AKRON, OH (by Don Baker, Jr., Founder and Editor-in-Chief, AkronLife Magazine) – He wears a pork pie hat, sports a soul patch and dons shades indoors. And, he just opened BLU Jazz+, a jazz club in the cellar of the Hermes Building on Maiden Lane just off East Market Street.
This club has been in the making for more than 10 years. The first I heard of it was when moved its offices into the Everett Building, which is connected to the Hermes. Tony was our landlord, and when he was showing me around, he pointed to the cold, dank space below 3 Point restaurant and said he was going to put a jazz club in there. I remember this because I’m a huge jazz fan, and the thought of a jazz bar in Akron was memorable.
I began my love of jazz at the tender age of 11 while living in Somerville, N.J., just 40 miles outside of New York City. I would search for radio stations while doing my homework and stumbled upon a live broadcast of Charlie Parker from some jazz club in the city. I was hooked. I had never heard any music that hit my core as did that live broadcast of “Bird” and Dizzy Gillespie creating music; it stuck with me all these years.
In high school, I was the jazz geek who could rattle off musicians and jazz groups like other teenage boys could quote baseball statistics. I hosted regular trips to the Modern Jazz Room in Cleveland to hear the likes of Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Errol Garner and The Oscar Peterson Trio. Some of the more adventurous of my friends would go with me to Howard Street in Akron to hear this great music. (Remember, we were white teenagers from Kent whose whole school had only one black student.)
During and after college, I played jazz on local station WKNT FM and hosted an all-night jazz show on WSOM FM in Salem. The bosses at WSOM didn’t know they had an all-night jazz show; they just told me to play music and read the news from 11 p.m. until 4 a.m. So I played jazz.
I have a good jazz collection, but it’s mostly on vinyl. That’s because I lost touch with the music. Rock ‘n’ roll overwhelmed the airwaves, and significant rock ‘n’ roll was being written in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Then came “smooth jazz,” or as I call it “elevator jazz,” and I lost touch with the music that at one time touched my soul.
There is very little jazz on the radio these days, though I have found several Internet stations from places around the world where jazz is more popular. I do play jazz in my car when I drive. If you’re a sub- scriber to satellite radio, you can get a variety of jazz-related stations; if you subscribe to Time Warner Cable as I do, you can get good jazz and good jazz commentary on channel 945. I’m sure the other cable services have similar programming. The point is, there are a number of places that I could hear jazz, but I couldn’t see live jazz locally. That has changed in a big way now that BLU Jazz+ has opened.
Opening night at the new jazz bar took me back to my writer days liv- ing in Greenwich Village and going to all the jazz bars that populated the city back then. “Now, we are a true city,” Troppe said as he greeted me, and I tried to find a place to sit at the bar. All of the tables were full; the opening night show starring local jazz trumpeter, Josh Rzepka, and his quartet was in full swing.
People were talking, glasses were clinking, but the music powered through. All of the shows for the next four nights were sold out, and people were buying tickets for more. I got a chance to talk with several of the investors behind the jazz club — business hotshots and cool people in town — who were looking ahead to February and wondering if they would be able to draw this kind of crowd. True investor men- tality, but they were jubilant in the moment as they had succeeded in creating a real jazz club in their city.
If you’re a fan of America’s only original music, you’ve got to visit Tony Troppe’s new club. I plan to go often, just to get my jazz groove back. For more information about upcoming shows, go to www.blujazzakron.com.