(AKRON, OH), by Dan Kane – Downtown Akron nightspot BLU Jazz+ has brought the city’s jazz tradition back to vibrant life. Located in the same lively neighborhood as the Akron Art Museum, The Nightlight Cinema, Musica concert club and Crave restaurant, BLU is a sophisticated venue for live jazz, be it local, regional or national.
Cocktails, craft beers and a small-plates food menu – prepared by 3 Point Restaurant, located directly upstairs – round out the BLU experience.
“The Akron area is saturated in jazz talent, from up-and-coming artists to jazz students, and there’s a vibrant jazz history here. Akron had a series of jazz clubs all along the Howard Street district from the 1930s all the way up to the ’60s,” said Mike Wyatt, one of BLU’s owners and its vice president of talent and events.
The opening of BLU Jazz+ last October proved that Akron was craving a venue for live jazz of many flavors. “Our opening weekend was completely sold out, and we’ve seen a number of sold-out or close-to-capacity shows since,” Wyatt said.
BLU, on the lower level at 47 E. Market Street, has seating for 126 people and standing room for about 140. “It’s just the right size to have that intimate jazz experience like clubs in New York have,” Wyatt said. “It has that upscale feel. We don’t have a dress code listed, but people are dressing up and really making a night out of it.”
An all-ages club, BLU draws a wide range of music fans. “It’s encouraging to see there’s a big audience for jazz,” Wyatt said. “Bringing in younger talent usually attracts a younger jazz crowd. Some of the players who have been on the scene for a while attract audiences closer to their age.”
The jazz menu at BLU is wide and ever-changing, from elegant jazz vocalists to dance-oriented Latin jazz and salsa to straight-ahead bebop rooted in the sounds of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis.
“This past weekend, we had a tribute to Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli and that French gypsy jazz scene, with acoustic guitar and accordion,” Wyatt said. “A lot of things are happening in modern jazz, like chamber groups that are more progressive in their sound. We constantly vary our program to keep things fresh at the venue and attract new audiences.”
BLU’s jazz jam nights, held one Thursday a month, have proven popular. “For the musician’s, it’s a good place to network, and patrons like to see that spontaneous interplay between musicians who haven’t met before but share the same language and songbook,” Wyatt said. “They love the energy that comes from the communication onstage.”
Admission prices at BLU range from $8 for jam nights and $10 to $15 for local and regional groups to anywhere from $30 to $50 for national touring acts. The food offerings include blackened fish tacos ($10), crab cakes ($12), French dip sandwich ($12) and lamb chops with couscous ($17). Specialty cocktails – including the scotch, lime, ginger, and honey potion called Penicillin – are $9.
For full details, including upcoming concerts, visit blujazzakron.com.
(Photos by Cindy Nichols Photography, courtesy of BLU Jazz+)