Is running a jazz supper club a noble effort, given the marginalization of jazz in the marketplace and the long-ago collapse of the famous jazz street Indiana Avenue locally? "I feel noble until I get the bill," says David Allee, owner of the Jazz Kitchen, a Broad Ripple destination for live jazz and fusion dining that celebrated its 15th anniversary this April. "We've had to diversify: We not only do the jazz thing, but we also do the restaurant, we do catering, we do events."
Allee, 40, has owned local businesses since he was 21: first The Bike Shop, a bike repair and sales outlet at 52nd Street and College Avenue, then the Jazz Kitchen, which he opened with his then business partner Michael Slattery in April 2004 at age 26. The Kitchen location, 5377 N. College Ave., has housed live music since the late '70s, first as a reggae club (Kilimanjaro), then a flexible venue that leaned towards punk (Crazy Al's) and finally as a jazz club (The Place To Start).
The son of jazz pianist Steve Allee, Allee played trumpet in the Broad Ripple High School jazz band, and still pulls out his ax occasionally, filling out the horn section in groups like the funk/jazz band Seven Pleasures.
Allee is partial to trumpeters when he thinks back to memorable shows at the Kitchen, naming off Maynard Ferguson, Terence Blanchard and Arturo Sandoval. He also mentions a May 2002 visit from singer Harry Connick Jr.'s quartet, and a 1995 concert by Indianapolis-born trombonist J.J. Johnson that helped him to viscerally connect with Indianapolis jazz history.
But he's also depended upon local jazz musicians, in a mutually beneficial relationship between the musicians and the club that Allee thinks is essential to running the Kitchen: "The talent in this city is immense and vast; second-to-none in the world. New York probably has 500 tenor players who will blow your mind away. Here we have a handful. It's just a scale thing."
While jazz is the primary fare at the Jazz Kitchen, Allee is open to other genres. Three years after the club opened, he launched Latin Night on Thursday nights. "Some people might say it's a sell-out; I feel like I get it honestly since my wife's from Panama," Allee says. "We present ourselves as being open; we have a diverse employee base. Music is a great art form to bring different people of different backgrounds together." And Allee doesn't just talk diversity: His club is a rare venue where you'll find almost equal helpings of young and old, black and white, gay and straight, hip and square.
Allee's current focus is the Indy Jazz Fest, which Owl Studios and the Jazz Kitchen jointly acquired this year. "Having these opportunities are essential to our other businesses staying viable and productive," Allee says of the acquisition. "We feel like it's an investment in the future of the jazz scene in Indianapolis."