- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

Alan and Charlotte Jacobsen aren't your typical jazz enthusiasts.
The Mount Pleasant couple, both in their 60s, probably could not tell a John Coltrane composition from a Marsalis, and they prefer not to inhale the smoke that infiltrates the average jazz club.
That's why they like the Imax Jazz Cafe in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.
The museum presents a variety of local and national jazz acts in an unconventional, nicotine-free setting in its Atrium Cafe.
"This is so innovative for the museum," Mrs. Jacobsen says of the cafe, which is enjoying its first-year anniversary this month. "Why don't they do more of it?"
"What a good use of government property," Mr. Jacobsen adds.
Like the Jacobsens, many attending a recent Friday-night affair weren't hard-core jazz fans. Many were first-timers, on hand to watch the city's jazz scene unfold among the museum's historical trappings.
That's exactly what museum officials hoped would happen, says National Museum of Natural History spokesman Randall Kremer.
"The goal was to open the museum up to broader audiences after traditional museum hours," Mr. Kremer says of the cafe, which also features easy access to the museum's array of Imax film features. Visitors can take in a big-screen film or simply stay for the live entertainment.
The jazz club, which draws up to 1,000 people each Friday night, will celebrate its anniversary with a special program from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday. A guitar jazz trio featuring Bart Stringham and Geoff Reecer will perform, and surprise guests and giveaways also will be featured.
Come the fall, though, the club will have competition from another District institution.
The Kennedy Center's 2002-03 schedule includes the opening of the KC Club, another expansive venue to hear live jazz music in the center's reformatted Educational Resource Center.
Washington already is home to several jazz venues, from 11th Street's Bohemian Caverns in the U Street area to HR-57 on 14th St. NW to Blues Alley in Georgetown.
On a recent Friday night at the Imax Jazz Cafe, the trio of Harry Appelman on piano, Victor Dvoskin on bass and Mike Smith on drums performed Herbie Hancock-inspired melodies to a full audience.
Imax Jazz Cafe visitors sat a few feet from the performers, set back only slightly from the crush of tables.
Conversations continued throughout the performance, whether guests sat near the impromptu stage or at the bar. The jacket-and-tie crowd rubbed elbows with the sweatshirt set, many nibbling on the buffet-style menu items.
Mr. Kremer says the wide array of ages is typical.
"It really has been a very diverse group of people," he says, including a significant singles contingent eager to mingle in the casual atmosphere.
Mr. Kremer says the museum's internal research has shown that on some nights, about half the Imax film crowd stays to hear jazz music or enjoys the music before the shows begin.
The cafe needed only eight weeks to build a steady audience, he says, thanks in part to performances by rising jazz guitarists Jimmy Bruno and Howard Alden.
"We're able to present the same quality of music you'll hear in the jazz clubs," he says. "In November, we had lines down the corridor waiting for Howard."
High attendance means more people eating and drinking and more cash for the museum's coffers.
"That's revenue that supports museum activities," Mr. Kremer says. "We don't have to support the overhead of the building. The building is already there."
The cafe wasn't designed to accommodate music, let alone jazz, but its acoustics have been a welcome surprise, Mr. Kremer says.
"There are sections in the cafe where you can enjoy the music without hearing loud conversations of other guests," he says.
Derek Gordon, the Kennedy Center's vice president for education and jazz programming, thinks the KC Club will strike the same chord with patrons come September.
"Traditionally, jazz sells well at the Kennedy Center. Most jazz performances this past year have sold out," says Mr. Gordon, whose center is the home of the spring Women in Jazz Festival and other jazz events.
The idea for its club grew out of a one-time jazz bash thrown for the center's jazz impresario, Billy Taylor, last year. Center employees transformed the roof-level Educational Resource Center for the gala, which provided a fitting room for jazz.
"We should do this more often," Mr. Gordon says to describe the reaction of Kennedy Center officials.
Besides, he says, some jazz artists are a better fit in a smaller space.
"Some artists can't carry a concert venue," he says. Providing a smaller stage will prove less intimidating to the artist and less economically risky to the center.
"It will allow us to take more chances with artists who do skew a little younger," he says. "Some artists need time to get a following."
The KC Club will seat up to 130 people and provide an array of appetizers and drinks.
"You won't recognize the room when you come into it," he promises. "Acoustically it will work fine."
Tony Puesan, executive director of HR-57, doesn't see the new jazz clubs as a threat to his venue. Instead, he welcomes their emergence.
"It's good to know the Smithsonian and the Kennedy Center are doing what we've been doing for years," Mr. Puesan says. "It's good to see these venues stepping up."
The District has a rich jazz history, Mr. Puesan says, and some of its elder statesmen, such as Buck Hill and Shirley Horn, continue to perform.
"For those still around, they need to have spaces to perform," he says. "If HR-57 can have a couple of hundred people a night, the Smithsonian can have a couple thousand."
The KC Club, to run Thursdays through Saturdays, will begin as part of the center's Prelude Festival in September. The club may be closed if other jazz performances are being held elsewhere in the Kennedy Center.
The Imax Jazz Cafe, on the other hand, only has to compete with artifacts and exhibits.
For the cafe's sophomore year, Mr. Kremer promises an expanded number of out-of-town acts.
Mr. Kremer says that beyond extra revenues or, possibly, a hipper museum image, the jazz cafe serves the Smithsonian's mission.
"Part of the Smithsonian's mission is to bring American music to wider audiences," he says. "[Jazz is] America's only native classical music."

WHAT: Imax Jazz Cafe
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays
WHERE: The Atrium Cafe in the Smithsonian Insitution's National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street NW at Constitution Avenue
TICKETS: None required. No cover charge.
PHONE: 202/633-7400

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