Mid-morning at the Rabbit Hole might as well be midnight: The gas lamps flicker, barely lighting the dim corners. It seems an apt atmosphere for Utah jazzman Alan Michael, who cradles his gleaming saxophone as he talks about the jazz that is his life.
Of course, he’s from New York City. But he moved from that jazz habitat to Utah in the mid-nineties at the urging of his wife, Shannon. “She wanted out of the city and loves the mountains,” he says.
He loves them too, so he exchanged the jazz scene for the natural scenery. But, “I still get back there,” he says. In fact, he recently returned from the city where he went to have the mouthpiece of his sax reshaped.
He has a whole other life and a different name in New York. There, he uses his real name, Alan Michael Braufman. “Here, I was always calling up and talking to a receptionist who couldn’t understand “Braufman.’ So I dropped that and changed it to Alan Michael a year ago.” He also plays a different kind of music in New York—still jazz, but more experimental, edgier. It’s the kind of music he made his name with, ever since playing with the Psychedelic Furs, among other bands.
“More and more sax collectors means that many instruments end up in collections instead of being played,” says Michael, who would prefer we not touch his instrument. The heavy intricate brass work is coated by the maker with a lacquer to protect the shine. Mess with that and you devalue the horn. Oddly, sax parts are made in Paris, but assembled in Elkhart, Indiana.
That sound doesn’t play well with audiences here, but he loves the music he does play with his quartet, Friday and Saturday nights at the Bayou and as often as possible at the Rabbit Hole, a space downstairs from Lake Effect where Kelly Samonds books jazz. “It’s a listening room, not a loud jazz room,” says Michael. “I’ve learned not to mind talking; if the music is good enough, they’ll be quiet and listen, unless they’re drunk. Kelly won’t allow a synthesizer here. He’s a purist, so there’s no amplification. Michael also plays at the Garage, Jazz Vespers at First Unitarian Church and Jazz at the Gallivan but Rabbit Hole is one of the only places in Salt Lake City where he plays his own music.
Indian Navigation Company put out an album in 1975 , Valley of Search, that focused on Michael’s avant garde jazz. Out of print now, copies sell on eBay for $150. There are plans to reissue the album, but, remember, jazz (like most music) is always best live.