A La Carte

Rock Bottom Remainders Dine at Il Canale

April 20, 2010

First stop on the all-star, all-author rock group’s four city east-coast charity concert tour was dinner at Il Canale in Georgetown Monday night. Marking its 18th year performing, the Rock Bottom Remainders 2010 Wordstock Tour officially kicks off Tuesday with two Washington events: “Besides the Music: A Conversation with the Rock Bottom Remainders” hosted by Sam Donaldson at the Harman Center for the Arts, and Wednesday, a concert at the 9:30 Club with special guest Roger McGuinn, former lead singer and guitarist for The Byrds.

A band that includes some of today’s most shining literary lights, members of the Rock Bottom Remainders have collectively published more than 150 titles, sold more than 200 million books, and been translated into more than 25 languages. "In the fine rock & roll tradition, the Rock Bottom Remainders were conceived in a car,” says Kathi Kamen Goldmark, band founder. “As a semi-pro musician with a day job in book publicity, I spend a lot of time driving touring authors around San Francisco … I decided to form a band of authors!"

The group burst upon the scene at the 1992 American Booksellers Association convention in Anaheim. A write-up in The Washington Post described it as “the most heavily promoted musical debut since the Monkees.”

Hailed by critics as having “one of the world’s highest ratios of noise to talent,” the Remainders have no music videos, no record contract, no Grammy nominations—but do have over 159,000 hits on Google.

This year's group includes Dave Barry (at left with earphones next to soundman Gary Hirstius), Amy Tan (shown below with iPad), Mitch Albom, Roy Blount, Jr., Ridley Pearson, Scott Turow, and Kathi Kamen Goldmark. In addition to performing mostly 70's cover music, the band has recorded original songs, including “Proofreading Woman,” band manager, Ted Habtegabr, told us.

Proceeds from the tour, which are being presented by the Pearson Foundation and their new digital reading and giving initiative, We Give Books  will support Haitian relief and local non-profit organizations at work in each community.

"This concert is a rare chance to see a band that has been hailed by critics as 'not as bad as you would expect,'" said band member and Lead Guitarist Dave Barry. "Rock Bottom Remainders are excited by the response to this tour from our fans. There are only three of them, but they've been very responsive. But seriously, we're thrilled to be able to raise money for some great organizations." 

"These concerts are a great way to raise funds—and raise awareness—for some of America's best non-profit organizations," said Pearson Foundation President Mark Nieker. "We hope people will come out to see some great music and have fun, but we're especially pleased that the band members are donating their own time and that funds raised will go directly to support much-needed education and literacy efforts in Haiti and in the cities where the tour takes place."

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Founding Farmers of Bourbon Steak

April 16, 2010

The Class of 2010 arrived today at Bourbon Steak Restaurant ready for a little digging. Through its partnership with Higher Achievement, a year round enrichment program for underserved students in DC and Alexandria, Bourbon Steak launched its Kid's Garden on the grounds of Georgetown's Four Seasons Hotel.

Liliana Baldassari, Four Seasons Public Relations Director, told us "the idea sprouted last fall" when she was talking with Lynsey Wood Jeffries, Higher Achievement's Executive Director. Started in 1975 right here in DC by Gonzaga High School teacher, Greg Gannon, the Higher Achievement program now serves 500 middle school kids a year, and is being replicated in Baltimore and soon in Richmond.

Bourbon Steak's, Chef David Varley (shown above) told the 20 young culinary artists,“ You are the future. Let’s turn the clock back on food production, and close the circle.” He explained that recycling begins when food is delivered to his restaurant, and all the wet waste is collected and sent to EnviRelation who turns it into dirt, enriched dirt, that is, and delivered right back to the restaurant for use in planting.

After preparing their very own pots filled with cilantro and basil (and dirt!) to take home, they were off to plant carrots, cilantro, basil, turnips, radishes, mesculin, swiss chard, and red and yellow beets.


Jamaal Ellis of KIPP Key Academy (shown below) explained that his whole family loves to grow vegetables. His favorite? "I like potatoes because of the way you plant them. You have to wait awhile, but when they come up, they're something beautiful."














The garden includes the two top tiers reserved for kids and three rows for tea herbs.

Along the canal,  another embankment on the hotel grounds, started last year, now produces enough herbs for all the meals served at the hotel, Four Seasons' Executive Chef Doug Anderson told us.

After promising Chef David to try everything, lunch was served: olive-oil roasted potatoes with rosemary and garlic, barbequed chicken, fennel salad with oranges, broccoli rabe, grilled arctic char, garden herb tabouli, and a grapefruit, pinapple, ginger ale cocktail. Delicious!

Later this summer, the kids will be back to reap what they sowed and help Chef David prepare a meal with their first crops. Closing the circle indeed.


Bourbon Steak is located in The Four Seasons Hotel at 2800 Pennsylvania Avenue. T 202.944.2026

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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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