Are you suffering from Post Bakery Syndrome? Better known as PBS, you probably started feeling it about a month or two after The Jazz Bakery closed its doors in the early summer last year, replaced by a furniture store (we sure need another one of those!!!). The signs and symptoms are manifest; you’re a bit depressed, as it’s just that much harder to find a regular place for the music that you love that a) doesn’t have the din of background sounds and chatter b) isn’t a ripoff for parking c) doesn’t nickel and dime you for drinks or “upscale” food b) has musicians that are there for 4-5 nights in a row, so you can hear guys that are comfortable with the acoustics of the place.
Not only are you depressed, but a bit discouraged; you read on line or in papers where your favorite musicians are performing, and you realize that LA is now being passed by. The artists go from Seattle to Portland to San Francisco to…Arizona?!? You feel like a jilted date! And every other club here is like Goldilocks and the 3 Bears: this one’s too noisy, this one’s too expensive, this one’s too…
And going back to where the scene of so much great music once took place is like driving by an ex-girlfriend’s house. Someone else is now there-what good did that do?
Price is quite gracious and philosophical when she thinks about the business that took over her musical theatre,” It’s a great huge furniture store that’s empty. There’s no one in there buying anything, but it’s big and beautiful. And it takes up more space than we had; they’ve enlarged it to encompass other interior places. It’s HUGE.”
She is still appreciative of the ability to have the original space 16 years ago, “The person who really made this possible was a guy called Wally Marks Jr., who was already not a young man then. His son, Wally III was the one who decided we should leave, as he wanted to do a furniture store. But see, his father, who became ill and died right at the very point when he died was when he told us to leave, but I don’t believe his father would have. He would have kept us, as he thought of us as part of the cultural advancement of the city. His son is a good businessman, I guess. “
Ruth, who was recovering from a terrible car accident at the time (and besides that, how was the show, Mrs. Lincoln?) having no inkling of losing her club, had insult added to injury while convalescing . “I was surprised when it happened. It also surprised me, because when he delivered the letter at my home, I was still recuperating; I had that halo drilled into my head from having broken my neck. I thought he was coming to see me. He had never visited me, so I just thought he was being friendly! But, no, he had an envelope. That’s what happened, and maybe it’s for the better. It’s been a hard road to hoe in the interim, but what we’re going to end up with is pretty incredible, and actually very close to where we were.”
Ruth Price, owner and driving force of the legendary Bakery, has been like Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, turning the once stationary club into “the oldest established permanent floating” jazz club in LA, (or “a movable feast” as she likes to label it). Determined and indefatigable, he’s kept the club’s spirit, attitude and , above all, MUSIC alive by presenting concerts in various venues (like The Musician’s Union, The Largo Theatre, The Grammy Museum, and Disney’s Redcat Theatre, to name just a few) until she is able to find a permanent abode for her unique presentation of jazz.
For awhile, it seemed that Ruth would be able to find a new place in a matter of months, but as the proverb says, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord,” and it was not to be, as she recalls, “We had an opportunity to move into one of those “dream business spaces,” but they were not involved with anything to do with non profits, and they adjusted as much as they could for us, as they wanted us so badly. But when we as a board looked at what the rent was going to be forever and ever, we were terrified to take it on. The advantage would have been that we could have been open in a few months, cause it was raw space inside. This new project is much more involved, but it will mean that we’ll have a “forever home,” just like those dogs I’m always helping!”
Finally, however, there seems to be sight of the Promised Land, as Ruth is in the final stages of securing a permanent place. She feels a bit like Clark Kent at this stage, holding onto a secret that she is obligated to keep quiet. “It’s insane and very hard for me! I, of course, know everything, and I’m not allowed to release it formally. It’s going to end up being one of the best kept secrets in town, but I can’t announce it yet. I’m hoping that the announcement will be made in September, because it involves the city giving us an incredible piece of property. A marvelous, very well known funding source, has given us our first huge of many capital fundings. So, we’ve got that in our pockets, so now comes the business of raising money. But, the thing that I have to wait for is with those first two investment entities to tell me that “yes, now you can have a press conference and release the information.” I’m not allowed to go forward until then, but I know what’s happening, and I’ve actually got the architectural plans.”
Justifiably, Ruth is excited about how well things are finally turning out. This is not going to be some fixer upper, as she points out, “It’s not renovated; it’s going to be built! There’s a piece of property with an old building on it that they’ve long since decided they’re going to get rid of. It’s not far from the old Jazz Bakery, and it’s in Culver City. Because of the fact that towards the end (of the run at our old location) we were having difficulty with parking, with so much happening around there (with Father’s Office), with this new situation parking will be provided and set up as we go in and open. So, we’ll have parking that will be either free, or very little.”
In the meantime, Ruth has been trying to keep the Bakery name alive by bringing acts like Benny Golson, Regina Carter, Larry Coryell and Mose Allison to various venues throughout LA. As often happens in life, a curve gets thrown your way, and as Yogi Berra says, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it. “This change of roles, from running a stable club to always hustling for a venue, has taken its toll. Price explains, “What I’m doing is just so hard. It’s rewarding, because it’s kind of exciting. But, first of all, if anyone during my whole life had told me that I would run a jazz place, I would have told them they were out of their mind. I have no desire; I don’t want to! It’s not something that I’m equipped to do. I’m not really a businesswoman. NO NO NO. I’m not one of those singers who dreamed of having her own club where she sang. Never! And, all of a sudden I end up with the Jazz Bakery. I didn’t plan it; Fate happened to me. It was just intended. I had no choice, almost. And then, 16-17 years later, at this point, after a year of doing it, I’ve become and impresario!”
