[JPL] The doors are closing, but the Jazz Bakery is still in play

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Sat May 30 09:44:12 EDT 2009

The doors are closing, but the Jazz Bakery is still in play

The Jazz Bakery, a staple of the L.A. music community, will close its 
doors Sunday after losing its lease, but owner Ruth Price insists it's 
too early to write a eulogy for the club, which has occupied the same 
space at the Helms Bakery District for the last 16 years.

"I've been really stressing the word moving, not closing," she said. 
"But it's been really hard to get people's mind-set away from the most 
dramatic thing they can think of. It is pretty dramatic any way you look 
at it, frankly."

Given that the similarly lauded music venue Largo pulled off a 
successful (if more voluntary) transition to the Coronet Theater last 
year, Price has reasons to be hopeful. Despite the tough economic 
climate and the fact that jazz continues to be faced with a shrinking 
and fragmented audience, she's fielding a number of offers to keep the 
Bakery alive.

She's working on a partnership with the Grammy Museum downtown that will 
allow her to present a run of shows there starting as early as late 
summer, along with tentative plans with Culver City's Kirk Douglas 
Theatre to take over the space on open nights.

She has also pinpointed two potential sites on the Westside for the 
club's new permanent home and is working with architects on preliminary 
sketches. Still, there is no fixed timetable for a new location, or any 
guarantee that one truly will come to fruition.

"Everywhere we go people talk about our cachet," Price said. "And my 
joke is I wish we had cash instead of cachet!"

Although the Bakery is insulated somewhat by grants as part of its 
nonprofit status, the grim reality is that 2009 is a tough time for jazz 
clubs across the country. Detroit's venerable Baker's Keyboard Lounge, 
which has hosted John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, 
announced it also might close at the end of the month after recently 
celebrating its 75th anniversary.

If the Bakery fails to find a new home, that will leave Los Angeles with 
only one club that hosts nationally touring jazz artists on a regular 
basis: the Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood, which like many area jazz 
clubs requires a two-drink minimum or dinner purchase on top of parking 
and admission costs.

Add it up and an evening of jazz quickly becomes cost-prohibitive for 
young or less solvent music fans -- to say nothing for what this could 
mean for nationally recognized artists touring the West Coast.

"Other entrepreneurs are going to have to start [opening] different jazz 
venues in places people may not think are jazz places," said LeRoy 
Downs, a former DJ at radio station KKJZ-FM (88.1) who hosts a number of 
local jazz shows. "Just so we can have musicians still call Los Angeles 
a viable place to come for music."

In recent months, the Bakery has struggled with attendance -- the room, 
which holds 214 people, should draw a good crowd tonight for its final 
major jazz performance with bassist Scott Colley's quartet, but at times 
has had trouble reaching capacity. Most shows at the club cost a minimum 
of $25, even for lesser known acts like a sparsely attended recent 
Monday night show with Iraqi American trumpeter Amir ElSaffar.

"The Bakery is a large enough room that you could get a lot of people in 
there -- not that a lot of people would always turn out," said drummer 
Peter Erskine, who frequently played the Bakery. "L.A.'s L.A., it's hard 
to get people to come out. I don't know, what's the [missing] ingredient?"

"Easy parking," he suggested with a laugh.

Parking has grown more difficult since the arrival last year of trendy 
gastropub Father's Office, but the Bakery has remained beloved by 
members of the local jazz community because of its strict focus on 
music. Unlike other clubs, there is no food or drink service, something 
the featured performers appreciate.

"Clubs are fun . . . but you know, they all have ice blenders and 
telephones and chatty people that come in for reasons other than 
listening to music," Erskine said. "The great thing about the Bakery was 
that it's a listening room, and so the philosophy of the room is what I 
think made every musician fall in love with the place."

Last week, a predominantly older crowd with a few clusters of excitable 
young students filed into the Bakery's performance space to see local 
pianist Billy Childs, who was beginning a four-night run at the Bakery.

As with most every performance, Price addressed the audience before and 
after Childs' set, making a point to remind everyone to sign up for the 
club's e-mail list.

In the lobby after the show was Douglas Mosher, 22, a recent USC music 
graduate with shoulder-length hair and an easy smile. A student of jazz 
saxophone, he's been coming to the Bakery all through college, and even 
got onstage two years ago as part of the club's student nights.

He's long been a fan of the venue's student discount program that takes 
a bite out of what he considers the high price of jazz, but the Bakery's 
unique vibe is what he'll really miss.

When asked where he'll go after the Bakery closes its doors, he's much 
less certain.

"I don't know, I guess I'm not going to see as much," he said, the 
Bakery lobby's exhibition of images of jazz greats looming over his 
shoulder. "I'll just kind of wait and see what their next move is."

--Chris Barton

Dr. Jazz
Dr. Jazz Operations
24270 Eastwood
Oak Park, MI  48237
(248) 542-7888
SKYPE:  drjazz99

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