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Making a Federal case for jazz and more

First, there was Vitello's. Now, impresario April Williams hopes to turn the upstairs room at the Federal in the NoHo Arts District into a hot spot for big band music, funk, fusion and jazz.

April 11, 2012|By Kirk Silsbee, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • The Federal is a new jazz venue in North Hollywood.
The Federal is a new jazz venue in North Hollywood. (The Knitting Factory Marketing )

No one's ever called music impresario April Williams lazy. She began booking and producing music in the upstairs room at Vitello's restaurant in Studio City at the end of 2009. It's now one of the most coveted jazz spots — for musicians and listeners alike — in Southern California. On April 18, she breaks new ground with a spring music series at the Federal, in the heart of the NoHo Arts District near a Metro Rail station.

She could hardly inaugurate her new enterprise more auspiciously: Williams has tapped Bob Sheppard, one of the preeminent West Coast jazz saxophonist stylists and busiest recording session players in the Hollywood studios. He leads his quartet that night with pianist John Beasley, bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Steve Hass.

Williams sees no conflict in bringing music to the two venues. "They're quite different," she points out. "Vitello's is a quiet dining space where people who really listen can hear jazz — and sometimes classical music — in a quiet atmosphere.

"The upstairs room at the Federal is much more social and it's open until 1:30 each night. It has a well-stocked bar, some formal dining tables, booths with couches, and an outdoor patio; it's got a real lounge feel. Vitello's is a listening room with a good Steinway piano; this new place is more of an electronically oriented showroom."

The building dates to 1926, and its upstairs room has a vintage feel. It can accommodate about 100 people. Plenty of space and creature comforts at the Federal make it a popular spot for recording industry functions and rap parties. Its features include a proscenium stage, video technology and state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems.

Different demographics played a part in Williams' decision to inaugurate the new series. "We've had big bands at Vitello's," she says, "but it's best for small ensembles. With the new room, I'll be introducing a younger audience to big band music, funk, fusion and jazz."

Her hopes for the room are quite similar to what she wanted to accomplish at Vitello's: "I want to create a creative space for musicians," Williams says. "And I want to create work for them. I'll be presenting all kinds of music at the Federal. I hope the experience will be a bridge for these music styles to people who are in the 20- to 40-year-old age range. I'm trying to bring more music to our community. I believe that if younger people are exposed to classic music that they'll develop a taste for it."

Future bookings at the Federal include Cuban trumpet phenom Arturo Sandoval leading a big band, singer Frank Stallone, Grammy-winning Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band and conguero Poncho Sanchez.

Williams has no Hollywood envy for her enterprises: "We have everything we need," she says with confidence, "in Studio City and the Noho Arts District."

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