Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Death In The Family

When a standalone restaurant closes, it's usually a highly local story. But, when that restaurant doubles as the headquarters of a city's jazz scene, it's a death that affects us all in the music community.

Café Paradiso was one of those places; a singular jazz venue in a mid-sized Canadian city that has proven incapable over the past 40 years of sustaining more than one jazz club at a time—often with gaps of many years between their deaths. Its closure on June 30—less than two weeks after playing host to a Jazz Hero satellite party for the Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Awards, and immediately after a performance by vocalist Theo Bleckmann and guitarist Ben Monder—leaves a big hole in the club circuit that exists just north of the Canada/U.S. border, in Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. Its presence allowed artists like Bleckmann, Sheila Jordan and Dave Liebman to make economic sense of venturing north of New York City, hooking up single-night gigs in places like Montreal's Upstairs and Quebec City's Largo in addition to a night at Paradiso.

Recently, on Facebook, I sang the praises of club owners like Upstairs' Joel Giberovitch, Largo's Gino Ste-Marie and Paradiso's Alex Demianenko—impresarios who are in the business for their love of the music, rather than simply restaurateurs who think they can make a buck off hungry and thirsty jazz lovers.

Roddy Ellias at Café Paradiso in June
I barely knew Demianenko, but let me tell you what I learned about him in a short time. My jazz critic colleague Peter Hum introduced me to him one afternoon in April. I told Demianenko I wanted to talk to him about possibly holding the Jazz Hero event at his club. He asked me to step into the small passageway between his bar and kitchen, and I made a four- or five-minute pitch to him about the Jazz Journalists Association and the Jazz Hero concept. He'd never heard of the association or its annual Jazz Awards, but he listened intently, nodding his head, and said, "I'd love to do it. I'll pay the band."

Now, the most Hum and I had hoped was that a club owner might offer us the space and allow us to invite some local musicians up to jam, but here he was offering to pay for a band to play on what would normally be an off-night for his club.

Maybe that's the kind of risk-taking that led to Paradiso's closure, but it's also the kind of generosity that you see too little of in the world of jazz clubs.

As noted, Ottawa has seen them come and go over the years: The Penguin, Woody's, Take Five, After Eight. If you've been around town long enough, it can seem like a sad roll call of faded dreams.

But, here's one to dreamers like Alex Demianenko; they keep the jazz world turning.

1 comment:

John Kelman said...

Am in Ireland at the moment, but so saddened to hear about this closure. Dave Liebman's shows in the last couple years, along with Marc Copland, have been some of the best jazz this city has seen outside the OIJF. Returning home, 7/24, to a city without Paradiso, will be one of very mixed feelings. Thanks, Alex, for some great music and your tremendous support of international, national and local jazz...