Assessment: This joint should, can and hopefully will jump. Five chandeliers sparkling above declare it in style.
Experiencing America’s native music in the Cabaret Jazz room at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts was encouraging when it opened March 17, even if the featured opener, the SFJAZZ Collective, was too cerebral to kick-start this cozy jewel with any verve.
Sax kingpin Branford Marsalis blows in March 31, and ticket-holders will find a venue that’s more akin to Jazz at Lincoln Center than Jazz at Your Local Bar. Fans haven’t been treated to this setting since the ill-fated Blue Note closed in 2003. Gorgeous acoustics, double-decker layout and hardwood floors comprise an atmosphere that pays respect to the music. (Not to mention a menu that ranges from fruit and fromage to five-bean veggie burgers.)
Question is: Will it be exclusive or inclusive? Formalizing jazz in a performing arts center locks it into the city’s DNA, but also locks it away in an arts institution, removed from the cacophonous urban bustle in which jazz traditionally thrives. Although the jazz profile is raised, fans could also be divided into subgroups: the PAC-goers experiencing jazz as art and the club-goers who relish slipping in for a pickup jam session. Shall the twain meet?
Programming—inclusive of the local jazz community—is key, and The Smith Center seems to recognize this to a degree. High-profile performers Barbara Cook, Andrea Marcovicci, Al Jarreau, Marsalis and Ramsey Lewis are no-brainer bookings, but anointing Clint Holmes as de facto host with his monthly gigs (beginning April 6) gives the Cabaret Jazz room a good hometown sheen. Another nice nod was the March 28 Composers Showcase, which turned the spotlight on Vegas composers and songwriters. Farther off in the schedule, local singer Ashton Zyer is booked for a Sept. 22 gig.
Modest presence in the mix, but it’s a start for a venue that’s going to prove vital for this music in our town. Marquee jazz stars will make its reputation. Local jazz pros will make it ours.
LET’S NOSH ON SOME NOTES: Brace for one busy, dizzy week at The Smith Center: Joining Marsalis at the new arts arena, the Pink Floyd Experience rocks out on March 30, Golda’s Balcony takes the stage April 1 and The Color Purple leads off the Broadway series April 3-8. Crowning downtown as Musical Theater Central this week, Purple is joined by the opening of locally produced The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at the Plaza March 31. Comedy goes bareback, if you will, when Eddie Griffin brings his Comedy Without a Condom to the King’s Room at the Rio on April 2.
Finally, Dark Knight meets neon nights (and a few afternoons) when the mega-scale Batman Live pulls into the Thomas & Mack Center Oct. 3-7. Trek into the heart of Gotham courtesy of a company (Water Lane Productions) specializing in extravaganzas whose name doesn’t begin with a “C” or contain a “Q.” After all: Can you imagine Batman-ity?