Catalina Bar & Grill: the memories

"I like Catalina and the Jazz Bakery for different reasons: The old Catalina you were closer to audience; it's a nightclub. The Jazz Bakery is a concert atmosphere. They are both unique playing experiences. The Jazz Bakery is a little more formal, in that the audience is focused on the stage, what you're doing. Catalina's is a club, so you have a different kind of vibe.... At the Jazz Bakery, I won't do splashy drum numbers, high-voltage percussion. At Catalina's I will, and the sound won't be as unbalanced."

Jennifer Leitham


"Now I won't have people calling up and asking 'How do I find Ca-wayne-ja?' "

Chuck Niles


"It's a type of work I like to do. Over here we feed the body with the food. And then we feed the soul with the music. So it's kind of a nice combination. And I love the musicians. They are witty people. They make you laugh. And what I like about them the most is that they don't get up in the morning, because they are worth nothing in the morning! Just like me."

Constantine "Simi" Blaga

server at Catalina since 1986

"I heard about Catalina before I came out here from Detroit in the late '80s. I'd read the listings in The Times because I wanted to get a feel about the music scene. The very first time I went was to see George Adams and Don Pullen. It was a Thursday night. There weren't that many people there. I sat down and called Catalina over. I explained to her: 'This is my favorite band. I might start screaming.' She looked at me and said, 'OK.' I went on: 'In Detroit, sometimes people are used to it.' She looked at me and shook her head. And walked away. They started playing. I started screaming. After a while, Catalina's mother came out from the back and stared at me. She thought I was deranged. Dannie Richmond, the drummer, came over after the set and said: 'I could hear you over the drums.' I asked her if I was too loud. She said, 'No. Stay for second set.' Since then it's been my favorite place in town."

James Fugate


(co-owner EsoWon Books)

"There are not many places in the U.S. where you can play a multi-night gig. Usually, it's a series of one-night stands, some rooms nicer than others. But there is a real quality to your voice and to the music over several nights. This is one of the things that Catalina's offers. This is a warm and intimate room.... I was talking to the audience on closing night, asking them to imagine how many songs had been sung in this place, how precious this all is. These moments will live on in this space whatever it becomes."

Nnenna Freelon

singer, played closing week

"It was a little bit of heaven, that old room. My husband, Barney, and I used to go four to six times a month, since 1988, before he passed away last year. He was a huge jazz fan. And we got to know Catalina over the years, and eventually became investors. I think the [old] location was a little bit of disincentive for people who like jazz who are older. But I liked it. It had a very urban feeling. I liked the fact that as you walked across the street you would look both ways -- there was that sense of danger. I hope that this [new] place has enough personality. And there is the intimacy. I will miss the entirety of the feeling."

Victoria Safro


"For me, it is the only club town that is bringing in jazz artists from around the world -- where you can have dinner and a drink, and hear some of the top artists in jazz. I wish there were more of it. I mean it has kept us on the map that way. She's been able to juggle the national and the better local jazz artists and support the student jazz artists. I never once felt that music was an ancillary piece of her business. It was her focus. She's been a perfect example of how a business can interface with a community and be a presence. Not just a transparent facade. And it's the only place I can hear Gonzalo Rubalcaba up close."

Alan Pasqua


"I had a life-changing experience: It was the '80s and I was really new to broadcasting at the time. I went to see Chico Freeman and the Leaders. At the time, I didn't get into anything that wasn't really melodic, and they looked really intimidating, but they were warm and friendly and opened my ears to new sounds. That wouldn't have happened if there hadn't been a club like Catalina to host them -- to get that education. There've always been the musician hangs. It upgraded us. But Catalina's was exotic. European. Different from all the hangouts. We got a different class of musician -- it brought a lot of East Coasters and international set. It did change the face of L.A., especially for people out of town."

Helen Borgers


"The room wasn't always the easiest to play -- with the short ceiling, the partition. But they struggled to get it together. From the beginning, Catalina has had a good intuition for balancing. It's always been one of the key venues in town that featured players. Not only the local jazz scene, but jazz players from all around the world. Attracting a base audience that has built up over the years, as well as implementing an aggressive student pricing policy which was smart and fair -- and brought in a young audience. It's always had this ineffable bit of magic."

Peter Erskine


"The piano is always in tune. Very important. You can judge a place on whether the piano is always top notch, which makes a big difference. They don't just set the sound and leave, then make adjustments as needed. The announcements are very professional, setting the right kind of mood for the artist, letting them know that these are great artists coming on. And the shows start on time. These seem like little things, but they add up to create a vibe."

Kenny Burrell


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