NEWPORT BEACH — In the short-lived world of nightclubs, Cafe Lido had a life like Methuselah's. For 14 years on the Balboa Peninsula, the handsome supper club was one of Orange County's last bastions of straight-ahead jazz.
But no more. Last month, the Lido shut its doors, a victim, says owner Joe Sperrazza, not just of current economic conditions but of shifting musical tastes, declining alcohol sales and other changes in ways that the public spends its entertainment dollars.
The latest and certainly the most unsettling in a series of local jazz club failures, "it's a profound loss," says trumpeter Ron Stout, who held Sunday afternoon jam sessions there. "It's almost too hard to face."
It's not just jazz rooms that are closing. Bogart's, the club in Long Beach that had been the hub of the local grass-roots rock scene, closed in December. The Rhythm Cafe in Santa Ana folded a year ago in the face of mounting losses, ending an ambitious but brief attempt to present high-profile musicians from many fields.
Traditionally, in Orange County and nationally, clubs tend to come and go at an almost seasonal pace. But in Orange County, for the past several months, jazz clubs have been closing far more rapidly than usual. And while rock clubs in the county have been replaced by new ones--the no-frills Electric Circus in Anaheim, Our House in Costa Mesa and Club 369 in Fullerton all have sprung up recently, offering local bands at low admission prices--no new jazz clubs have come along.
The Lido was the last jazz club here that anyone expected to close. Located on 30th Street since 1988, and on Newport Boulevard before that, it was "was the No. 1 jazz spot in Orange County," says Dee Dee McNeil, a former Motown songwriter who had been a fixture there on weekends. "Its passing is going to be a real loss for the music and musicians as well as the fans."
"Things had been tough for the last two years, but we thought it would turn around eventually," said Sperrazza, a trumpeter who on rare occasions was known to join the musicians on his bandstand.
Sperrazza, who closed the club on Feb. 27, said he's not necessarily finished with the business. "We're going to relax a couple weeks, play some golf and then start looking for a new place. We're optimistic that in a year we'll have another location."
But "there are so many expenses that don't contribute anything to the business, like ASCAP and BMI fees (royalties for the use of particular pieces of music), worker's comp charges and the various licensing fees from the city. We had to pay all those whether we were full or empty. They weren't a lot by themselves, but it all added up.
"Also, the current trend in drinking less, with sobriety checkpoints and all, and people drinking wine instead of cocktails. Let's face it, this is a whiskey business, and the times were changing."
He attempted to change with them--offering wine tastings with dinner, featuring happy hour prices on appetizers rather than drinks, even adding a few rhythm & blues bands to the lineup--but such efforts failed to do the trick.
"And our neighborhood has become less desirable," he added. "At one time, people used to walk from place to place down here. But there aren't so many places to go to now."
Mucho Gusto, a restaurant in Costa Mesa that offered fusion, Brazilian and Latin jazz, closed in January. The month before, Vinnie's Ristorante, almost across the street from Mucho Gusto, stopped booking jazz; owner Vincent Colandrea's Laguna Niguel club closed the previous September. That summer, the music stopped at Maxwell's in Huntington Beach, which had been presenting such respected names as saxophonist Teddy Edwards and pianist Cedar Walton.
This isn't part of a national trend, according to bassist Luther Hughes, who booked jazz into Vinnie's. Hughes says he sees busy clubs as he travels the country with pianist Gene Harris' quartet. "It isn't jazz that's dying. We played a weeklong engagement at the Jazz Alley in Seattle recently, and the club was packed every night."
"I don't believe the jazz scene is dead by a long shot," agrees Randell Young, whose club, Randell's in Santa Ana, is one of the few jazz rooms in Orange County that is doing well. "Our business has picked up steadily since we opened in 1992," said Young, noting that his February attendance surged ahead of expectations, leaving him shorthanded at times.
"We bring in different audiences, the straight-ahead fans, the fusion fans, the funk fans on different nights. And we expose people to different kinds of music that way," Young said.
"Some of these places (that closed) had poor sound systems, rinky-dink lighting and the kitchen door swinging open all the time right next to the bandstand. That just isn't very good presentation."