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MUSIC | ALL THAT JAZZ

Club is closing, but the dream will live on

May 30, 2003|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Ken Moore seemed to have everything working when he opened his Inglewood jazz coffee bar, Howling Monk, in December 2001: a love of jazz, fine coffee, a seemingly good location and a great name incorporating two of his favorite musicians, Howlin' Wolf and Thelonious Monk. But on Saturday night he will close shop.

What happened? Was it the economy, stupid? Was the location not as good as he thought? Is jazz too tough to market?

"Not actually any of those things, specifically," he said this week. "And a good part of the problem was connected to my own planning. When I first laid out the business plan for Howling Monk, it was just for a walk-in coffee shop. With a lot of help from my family, I had already created Howling Monk coffee -- which consisted of my own custom blends -- and we'd been manufacturing and marketing it since 1998. But I wanted to expand, reach a wider market."

When Howling Monk Coffee Bar opened on Market Street in Inglewood in the spring of 2001, however, a quick shift took place. What had initially been envisioned as an occasional setting for jam sessions soon became a regular jazz spot, with all the obligations of booking, promotion, publicity and payroll. It didn't help that Moore was learning the tasks when the economy as a whole was beginning to tank.

But his love of jazz is strong and he continued, even after he sensed that the fledgling business was going to have difficulty staying aloft.

Moore, 54, has had a multifaceted career, producing paintings and woodcarvings and working for more than two decades as an accountant for film studios. His fascination with jazz began when he was a boy, influenced by two uncles who transformed the household into a "jazz family."

"I have such a vivid memory of what I heard," he recalled. "And not just Miles and Bird, not just the instrumental music, but the fun aspects of the music as well. In that old tune 'Hey Ba-ba-re-bop,' for example, there was a line, 'Baby's on the floor, blowin' his natural top!,' that just fascinated me as a kid. The music always stayed with me after that."

And it will stay with Moore and Howling Monk, despite the demise of this installment of his jazz coffee bar. The closing will be marked by a two-night celebration, tonight featuring singer Dwight Trible and a jam session, and Saturday with a wrap party (and more jamming).

But Moore is already in search of a new location for the next chapter of Howling Monk, eager to apply the lessons learned over the past two years.

"We'll do it differently this time," he said. "I have a better understanding now of the importance of location and, maybe even more than that, the importance of the kind of vibe that people like to feel in a room. Because, ultimately, it really wasn't the music that let us down, it was that we didn't find a way to market it in a businesslike fashion."

Moore's plans are based on a three-pronged approach involving his Howling Monk Coffee and Tea; a production entity called Howling Monk Presents; and the Howling Monk Jazz Club. The last, aiming at a January 2004 opening, will be based on membership support as well as funding from the core cultural community. Moore envisions the venue being used "for rehearsal, performance and education." In the interim, Howling Monk Presents will offer programs in other locations, with events coming soon at the World Stage and the Mayflower Ballroom.

Upbeat about the future, insistent that there is an audience for jazz and that the future activities of Howling Monk will be firmly based on that belief, the articulate, whimsical Moore added a final rationale for his dedication.

"I made this commitment more than five years ago," he said, "and there's no turning back now. Besides, I'm fat, black, 54 arrogant years old; my doctor says I'm falling apart, and this is exactly what I want to do."

The Howling Monk, 344 S. Market St., Inglewood. Tonight, Dwight Trible & Friends, followed by jam session, 9 p.m., $12 in advance, $15 at the door. Saturday: the 344 Wrap Party, 8 p.m. Admission free. (310) 671-8551.

*

Jazz in print

The jazz books keep rolling in. Here's a quick look at some recent arrivals:

* "Open the Door: The Life and Music of Betty Carter" by William R. Bauer (University of Michigan Press). The title of Bauer's extremely detailed biography is on target. Rather than limit his view to the parameters of historical biography, he has included musicological analyses of her work, describing the many idiosyncratic subtleties that made Carter one of the great jazz singers of the 20th century.

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