Rochester is a rock 'n' roll town. From garage to blues, punk to metal, and all manner of hybrids in between, the Flower City has been doing it since dirt was clean. And more than a few have put this town on the map.
There was rockabilly guitar player Jerry Engler who recorded with Buddy Holly — Holly played the triangle on one of the two tracks, "What A You Gonna Do?" — and then there was Soul Brothers Six who penned the 1967 mega hit "Some Kind of Wonderful" while playing clubs on Rochester's Northeast side. And bands like The Fugitives, in the 1980's, brought Jim Carroll to town and backed him up, or The Chesterfield Kings who brought Bo Diddley to town.
There's a notable jazz scene here that goes back to the Cotton Club on Joseph Avenue (Bull Moose Jackson played there) and joints in Corn Hill (Dizzy Gillespie's drummer, Eddie Israel, lived in Corn Hill and was part of the Cotton Club's house band). And blues musicians like Joe Beard and Steve Grills build on the legacy of Son House, who lived in Corn Hill for about 20 years. And The Garage Pop Records-driven garage scene in the 1990's reminds me of the current scene: brash, cocky, and all the way live.
Flash-forward to today with a fresh crop of bands and artists on their way or just making a sizeable dent right here. Musicians like guitarist Greg Townson who trots the globe with Los Straitjackets, or Joywave who just performed on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," and new bands like Hot Mayonnaise who mix arena rock with in your face punk rock.
This has historically been a live music town and it still is. There's something going on every night, eight days a week.
While Rochester's rock scenes fill the bars and clubs, the city's classical music scene lives on in performance halls. The vibrancy of Rochester's classical music community can be traced — like a lot of things here — back to George Eastman. Eastman was such ardent music lover that he had a large pipe organ installed in his home (concerts are still regularly held at the museum, so check out the calendar at eastman.org). Rochester, of course, had music teachers and performers, but a string of investments made by Eastman in the early 20th century ensured that classical music would thrive in the city.
Eastman and Emily Sibley Watson, who founded the Memorial Art Gallery, were benefactors of David Hochstein and, in 1919, contributed funds to create a music school that bears his name. The Hochstein School of Music and Dance, since 1920, has played an important role in educating Rochester musicians.
In 1918, Eastman convinced the University of Rochester to open a professional music school; the Eastman School of Music opened for its first class in September 1921. A year later, the Eastman Theatre opened. The Eastman School, attracting students from around the world, has consistently been ranked as one of the best music schools in the country, and its library, the Sibley Music Library, is the largest music library in the US.
Then, in 1922, George Eastman founded the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, which has, over its 96-year history, been regarded as a world-class orchestra. Education has also been a cornerstone value of the RPO, and about a third of its programming is educational or community-related.
Those actions were important to create a solid foundation for classical music in Rochester. And today, organizations like the Society for Chamber Music, Pegasus Early Music, Publick Musick, the Rochester Chamber Orchestra, the Rochester Oratorio Society, First Muse, Rochester Lyric Opera, ROCmusic, and numerous other ensembles and community orchestras offer engaging programing almost year-round.