Iconic LA jazz venue loses lease

Iconic club The Jazz Bakery has lost it's lease after 16 years at the same Los Angeles location.
Iconic club The Jazz Bakery has lost it's lease after 16 years at the same Los Angeles location. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

Since it opened 16 years ago, the Jazz Bakery's become one of the top jazz clubs in the Southland, attracting the country's top musicians. It's a listening room; that is, a concert room free of waiters and clinking glasses and plates. This Sunday's show will be the last at the venue's longtime home in the historic Helms Bakery building. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez stopped by this week.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Minutes before showtime, Jazz Bakery founder Ruth Price makes sure to pamper one of the club's regulars.

Ruth Price: Possum the Pomeranian is one of three dogs who always come to the Jazz Bakery. I have three dogs and they take turns.

Guzman-Lopez: The clock is ticking on the Bakery's Venice Boulevard location. Price says she's close to sealing a deal for a new venue. But she admits it's the end of an era.

Price: Emotional? I've been emotional by myself, in the privacy of my home, I don't get emotional out in front of people. That wouldn't be showbiz. I know we're going to re-open, it's just that so much heart and sweat has gone into making this place what it is, you know.

Guzman-Lopez: This crossroads of great music was born from a breakup. After a decades-long jazz singing career, 79-year-old Price found herself divorced. She moved into a small house with a grand piano that was part of her settlement.

A friend volunteered to house the piano in a photography studio. That led to jam sessions that evolved into bookings for jazz greats she'd sang with in clubs across the country. The late owner of the Helms Bakery complex on Venice Boulevard renovated the current space to concert specifications.

Many of the elder statesmen of jazz have cooked on this stage. Price emphasizes that she also reserves room on the calendar for up-and-coming talent. On this night it's Los Angeles pianist Austin Peralta, son of filmmaker Stacy Peralta.

Price: Austin, how old were you when you first worked here?

Austin Peralta: I think 11.
Price: Are you kidding? Eleven years old. He was about this high. And now you're what?
Peralta: Eighteen.
Price: And you're how tall?
Peralta: Six foot.

Price: Six feet tall. See, you watch people grow around here.

Guzman-Lopez: The crowd's growing outside the door. It includes 18-year-old Jessica Wolf, here for a music appreciation class assignment. Until a few years ago, Wolf's tastes were firmly grounded in 1970s stadium rock bands like Led Zeppelin and The Eagles, not jazz.

Jessica Wolf: Oh, I listened to it with my mom sometimes when she's in the car and needs to relax, but I never really took it seriously.

Guzman-Lopez: Neither did her 15-year-old sister, Jaimee, who's visited the Bakery with her four times.

Jaimee Wolf: I kind of just thought it was a bunch of instruments like, like just noise. Then when I started seeing jazz played and saw how many different instruments were into it, I kind of started appreciating it more, because how hard people work to have good jazz music.

Guzman-Lopez: Jazz Bakery patron Edmon Blevins has been a jazz fan for more than 40 years. The club's seven minutes away from where he lives, and its concert setup makes it one of his favorite places to hear jazz.

Edmon Blevins: We have Catalina's Bar and Grill, The World Stage, but this really the anchor for me. It really breaks my heart to see it closed.

["Orange tickets please!"]

Guzman-Lopez: The doors open and people fill about a third of the seats. MC Ruth Price breaks the news to some of them.

Price: Hi everybody, welcome to the Jazz Bakery. Unfortunately, as you know, we're getting closer to the hour of departure because this coming Sunday will be our last night in this location.

Guzman-Lopez: The late owner of the building, Walter Marks, helped along this jazz club and other non-profits. The new owner, Marks's son, wasn't available for comment. Price says he has a different vision and decided not to renew the Jazz Bakery's lease.

Price: This is going to be a furniture store, unfortunately. It's been 16 great years at this location and we'll just go onward and upward.

[Clapping]

Guzman-Lopez: This stage has felt the musical vibrations of legends like trumpeter Art Farmer and bassist Ron Carter. On this night, 18-year-old Austin Peralta and his quartet hold their own.

[Music]

Guzman-Lopez: Price insists that the new club will operate the same way as the old one – as a non-profit that advertises mostly by word-of-mouth and offers student discounts. She's already called the movers. At the front counter she pulls down a framed black-and-white photo she'll have to pack. It's of a smiling saxophone player, Curtis Pegler.

Price: The night before he was going in for some heart surgery, and he was a little scared, and he played incredibly well. Just because I wanted to I reminded him that as soon as he got out and was well enough he'd come back, and he never made it through the surgery.

Guzman-Lopez: She does expect many of the venue's longtime patrons to follow her, even the eccentric ones.

Price: There's a certain person who comes here, I don't even know if I remember his name. He always comes up and always tries to get in for free, always, and he always has a date with him. And then when I say no, he reaches down in his shoe and he always pulls out a hundred dollar bill and pays for two people. Remember that guy?

Guzman-Lopez: Jazz Bakery volunteer Greg Dahl remembers that – and the time he saw hoofer Gregory Hines arrive late for a show and tap dance from his limo to the stage. Oh, he says, and the chord heckler.

Greg Dahl: I think of that fellow who came by for Pharoah Sanders about two years ago. The show starts and he's going "B minor seven flat five. B minor seven flat five."
Price: Yelling chord changes, which weren't right, incidentally.

Guzman-Lopez: Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders gave the audience what it wanted, Price says, a B minor seven flat five. She says she's committed to giving Southland jazz audiences a setting worthy of the music she loves.

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