My first time at Blues Alley was on a weekday afternoon with a videographer. The club was empty, quiet and, despite it being daytime, dark. It had just opened for the staff to begin getting ready for the night’s show.
My video friend recorded me sitting on the piano stool on the stage singing “I Got It Bad” a cappella. The club had given me permission (thanks Harry!), after I told them I needed a video for an audition. I wonder where that video is today!
Because, Blues Alley is, according to its website, the United States’ oldest continuing jazz supper club. The intimate space is located in Washington, DC in an 18th century carriage house, and its entrance is accessed by walking through an alley. It would be years before I would return to the club.
Every local musician wants to perform at Blues Alley. If you search the web, you will find tons of photos of musicians standing under the club’s marquee, when the musician’s name is displayed.
There was a point along my musical journey when I knew I needed more music (versus vocal) training. I learned that Blues Alley had a jazz summer camp, and I asked one of the instructors (thanks Jacques!) if I could sit in his middle school class from time to time and simply listen. Renowned trumpeter, Jon Faddis, was brought in as a guest teacher for one of the classes. It was awesome! What’s embarrassing now is remembering how I asked Faddis that day to appear on my upcoming album! I even promised him great pay! I must say he was amused yet very kind.
In addition to meeting Faddis in that class, I was also impressed by a boy saxophonist. I told my husband about his mature talent, we met with his parents, and we featured him during our concert at Strathmore. His name is Daniel Azu, and, now in college, he continues to play brilliantly.
The next time I went to Blues Alley was to treat my husband to hear jazz trombonist, Curtis Fuller. From the recordings and photos of Fuller that my husband had shared with me over the years, I could see that night that Curtis was up in age. Yet, he was still masterful in the placement of his notes and chose interesting selections for the show. The level of the band’s musicianship was incredible. My husband knew the virtuosic trumpet player, Donvonte McCoy, a Washingtonian, whom we later asked to join my band.
With my husband being an alum of the Count Basie Band, we couldn’t resist going to hear the band when it performed at Blues Alley. You cannot imagine the sound of about 18 musicians (probably 15 horns) in that small space. It was monumental. Extraordinary. And after the show, several of the musicians were happy to see my husband, and visa versa. What a night.
So if you’re in Washington and someone asks you to walk through an alley to hear some jazz, you’re not being tricked. There’s phenomenal jazz in that alley.