Venues for jazz in Charleston have come and gone, riding the waves of social and economic change.
In recent years, a new generation of musicians has relied primarily on local restaurants. Many of them, Fish, Charleston Grill, Mercato, FIG and others, have been reliable advocates, benefiting from jazz patrons and garnering effusive gratitude from players.
One club, Alluette's Jazz Cafe, opened in 2009 to provide a venue dedicated to the music, but it faltered and closed last year.
Now Charleston is getting another chance, thanks to restaurateur Sermet Aslan, entrepreneur J.D. Madison and drummer Quentin Baxter, partners in charge of The Mezz.
Last fall, Aslan closed his restaurant at King and Wentworth streets for a comprehensive renovation. Sermet's Downtown reopens this week. The jazz room is expected to open at the end of the month.
After years of conversation with his friend Baxter, the two men secured the upstairs space (used as a listening room from 1999-2004) and set about creating a proper jazz club.
The Mezz, with a capacity of about 80, will feature a large bar at the back, small drink tables and dinner tables, a half-moon stage along a side wall, excellent lighting and sound, and a “living-room feel,” Aslan and Baxter said.
A late-night menu of small plates will be offered to music patrons, Aslan said.
The point is to create a space where music, not food or conversation, is the main focus, Baxter said. It's a logical step in the development of Charleston's jazz scene, he said.
“I'm just doing what's next.” For the last five years, Baxter has been responsible for booking musicians at Charleston Grill, which features live performances Monday-Saturday.
It was a great working relationship, Baxter said, and the staff at the restaurant and hotel has been very supportive of the new effort, even if it means ceding its jazz-anchor-in-Charleston status.
In the new space, Baxter will be “responsible for everything that's going on on that stage.” The club will showcase local artists, but also feature touring and visiting musicians.
“The goal is to concentrate regionally,” and draw from a well-known pool of players who can be promoted and occasionally recorded live in the space, he said.
There will be no cover charge to get into The Mezz.
A surcharge, however, perhaps $10, will be added to each bill to help cover overhead expenses and musicians' fees, Baxter said. There will be three sets each night, Wednesday-Saturday, starting around 8 p.m. Tickets could be sold for a few special performances.
“You're going to get more than you pay for,” Baxter said. “You're definitely going to get your money's worth.”
Artist Jonathan Green, a regular jazz patron, said the listening room is an important contribution to the arts in Charleston and will help make the city even more vibrant.
“It's a fantastic idea to have more jazz in Charleston, (by) the legendary descendants of the Jenkins Orphanage.”