A La Carte

Last Club Standing

April 3, 2010

After studying under Ernie Caceres and Peanuts Hucko, playing clarinet in college bands and later with stars like Charlie Byrd , musician Tommy Gwaltney purchased a small, dark club in Washington called Blues Alley in 1965. Unlike other jazz clubs driven by profit, Blues Alley was a musician's club first. The same year, a Georgetown University student took a job at the club to earn a bit of extra money. That student was Chris Murray, who later opened Govinda Gallery. Decades later, both personalities continue to influence the music and art of Georgetown -- as well as the nation's. 

In fact, their influence on a global scale -- reaching fans around the world -- may be a forshadowing of a jazz renaissance to come.

If past is prologue, Blues Alley's future is bright. “It was the premier jazz club in the city," Murray says. His gallery specializes in iconic musical photography. 

The club in Georgetown was part of a constellation of active hot spots in Washington --  Shamrock, The Cellar Door, Crazy Horse, Emergency, One Step Down, and The Bayou, to name a few.  Decades before luxury condos abutted trendy restaurants and national retailers gentrified Georgetown, bohemian M Street was dotted with music halls that could rival Bourbon Street. Today, with the price of real estate and prohibitive zoning restrictions, only a fraction of local businesses survive, and all other live music clubs have long since headed for the hills.

Enter Harry Schnipper, not a legendary musician or renowned artist. In fact, the real estate lawyer might seem at first to be the least likely savior of a musical tradition in Georgetown. 

But savior he is. As Blues Alley’s Executive Director (and only its third owner), Schnipper is as passionate about bringing “all things jazz to Washington” as he is about preserving America’s “last club standing”,  the nation’s oldest continuing jazz supper club. Everyone knows there’s no substitute for live entertainment in an intimate setting.  Getting “cheeks in the seats,” as Schnipper bluntly puts it, may not seem hard when you can boast a historic roster of concert hall musicians that includes Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Grover Washington Jr., Miles Davis, Ramsey Lewis, Stanley Turrentine, Charlie Byrd, Maynard Ferguson, Eva Cassidy, Ahmad Jamal, Wynton Marsalis, and coming up this month, Dave Brubeck.

But it is hard. As all Georgetown business owners know, the extra layers of laws and regulations in Georgetown, not to mention its tricky narrow streets and premium parking, can make running the simplest business challeging. Take it from Schnipper, running a jazz club in an age of Twitter, iPods and Miley Cyrus hits is not simple.

Lucky for Blues Alley, Schnipper is a property and tax expert. And he needs to be.  While Blues Alley is a national jazz treasure (one renowned around the world), it faces a myriad of challenges just to keep the lights on.  

Zoned “waterfront redevelopment” when it was established, Blues Alley is indisputably commercial, and definitely not on the water. This tavern-slash-restaurant-slash-entertainment establishment has enough licenses in precarious shape -- with the associated fees and legal expenses -- to make the average business owner run across Key Bridge to business-friendler territory. 

Not only that, the diminuitive club's main competitors are tax-free and government-subsidized venues: the Kennedy Center and Smithsonian, both nonprofits, which have also received considerable amounts of corporate underwriting to expand their jazz programming in recent years.

Up for renewal and before an ANC vote in six weeks is Blues Alley’s public hall license (allowing it to offer live entertainment), the only one in Georgetown.  But restrictions in this outdated class of license make it difficult for Blues Alley to  qualify today. Example: 400 parking spaces are required for a 300+ seat venue. 

But Schnipper is hopeful that community support and the leadership of D.C. Council member Jack Evans will result in the renewal of the same license Blues Alley has held since 1964.

Musicians and fans can't say enough good things, including trumpet virtuoso John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie (above right), who sings the praises of this unique and increasingly lonely jazz venue. 

The good news is, these days, it's more than just a club. Besides the Georgetown landmark and legendary jazz stage, there is a Blues Alley Orchestra, a Summer Jazz Camp, and this year, the Blue’s Alley Society’s 6th Annual BIG BAND JAM! 

They’re all here, and April is Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM). 

BIG BAND JAM! is the only jazz festival in America specifically created "by kids, to kids, for kids, and from kids."  Artists as diverse as vocal, fusion, straight ahead (Count Basie-style big band), Dixieland, and big band all play over a 10-day period at venues around town. This year’s festival runs April 16–25 and includes performances by the Dave Brubeck Quartet and a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald.

Serving as the area’s jazz ambassadors, the Blues Alley Youth Orchestra (shown above) is modeled after and named for its internationally-renowned namesake. Now in its twentieth year, these accomplished musicians age 11 to 17 perform at such mainstay venues including the Kennedy Center, Smithsonian, National Theater, East Coast Jazz Festival, Wolf Trap and Carter Barron Amphitheater -- the last of which also serves as the summer home of the Blues Alley Youth Orchestra. Each summer over a five-week term, youth from all over the city come to learn, share and grow through jazz education and further perform on some of the city's most prestigious stages.

The Blues Alley Summer Jazz Camp for kids is a free program that benefits children the children, the community and the city through a series of public performances at Farragut, Franklin and McPherson Squares, Blues Alley and the annual culminating concert at Carter Barron.

Who'd have thought all of this art and music, especially for young people, could come from a modest set of carriage houses in an alley in Georgetown? Talk about Stardust.

Read more about Blues Alley Society, Blues Alley Jazz Supper Club, and the 2010 BIG BAND JAM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No photographs are allowed during performances, which  explains why so many artists (like Eva Cassidy pictured above) have posed for their "LIVE at Blues Alley" album/CD covers beneath the club sign of this historic converted carriage house.


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M29 + M29 @ M29 = M29!

