Jazz has found a new home in Orange County in the unlikely confines of a British-themed restaurant in Westminster that specializes in continental cuisine.
The Court of St. James, formerly Victoria Station, has been refurbished and will begin nightly jazz bookings tonight, starting with vocalist Shelley Moore and the Gerard Hagen Four.
Also due at the Court of St. James this week are guitar duo George Van Eps and Tony Rizzi, singer Stephanie Haynes and the New York Jazz Connection quartet.
Restaurateur Jim Baxter said he plans to spotlight mainstream jazz at most shows.
"There are a lot of places down here that say they have jazz," Baxter said, "but a lot of it is not even close. They do a lot of electric music, a lot of fusion. I don't mind that. . . . I'll have (fusion) too, maybe one night a week.
"But mostly it will be mainstream stuff. I'd say we'll have 75% mainstream, some fusion and, maybe one night a week, we might even have a blues singer come in," he said.
Orange County clubs booking jazz full time are in notoriously short supply. Only the Studio Cafes in Balboa and Corona del Mar, and Cafe Lido in Newport Beach have done it successfully for any length of time. Others that have tried have abandoned jazz after a few weeks or months.
But Baxter is optimistic that he can buck the trend. "We're getting a lot of calls," he said. "I think if we do a good job, if we're serious about it, yeah, it will work out."
Although Baxter described himself as a longtime jazz fan, his experience has been in running restaurants more than clubs. To help him establish connections in the local jazz community, Baxter said he has consulted with Jay Roebuck, who covers jazz for the Orange County Register and formerly hosted a jazz radio show on station KKGO-FM (105.1).
Initially, Baxter said, Thursday through Sunday night shows will be in the larger main room, which seats about 200. Performances Monday through Wednesday nights will take place in the 60-seat Pub. Show times will be at 9 p.m., except on Sundays and Mondays, when performances will start at 8 p.m.
"Depending on how the support goes, hopefully we'll eventually be able to do the shows in the big room every night," he said.
Following Shelley Moore and the Gerard Hagen Four tonight, the lineup continues with Stephanie Haynes on Friday, the New York Jazz Connection on Saturday, Tony Rizzi & George Van Eps on Sunday and the Doug McDonald Trio on Monday.
Baxter said Tuesday night is still open. But he said vocalist Dewey Ernie is scheduled to play Wednesday, with Shelley Moore to return May 21 and Tony Lujan scheduled to appear May 22. Dewey Ernie returns with a big band on May 23, and Stephanie Haynes is due back on May 24. The restaurant is at 14041 Beach Blvd.