trio guitarist Herb Ellis at the New School and studied under the legendary Jim Hall. He has toured with pianists like Tony Monaco, who, he said, is “one of the greatest B3 organists in the world.” 

In 2002, the jazz graduate combined all his influences — from bebop to Bossa Nova — and turned it into the self-produced “Full Circle,” Niederriter’s only full-length album to this date.

Things were going well for Niederriter until tragedy hit.

In late 2002, after attending the International Jazz Conference in NYC to promote his album, Niederriter was driving west toward Cleveland when his car collided with an eighteen-wheeler. The truck hit him so hard that it broke his seatbelt in two places and caused Niederriter to end up in the opposite backseat corner of the vehicle. Along with front-row teeth missing, a “banged-up” face and knees, the crash cost Niederriter $8,000 and derailed his hopes of having a successful jazz album.  

A little more than a decade later, Niederriter’s knack for touring is still affected, but his penchant for music and composition, not so much. 

“I used to enjoy driving around in the car a lot more,” he said. “You can call me lazy or not, but I’d rather not be risking my life in an automobile. Dragging your ass around — it’s not as much fun anymore. Unless I’m getting paid an enormous amount, it isn’t worth it.”

Nowadays, the Bob Neidreitter Trio — including organist John Eshelman and bassist Marty Block — keeps close to home. Although places like Cleveland, Columbus and Kent don’t rep the profusion of jazz found in NYC, Niederriter’s content promoting his diverse style in nearby festivals and main street nightclubs. 

Staying local, Niederriter said, allows him to keep afloat a contemporary Kent jazz scene that he said he helped create more than two decades ago.

As far as any close comparison or alternative, Niedettiter believes people are out of luck.

“There’s not many people like me around here,” he said.

 Contact Mark Oprea at [email protected].