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JAZZ NOTES

Hollywood Venues Remaining Viable?

July 29, 1994|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Is there a curse on jazz in Hollywood?

In the last two months, two of Hollywood's three main jazz venues--the Vine St. Bar & Grill and Legends of Hollywood--have either closed or relocated. Only Catalina Bar & Grill remains as a viable commercial entity.

So can jazz survive in Hollywood?

Not right now, says Bob Marks, who has moved his Legends of Hollywood to a new location in Studio City.

Yes, say both Ron Berenstein, the owner of the now-defunct Vine St., and Catalina Popescu, proprietor of the club that bears her name.

"The crowds just didn't want to come to Hollywood. They were afraid," says Marks, referring to the area's high crime rate and rundown appearance. Marks, who closed his delicatessen-jazz club in May, added that the neighborhood wasn't developing as fast as necessary for businesses to remain open.

"Everyone is convinced that Hollywood will be wonderful, but it may take 10 years longer than I could wait," he adds.

Popescu, on the other hand, continues to book top-name jazz talent and says that the area is fine.

"We are happy," she says. "There is no problem with being located in Hollywood. None at all.

"Business at the room is generally good," Popescu says. "Sometimes it's fine, sometimes it's not, but it's always been this way."

Despite Popescu's positive assessment, rumors have gone around for some time that she is looking for a new location. Popescu is adamant that such talk is unfounded. "It's not true, not one word," she says. "We are not selling. In fact, we are thinking of doing some more improvements (the club was remodeled just two years ago)."

Even though he closed Vine St. after a 15-year run, Berenstein gave Hollywood an overall good rating. "The area has no negatives," he says. "I don't know that anywhere has a great potential for jazz, so in that respect, Hollywood is not better, or worse, than any other area. It's more about who an artist is, when they last appeared here, how they are promoted."

The reason his establishment closed, Berenstein says, was not Hollywood but a general downturn in the economy. He cites "the continual bombardment of incidents like the (1992) riots and fires that were felt citywide, and the conscious (decisions) by jazz lovers" to stay at home rather than attend a nightclub performance. "Hollywood has great potential," he added.

For his part, Marks is thrilled to be in Studio City. His Legends of Hollywood is now located on Ventura Boulevard, midway between the Baked Potato in North Hollywood and La Ve Lee in Studio City. "This could be like the new jazz mecca of Southern California, and I wanted to be in on the deal," Marks says.

Legends, located at 11720 Ventura Blvd., in the building that formerly housed the St. Mortiz restaurant, opened last Sunday with a celebrity jam session. Marks plans to have music three nights a week for the time being, then expand to as many as seven nights.

At present, Legends serves no alcohol, but a beer and wine license should be in effect in 45 days; a full bar is expected to be in by early 1995, Marks says. The establishment is open for lunch, Monday through Friday, and dinner seven nights. Lunches are deli style, and range in price from $6.95-$9.95, while Continental cuisine is on tap for dinner, with such items as shrimp scampi, prime rib and sauteed orange roughy priced between $12.95 and $24.95. Information: (818) 760-6631.

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Bye-Bye Birdland: After 17 years in a prime downtown Long Beach location, drummer-entrepreneur Al Williams is closing his jazz club, Birdland West. "I'm just tired, man," he said. "I had to be there all the time. I'm 51 now, and I've done enough for jazz. Now I want to play some music, play with my grandchildren, shoot some hoops and enjoy life."

Williams, who operated the Jazz Safari spot near the Queen Mary for nine years before opening Birdland West, is closing his club on Sunday. He said a decline in business wasn't at the root of the closing. "Business is down, but not out," he said. "We're no more down than anyone. I'm just tired of the hassle of day-to-day operations."

The drummer, who also produces the Long Beach Jazz Festival--which will be held Aug. 12-14 at the city's Rainbow Lagoon--plans to hold a closing-night bash. On tap will be Eddie Harris, Poncho Sanchez, Lorez Alexandria, Ernie Andrews and many others who have performed at Birdland West. Information: (310) 436-9341.

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Bakery Still Cooking: The Jazz Bakery, which had been scheduled to relocate a few doors west to its new digs in the old Helms Bakery complex in Culver City, has postponed that move until Aug. 17.

Singer Ruth Price, musical director of the nonprofit Jazz Bakery, will plan the room's debut around a performance by be-bop masters Terry Gibbs (vibes) and Buddy DeFranco (clarinet). Information: (310) 271-9039.

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