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At the Sayers Club's Sessions, expect the unexpected

The live performances are encouraged to get as creative as possible so audiences can groove on just about any kind of music since every night's show is different.

July 15, 2011|By Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times
  • Jason Scoppa at the Sayers Club.
Jason Scoppa at the Sayers Club. (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

Jason Scoppa, the night life director who created the exclusive Bardot Sessions at Bardot in Hollywood, has moved his signature live-music programming to his very own venue. It's called the Sayers Club, and it's backed by Los Angeles night life juggernaut Sam Nazarian's SBE hospitality group. Now called "the Sessions at the Sayers Club," Scoppa's show, which enlists top-notch musical talent (and the occasional celebrity musician) to perform much-loved cover songs, now has a home that was built exclusively with its unique concept in mind.

Scoppa, who also once curated live shows at Hollywood's Green Door, says that the Sayers Club is the first time he was able to envision a club from the ground up. Nazarian, who recently took over David Judaken's Syndicate Hospitality to become the largest operator of nightclubs on the West Coast, was keen to add a club to his portfolio that trended toward the avant garde rather than the glitzy slickness of many of his other outlets, including Colony and Hyde. When he saw what Scoppa did at Bardot, Nazarian says he knew he wanted to give him free reign to get as inventive as he wanted for SBE.

"He gave me wings," Scoppa says of Nazarian. "When I said that I wanted to build a stage that retracts into the ceiling, his guys got excited."

The retractable stage, which serves as the focal point of the large room, is just one of many design aspects that the musicians involved with the Sayers Club say make the place incredibly conducive to creative expression. Heavy black theater curtains around the walls look dramatic but also dampen sound; there is a state-of-the-art digital Soundcraft soundboard and a full set of instruments donated by Gibson so that hard-working musicians don't need to lug their heavy gear in and out of the club, entered through a private door at the back of the bright yellow Papaya King hot dog stand on Wilcox Avenue.

Scoppa, who looks a bit like Johnny Depp and is rarely seen not wearing a fedora over his longish brown hair with baggy jeans tucked into black Army-style boots, likes to call the Sayers Club "a virtuoso space," meaning it can be a number of things on any given night.

To maintain mystery, Sayers is open only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. But on those nights, depending on when you are there, you might find a congenial lounge, a dance night with a name DJ, a rollicking rock show with guests like Jeremy Piven and Perry Farrell hopping on stage, or an improvisational show with live house music and scantily clad dancers gyrating on PA speakers.

You need to be on the list to get into the club (although there are always a few spaces for the right kind of walk-in) and Scoppa is careful about who he lets in. An avid fan of music who can be obsessive about his shows — always sitting on one of the brown leather couches at the front of the stage and often signaling for the house band to switch songs — Scoppa populates the room with creative people who understand the experimental side of music and can let loose in a crowd.

Letting loose is easy to do when confronted by regular Sessions performers like the singer L.P. (Laura Pergolizzi) and bass player and musical director Nick Rosen, whose mother was close friends with punk star Exene Cervenka. L.P. and Rosen, along with fellow players like singer Maiya Sykes, have become stars of the club, with the crowd often leaping to its feet when they appear onstage.

L.P., a tiny reed of a woman with a curly mop of dark hair and a tough demeanor, is a particular favorite. When she belts out a song like "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" by Led Zeppelin, it's as if her voice is conjured from another dimension. The ease of her delivery and the sheer emotional breadth of her best performances can coax an audience into a trance.

The feeling of magic and goose bumps that a great live music experience can create is what Scoppa is aiming to achieve every time, and when he doesn't quite lift the crowd to that level his disappointment is palpable.

"It's almost like deejaying with live music," L.P. says of the way Scoppa picks certain cover songs for certain performers. "I create my own vibe as soon as I start singing. Jason builds a room full of people who love music. But nobody's pushing it down anyone's throat, it's something you want to watch."

And the Sayers Club is just the beginning of what Scoppa wants to do with music. He has plans to possibly stage the Sessions as a touring act, and he's constantly on the prowl for next-level talent, including a recent and rare jazz performance by producer and composer Tom Rothrock.

Says Scoppa, "I think of the room as an empty canvas, and we can paint it however we want."

The Sayers Club

Where: 1645 Wilcox Ave., L.A.

When: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, beginning at 10 p.m.

Price: No cover, but the list is tough.

Info: (323) 871-8233; http://www.sbe.com/thesayersclub

jessica.gelt@latimes.com

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