Jazz is definitely part of the show in Old Pasadena, the revitalized neighborhood that is home to one of Southern California's hottest after-dark street scenes.
Four clubs in the area have jazz policies: Inn Arty's, Tra Fiori, the Dodsworth Bar and Grill and the newly opened Baked Potato. These rooms are within easy walking distance of one another.
On a recent Friday, a tour of the clubs started at the Dodsworth (2 W. Colorado Blvd., corner of Fair Oaks Avenue, music Tuesday-Sunday, no cover, no minimum, (818) 578-1344). In the bar of the American cuisine restaurant, about 75 chatty customers mostly ignored saxophonist Patrick Plunkett's quintet.
Plunkett, who doubles as an orthopedic surgeon, wasn't upset that the customers didn't listen much. "People are having a good time. That's what it's all about," he said during a break.
About two blocks north of Dodsworth at Inn Arty's, an attractive, medium-sized establishment that offers a French bistro menu, patrons were listening to the soft yet penetrating music of saxophonist Chris Greco and bassist Roberto Miranda.
The ambience at Inn Arty's (36 E. Holly Ave., music Friday-Saturday, occasional cover, two-drink minimum, (818) 793-3723), aided by modern art on the walls, was pleasant. And while some patrons listened to the music, others talked--but unlike those at Dodsworth, they did so quietly.
Just a few doors away is Tra Fiori (91 N. Raymond Ave., music Friday-Saturday, Sunday brunch, $10 minimum at tables after 9 p.m., none at bar, (818) 796-2233). There, in the Northern Italian eatery's large and airy bar space, pianist Phil Wright, saxophonist Herman Riley and bassist John Heard investigated a pair of Thelonious Monk classics: the sumptuous ballad "Ruby, My Dear" and the pulsive swinger "I Mean You."
The visually appealing room holds 40, but the crowd that night was sparse.
"I keep the music here because I like it," said owner Greg Ferraro, who added that often other artists sit in, among them drummers "Tootie" Heath and Jeff Hamilton and bassist John Clayton.
Five minutes away is the Baked Potato (26 E. Colorado Blvd., music seven days a week, cover varies, (818) 564-9086), the final stop on our tour.
This large, lower-level room--which mostly offers artists who blend jazz with rock elements--hosted Carl Verheyen. And while the passionate electric guitarist can play jazz with feeling, this evening he didn't, offering instead Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing," two country tunes and a cover of the Byrds' version of Dylan's "My Back Pages." And these numbers were often played very loud. The 50 or so guests at the club--which, like its sister establishment in North Hollywood, serves potatoes 20 different ways--didn't seem to mind.
Dutch Treat: "Anything goes," says Dutch saxophonist-composer Willem Breuker, whose 10-piece Kollektief is making its second Los Angeles appearance Sunday at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City. "What I do is not rehearsed from beginning to end. Some things are very spontaneous."
Indeed, Breuker's musical direction is diverse. His band offers a ragtag assemblage of jazz, classical, Dutch band sounds, tangos, boleros, atonal 20th-Century classical music and more. Breuker, 48, says he wants his listeners to have fun. But it's more important that he likes his stuff. "After all, I have to live with it."