“I really didn’t know how hard it would be. Every time you think that the thing you’re doing is the very stretch end of what you’re able to do, something else comes along that is even more of what you can’t do. Each one of these presentations, which is about 2-3 a month, is tantamount to going to a totally different space, and doing it from scratch. It’s like presenting a concert every time. Nothing is ever there for me. Each one of these things I do, no matter how famous or wonderful the artist is, it doesn’t matter. “
“I have one of those long yellow sheets of paper, and from top to bottom it’s filled with contacts’ names and things that I have to do to make it come together. It is really something that I hate doing, and I find myself doing it all of the time. “
“That’s the negative part, she points out. “The positive part is that, now we’ve been to every place there is! From Little Toyko to downtown to UCLA. I just found another wonderful space that I’m going to use which is Barnsdall Park Theatre, with incredible and free parking, which has been a problem with some places.” Ruth sees the trade-offs that every jazz fan faces; parking, location, sound, etc. “Some of those downtown places have had $20 parking! The Grammy Museum is expensive there. Largo is centrally located, but it’s just the parking.”
“Every place has various pros and cons. For instance, Largo. I love (Largo manager) Flanny, and all of the other people that I’m working with, but the first time I went in, they said they had a piano, and they did, but it had a moose head on it! It was on a little upright piano that actually didn’t sound that bad, but some of those artists that I booked would not play an upright, with or without the moose head. So, I had to bring in a piano. That, of course, is expensive. Some places don’t have pianos at all, like Kirk Douglas’ Theater doesn’t have a piano, because it’s not designed for it.”
Like so much in life, we don’t appreciate the full value of something, or someone, until it’s gone. Ruth, like all of us, has a deeper appreciation for what she had in The Bakery. When she had a club, all she had to do was find the talent, now she has many hats to wear. “The agents or the artist that I deal with don’t know these places, because these places aren’t known for presenting jazz. The Jazz Bakery was a known entity, and it had its own cache, and everybody said yes, so that was never a problem. This time, I have to persuade them that they will like the venue. I’m selling my word, “I’ll bring in a piano and check the sound system, etc.”
“We had all of our own equipment at the Jazz Bakery. Think about that! We had piano, drums, amps, things that other places have no reason to have. And even if they do have them, they don’t have the particular kinds that the musicians want, so I have to rent it. It’s very expensive, and there’s no way you can make money doing this. We’re just hoping to keep our name out there.
“Let me tell you the shocking part. What do you think the average rent is on these places. When I used to charge $500 or something like it, once in a great while $1000, to rent our place (and our place sits 215) with an incredible piano and a wonderful sound system, including the sound person, and I always felt guilty charging that. With the exception of two places that deal with me, the most expensive is $3500, and that doesn’t include the piano! There’s just no way that, once you pay that and include equipment rentals, artist fee and paid advertising, you’re lucky if you don’t lose money. I’m sure there’s a way to do it that I don’t know about to make money, but I haven’t found it yet! I’m just trying to keep us out there.”
And she’s doing an excellent job of that as well, as her calendar of events is already filling up. “Starting in the fall, it gets good again. We’ve got Charles Lloyd coming up, and then this new discovery of Quincy Jones, Alfredo Rodriguez. He’s a pianist with incredible chops. It might be at the Red Cat. That’s a great place! John Abercrombie will be at the Musician’s Institute. From the outside, it’s one of the ugliest buildings in Hollywood. It’s really a homely façade, but no more than 30 feet from the front door after you go in, and there’s this gorgeous 500 seat theatre with huge screens, so you can see the pianist’s hands when they’re playing. It’s unbelievable, but only once you’re inside. Then Avashai Cohen and Kenny Barron. Not sure where I’m going to put them yet…Then we’ve got Brian Blade and Kyle Eastwood in November, and in January we’ve got Kurt Rosenwinkel.”
All of this exhausting work is worth it for Ruth only because she finally sees over the River Jordan. She laughs at the proverb “Man proposes, but God disposes.” “There’s a lot of disposing,” she laughningly admits.” What keeps me going is the more real that the new incarnation of the Jazz Bakery is becoming. It was a whole boost to my belief system to get together with the architect, see all of the drawings, that kind of thing. The biggest boost was the actual faith that the first organization had in us to give us the money.”
The formal announcement is just around the corner, and then the real activity begins when the dream starts becoming a reality. “When we get everything out in the public, we’ll do a big funding campaign, “ whe states. “ In order to make it have the potential it can reach, all of the board people want it to be done at one time, without a lot of little announcements going on to dilute the message. We’re years ahead of where most people are when they just start this kind of project.”
If you’ve been around the LA jazz scene long enough, it starts sounding too good to be true. What about the regular workers that did the sound and lighting, Paul and Yasu? They can’t wait to come back,” Price beams. Yasu and Paul call me almost every week to ask when we’re opening up. Paul is an incredible sound guy. He was amazing, as he looked so slight and quiet, yet he announced with real personality. The new place is going to be the same, as it’s my design. It will have every inch of the same policy. The student discount, parking, etc. “
Don’t you feel better already? Is that ache in your stomach getting a little more tolerable, and your step starting to perk up? Look up Ruth’s web site on www.jazzbakery.org for more information, and keep up the faith!