Jazzin’ up the place

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First Posted: 4/1/2014

After two decades, the River Street Jazz Cafe is reinventing itself. The food, specialty drinks, and most importantly, the quality music, will remain intact, but beginning tomorrow night, there will be noticeable improvements to the club’s atmosphere.

For the last few weeks, the club has been undergoing a major renovation, covering everything from a new floor to a new digital sound system. It doesn’t stop there, either. A new soundboard booth, freshly painted walls, renovated restrooms, new beer tap lines, and a new in-house television system are also ready to be unveiled.

It’s something owner Rob Friedman feels was needed as the establishment recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, and he plans on keeping it open for many more decades.

“Well, it’s been around for 20 years now, and just by looking around, I could see it was time for a facelift,” he said. “I plan on having it stay open for years to come, so now is the time to do it. We started by painting the whole club except the big mural on the wall. That will always stay there.”

For manager Alaina Matysik, the renovations being done to not only the whole club, but its legendary bar as well, have given her more room to install microbrews and IPAs into the tap system, something that has never been offered at the club.

“We invested in a new tap system because it was time,” she said. “Craft brews are so popular, and we have such a long and beautiful bar. It was odd to only have one tower with four lines. It looks complete now with the added tower.”

Aside from the bar renovations, the club’s menu has seen a slight renovation as well. Along with bringing back some of their favorite items like pita-dillas, the club is set to debut some new dishes, like shrimp sliders, the already well-received lobster sliders, and will also feature some new full dinner choices. For Matysik, the new food options are just one of the ways she hopes people will take notice of the new feel of the room.

“The new menu has a little something for everyone,” she said. “We want you to come for a visit and leave feeling like you had an experience so enjoyable you can’t wait to come back as see us again. It’s also the perfect place to host a party because of the vibe. It’s all the joy of having a party in the comfort of your own home without the aggravation. Everyone likes a party, but nobody wants to clean. You have all the fun and we do all the work. It’s perfect.”

With the Jazz Cafe known primarily as a music venue, Friedman knew he had to not only remodel the interior of the building, but he had to give some polishing up to the venue’s sound system. Through the help of Richie and Billy Kossuth from Rock Street Music, Friedman purchased a brand new Behringer digital soundboard and installed new stereo speakers on the stage to provide the club with a top-shelf sound.

“We want to be the biggest music club in the area because it’s the passion of all of us,” he said. “We now have premier sound, a brand new digital soundboard, new stereo speakers, a new sound booth, and top-of-the-line high quality microphones. We want to be the premier club for not only the atmosphere, but for the sound as well. It’s already a great sounding room, but we made it better.”

The new sound system couldn’t be coming at a better time, as the club’s calendar is full of many of the bigger names from its past, including the Alexis P. Suter Band, Dead On Live, The Indobox, and the Talking Heads tribute act Start Making Sense. Along with the returning favorites, the club also has first-time appearances lined up by national acts, including improvisational troupe The Everyone Orchestra (featuring Steve and John Kimock, Reed Mathis, and members of the Trey Anastasio Band), Conspirator, which features members of the Disco Biscuits, and Oz Noy, a band featuring Oteil Burbridge from The Allman Brothers Band. Also on the horizon is a return appearance by the John K Band (John Kadlecik from Furthur).

“People who come here think we’re about jazz music, and we’re not. We’re pretty far from it,” Friedman said when discussing the stellar lineup over the next few weeks.

When longtime booking agent Tom Moran caught wind of the renovations, including the sound system, he knew he had the perfect opportunity to aim for some of the club’s bigger acts – and notable debut acts – to celebrate its reopening with a blowout.

“It always helps when you have the musicians’ numbers in your phone so you don’t have to deal with an agent,” he said. “When the renovations started and I saw how excited everyone was getting about them, I got more excited for the music and just went crazy with it.”

Last but not least, the club’s official grand reopening will take place tomorrow night with a show by longtime club favorite Clarence Spady with an opening set from a band who was born at the Jazz Cafe, the Free Music Orchestra. For the grand reopening, there will be no cover and music will start at 8 p.m.

As a treat to its patrons, the club renovations also included the installation of an in-house television system, which will feature a giant screen that will have live video feed from the stage. Anyone who wants to grab a bite to eat and sit with friends at one of the tables in the club’s upper section will no longer need to worry about trying to get a view of the band. Also being installed are two smaller speakers in the upper corners of the smoking patio, with a full view of the television screen and the stage.

“With all the new renovations, people will recognize how much pride we take in what we’re all about here at the Jazz,” Matysik said. “It’s the intimate setting every music lover appreciates. We have great beer and our own specialty mixed drinks and martinis at reasonable prices, not venue prices, as well as delicious food.”

Along with the food, drinks, and music, Friedman is hopeful the renovations will remind people of the club’s multiple uses, such as a room for any kind of private event, from a wedding reception to a graduation party.

“One of the things we like to do is let people know the room is not just here for the music scene but is available for people who are planning a party,” he said. “Whether it be a wedding reception or a Christmas or graduation party, the room will be available. If people want to book it and need music for their event, we can provide that as well.”

For Matysik, the renovations will hopefully make people aware that all the work and effort the staff puts into the club is not just for the staff, but is a “thank you” to all the people who have helped the River Street Jazz Cafe grow over the last two decades.

“We want people to come in and feel comfortable and enjoy the atmosphere,” she said. “I hope people feel as much at home here as I do. I also hope it creates such a buzz with our regulars, it brings in more new faces. It’s always nice to have a large extended family, and that’s the vibe we create at the Jazz. We’re a family, and when you’re here, you’re home. That carries over to the service our staff provides as well. We take care of our guests like they are guests in our home – because they are, in a figurative sense.”