All That Jazz

Posted June 11, 2008 in Music

Despite all the headaches, false starts and financial crashes of the past few years, the IE’s jazz scene is actually hotter now than at anytime since the 1970s. This may come as a surprise to a few people, such as those local jazzheads who continue to bitch about KUOR dropping their jazz programming . . . and that’s pretty understandable. 


After all, besides the loss of jazz radio and the concert series at University of Redlands, some other local favorites and promising newbies have crashed lately as well. Farm Artisan Foods in Redlands dropped jazz after they moved around the corner to E. State Street. Just down the block, the Boiler Room on Fifth is pretty much dominated by DJs these days. Some of Riverside’s jazz joints, like Faces and the Jazz and Art Exchange, have also bitten the proverbial dust. A couple of years ago saxophonist Jim Palmer started the Exchange, an excellent live jazz and education program, in San Bernardino’s Del Rosa area. Earlier this year, the Exchange relocated to Riverside where it lasted only a month before a business dispute drove them out. All of it a pity.


But all that’s history—as the summer months heat up, so will the jazz scene around town. Here’s a look at what’s happening:




Mike and Phyllis Wheeler opened up Backstage about six months ago, not far from the Mission Inn. This beautiful, acoustically sweet restaurant and bar features a wooden dance floor, top-notch in-ceiling sound system, and a killer menu. Weekly shows include a Thursday night jazz jam session and Sunday morning gospel brunch, both of which pack the house. (3597 Main St., Riverside; 951-682-8591;


Redlands’ Little Fisherman Seafoods doesn’t look like much from the outside (note to proprietors: axe the low-budget sign, dudes). But inside is a comfortable space with good sound and some of the IE’s best seafood. Live jazz every Friday, from 6PM TO 9PM. (1175 W. Redlands Blvd., Redlands; 909-798-5998;


Stell Coffee and Tea has two locations in Redlands: one on the corner of Barton and Alabama, the other on State Street. Both locations are small, cozy coffee joints with primo self-roasted brews and happenin’ entertainment. (1580 Barton Rd., Redlands; 909-792-4700; 22 E. State St., Redlands; 909-748-0009)


Alley Kat Coffee in Rialto is transforming into the Alley Kat Jazz Lounge. The remodel looks to be ultra-cool and in line with owner Jason Davis’ new vision. He says, “We plan to seat fifty or so at a time. There is no dance floor; this will be a true jazz lounge, intimate in the traditional style.” Look out for it, as Davis expects the Alley Kat to reopen again in early July. (134 S. Riverside Ave, between Rialto Ave. and First St.; 909-873-0017)


Ontario’s Jazz Café caters to the 35-and-over crowd, and they have a strict dress code to keep things elegant. Their soul food and New Orleans-style menu complements the SoCal jazz artists they book each week. (1133 W 6th Street, Ontario; 909-391-9119;


The Vault Martini Bar in Redlands books a variety of bands on Saturday nights; shows in the next month include Big Papa and the TCB (June 28) and Hobo Jazz (July 19). (20 E. Vine St., Redlands; 909-798-2399;


Back to the Grind is a Riverside landmark, taking up 5,000-square-feet of a century-old building downtown. Besides occasional jazz combos it boasts a wall-length bookshelf, a downstairs art gallery, poetry nights, hardcore LGBT cred and some fine brews. (3575 University Ave., Riverside; 951-784-0800)


On the more upscale end, Ciao Bella in Riverside, with live shows on Thursdays and Saturdays. (1630 Spruce St., Riverside; 951-781-8840;


Mario’s Place on Mission Inn Avenue offers fancy Northern Italian cuisine and live jazz every Friday and Saturday night. (3646 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside; 951-684-7755;


Hip Kitty Jazz and Fondue Lounge is located in Claremont’s Packing House, and the name says it all. They book live music every night they’re open, from Tuesdays through Sundays. (502 W. 1st Street, Claremont; 909-447-6700;


If you’re on the hawk for area talent, and don’t care what venue, there are some burnin’ jazz artists to watch for in the IE. Check out Zanja 8, a jaw-dropping band of high school and college students from Redlands who are gaining international attention for their huge talents, or arranger/pianist Sandy Megas—the guy who wrote the Army’s “Be All That You Can Be” jingle—and his little big band. Others include Hip Pocket, tenormen Loren Weisbrod, Jeff Ellwood, and alto saxophonist Matt Zebley (formerly with the Brian Setzer Orchestra), guitarist and educator Jody Fisher, the Catz in the Hatz, swinging jump blues and hot jazz from Big Bear, Redlands’ own Hobo Jazz (kickin’ it old style with sounds from the 20s and 30s), the ever-popular Jazz Junkies and saxophonist Mark Allen Felton, who just did a record release at Backstage last month.


As for radio, if you don’t have satellite and can’t pick up KKJZ-FM 88.1 in your neck of the woods, tune into KUCR-FM 88.3 on Tuesdays. The college station offers eight hours of jazz programming from 9AM until 5PM, mostly concentrating on the ’20s through the ’60s but with some “now” artists in the mix as well. And of course, there’s always Bop, Drop & Roll on KSPC 88.7, pumping out jazz every Wednesday from 10AM-noon. 



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