In 1994, bicycle repair shop owner David Allee tossed that business and followed his passion to start a full-time jazz club. As a result of Allee’s efforts, the Jazz Kitchen made this city and the lovers of jazz all the more rich. The Jazz Kitchen will embark on seven days of celebrating its 10th anniversary starting this Friday, April 2. -Jazz Kitchen owner David Allee shows off his premises on the eve of the venue’s 10th anniversary.- Looking back, Allee whimsically recalls the rigors of the club’s opening day. “I do remember going down to buy bar stools and chairs at 3 o’clock the day we were opening, we just got that in. I’m very happy about the way we did it. We obviously went in and did it on a shoe-string budget to begin with. The thing I like most about it was it gave myself, the city and everybody a chance to warm up to the idea of having a full-time jazz club. I don’t think most people understand the difficulty. It’s not only a restaurant and a nightclub, but it’s the combination of the two. Honestly, that time was needed to foster that.”
Allee admits that he struggled early on with where to put the emphasis on how to label the Jazz Kitchen. “I am a very good eater and I like good food, so I decided to get some good food on the menu. We always had a vision for the music. Having a supper club seemed like the right thing to do.”
Jazz Kitchen and the musicians The list of local, regional and national jazz artists and groups that have performed on the stage of the Jazz Kitchen over the past decade is like a who’s who. Yet even among all of those great national jazz acts there was one event that Allee says gave the club its credibility. “By far it was J.J. Johnson’s three nights he performed here. It was in 1995, one year after we opened. That night put us on the map as far as validating us. J.J. hadn’t played in his hometown in years. For him to come back and put his stamp of approval on a club was very gratifying for me. And the music was fantastic. The city supported it. He was there three nights, six shows and they were all sold out.” The Jazz Kitchen has had consistently strong local jazz groups maintaining Indy’s rich jazz heritage over the years. When asked about his favorite local jazz group or artist, Allee smiles and is diplomatic. “I don’t have a choice in that decision. I would have to say my father, Steve Allee. I think, honestly, all of the musicians ring a certain refrain for me in different ways. In music it’s difficult to put a quantitative answer on who or what is best. Some are more contemporary or more straight-ahead. I like all of those types of music.” People of the Jazz KitchenThe passions that drive David Allee are diverse. He’s an entrepreneur, trumpeter and even cooks in the kitchen. He’s co-leader with Rob Dixon of the jazz/funk band Seven Pleasures. Like a good coach, he keeps strong players on his team, including his sister Lori, the bar and kitchen manager, Frank Steans, who doubles with guest relations and as house guitarist, and the affable hostess at the door, Doris.
The Friday, April 2, 10th anniversary celebration launches in a big way with the legendary Hampton Sisters at 6:30 p.m. followed by internationally renowned Grammy nominee, trombonist Slide Hampton’s Quintet at 10 p.m. On April 3, the sound that opened the club, the Steve Allee Big Band, noted for its leader’s swinging arrangements, will perform. The week of celebration wraps up with two nights of Indy All Star Jams April 9 and 10.
David Allee’s love of jazz and food — and his drive to give both an exceptional presentation — explains why the Jazz Kitchen was selected by the prestigious Downbeat magazine as one of the top 100 jazz clubs in the world.
Chuck Workman is the producer/host of the Sunday Morning Jazz Show at 107.9 WTPI.