March 30, 2010

I looked for it but it was gone, totally sold out.  But I didn’t care.  I already had my Monserat De Lucca “Besso” bag purchased … yes, 29 days ago when M29 Lifestyle officially opened its doors at 29th & M. Last night (on March 29th) we were welcomed back, this time with glasses raised to toast an evening of fun, fashion and fabulous treats, compliments of the Four Seasons Hotel and celebrate M29's grand opening!  

Chicago-based Strategic Hotels and Resorts Vice President of Design, Michael Dalton joined Deborah Bush Director of Retail to check out their latest hive.

 California textile student Samantha Pinnock with Michael Dalton and Deborah Bush

True to the company’s motto (and gold bee emblem) of treating every guest like a queen bee, Strategic brought in a team of hands-on experts to design this sweet shopping spot on the grounds of Georgetown's Four Seasons Hotel.

 Four Seasons Hotel RVP and general manager, Christian Clerc, M29 store manager, Allyson Wilder, and Strategic's  Michael Dalton and Deborah Bush

We were treated to a special preview of local jewelry designer and Ralph Lauren design alumna, Carol Workinger’s exclusive “Carolina” trunk show, officially opening today.

  Carol Workinger with her exclusive Carolina jewelry designs

It was time to mingle and shop, but not before welcoming newest member of the M29 team, sales associate Ron Edwards

   Ron Edwards with Lomography's colorsplash camera

    Tammy Buckner and Michael Simms inspect a designer leather bag


   Taylor Uzzell, Allison Gionta, Sarah Suckow, and Kindal Newsome

  Rafael Melendez offers M29 signature cocktails


  Deborah with Four Seasons Hotel manager Thomas Legner

  Deborah with Ron Edwards


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On The Shopping Block: The Merchants of Rose Park

March 23, 2010

Never have the shops on P Street proven to be more of a destination for the residents of Georgetown than during the white-out of Snowmageddan. While waiting, it seemed forever for those of us whose cars were parked on side streets, for the plows to come, we could still get milk at 7- Eleven, pick up dry-cleaning and have our pants hemmed at Midtown Cleaners, purchase a bottle of wine (or two!) at Georgetown Wine & Spirits, select the perfect gift at West of Soho, and get provisions at Griffin Market.   

When I walked into Georgetown Wine & Spirits at 2701, I did what manager Manuel Michalowski (pictured at right) says most women do, go straight for the vodka! (Is that a bad thing?) Men dart for the beer, which, in this case means the locker room in the back, stocked chilly with over 40 varieties. Current owner, Ankur Andy” Desai has been catering to his Georgetown customers in a tradition that dates back to 1934! Gotta wonder from where those famous Clydesdales were dispatched when Anheuser-Busch (so the story goes) had them deliver a case of Budweiser to the White House following ratification of the 21st amendment. Besides the beer and spirits, especially vodka and single malt scotch, California Chardonnays and Cabernets, Malbec, and other Spanish wines top the list as neighborhood favorites today.  Stop by in the morning for the fresh baguettes.

P Street Pictures on the corner at 2621 is where I’ve been having my artwork framed for almost as long as Judy Schlosser has been in business:  27 years. Her children are grown now. Before she was married, Judy was an accountant who could never find the right frame. She hasn’t had that problem since 1983, when she opened her first shop in the middle of the block, now home to P Street Kids nursery school.                                          

                           

With her from the start, Susan Barreca and Drena Anderson continue to provide expert custom framing.  Don’t miss the exquisite hand-gilded photo frames from Romania on sale through April 3rd.

If she only carried the best selection of frames in the city, it would be worth a visit, but the gallery has an extensive inventory of original art, including the cities watercolor etchings of Alexander Befelein, carried in Washington exclusively by P Street Pictures for 25 years, and a personal favorite. Forty original etchings (I have his "Napoli") along with Alexander’s recently published book are currently featured at the shop. Pictured at right is his "Washington DC."

If you’ve been to Morristown, New Jersey, you might remember Yvette Hausner’s first West of Soho boutique, a personal and home accessories shop much missed when she moved to Georgetown with her husband a year and a half ago. A whimsical collection of functional art which Yvette calls “music for the eye,” luckily for us, has a new home at 2613. From pottery to jewelry to masks and mannequins, if it’s artistic, fun and functional, you’re likely to find it at West of Soho.  Pictured above is a wall arrangement of Alexandre” Sasha” Sazonov's matchbook art.

His favorite decade is the 1950’s (50’s only furnishings for his 1953 built-home) but owner Bruce Nichols carries all manner of 20th century home furnishings from traditional to modern at Metropolitan Interiors at 2603. Wedged between iconic designer chairs (including a leather Charles Eames leather or a teak and cane Hans Wegner), you may spot a rare Gilbert Watrous lamp by Heifetz. A lighting connoisseur, Bruce owns all five winning lamps (different designers but all manufactured by Heifetz) from the Museum of Modern Art’s 1950 lighting design competition.  Pictured below, in the foreground is a pair of 1970’s faux bamboo chairs.

For 10 years, Jean-Pierre Antiques has graced the corner at 2601. His “forte is windows”, says owner Jean-Pierre Sarfati.  Those stylish European displays often prompt eager patrons to call Jean-Pierre’s home in the early morning, afraid their treasures will be sold before the store opens. While decorating tastes have changed in the last decade from French provincial to Swedish painted furniture to the current trend of natural wood, Jean-Pierre always has the “touch.” Not shy about mixing a Lucite trolley with a 19thcentury Italian Santos, the shop is as popular with decorators as it is with well-traveled Washingtonians. Open seven days a week, you might want to join the decorators on “Designer Mondays.” Pictured at right, Italian and South American Santos atop an 18th Century French country pearwood buffet.


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