One of the best things you can do on a Monday night in Portland is to head on down to Jimmy Mak’s to listen to guitarist Dan Balmer and whatever incarnation of his group is performing. Not only is the music stupendous, it’s also free. That’s right, free! No cover at Jimmy Mak’s on Monday nights.
Dan Balmer has long been considered one of the finest guitarists, composers, and educators in the Northwest. In 2009 Dan became one of only five Oregonians to be honored with membership in both The Oregon Music Hall of Fame and the Jazz Society of Oregon Hall of Fame. He is the youngest person to be included in both Halls, and is hailed by the Los Angeles Times as, “the model of what a contemporary guitarist should be.
For free, people. Monday nights at Jimmy Mak’s. Did I mention it was free?
I was in Portland, OR last week on business and decided to check out the local jazz scene. No big surprise there. After doing a quick internet search, I determined that the best bets would be the Brasserie Montmartre and Jimmy Mak’s. I had been to the Brasserie several times long ago and had a blast. It was on the verge of being condemned, and closed for a long time for upgrading and remodeling. It reopened a couple of years ago, and while it still retains the black and white checkerboard floor, great food and music, it has lost a whole lot of the funkiness which I so enjoyed. Gone are the butcher paper tablecloths for drawing on (it used to be frequented by students from the Art Institute), though they did save and frame a lot of the best ones for wall decor, and the roaming magician who could make your signed card miraculously appear pinned to the ceiling was nowhere to be seen. I ordered off the bar menu and had the Menage a Trois (a charcuterie platter) and the soup de jour – lobster bisque). It was very good, as was the Sidecar, mixed by Jason, the friendly and knowledgeable bartender.
Local musician D.K. Stewart was playing a bluesy mix on the piano with vocals. He hung out a bit at the bar before his set started and chatted. One of the great things about the Monday night music scene – you can often hang with the musicians before the show or between sets. I really liked his style, as you could tell he was classically trained and had unexpected chops that kept each piece interesting. I sometimes get bored with straight blues, but Stewart was able to constantly surprise me with unique and colorful phrasings that added a definite jazz flair. I hope to make a return visit, have a sit down dinner, more drinks and stay up later dancing the night away.
I happened to be in Seattle on Tuesday night and while perusing the local entertainment guide, I saw that Mose Allison was opening a six night stand at Jazz Alley. I was beyond ecstatic, considering I had missed seeing him last year, Jazz Alley was within walking distance of my hotel, midweek openings were usually not sold out, and the show didn’t start for an hour and a half. The stars had indeed aligned.
I decided to have a quick bite and a cocktail at The Palace Kitchen, right next door to Jazz Alley. The Palace Kitchen is Chef Tom Douglas’s third restaurant. He also owns and operates Lola, Etta’s, Serious Pie, the Dahlia Lounge, and the Dahlia Bakery. Next time I will plan ahead and have dinner there. Everything looked and smelled delish, but I really only had time for a quick bite and a cocktail. Both were exceptional, as was the service. I ordered a Hendricks martini with a cucumber garnish and the server/bartender got it just right, with a large but not overwhelming chunk of cucumber, the gin chilled to perfection with the tiniest of ice crystals floating at the top. Bravo!
But back to Mose Allison and Jazz Alley. I’ve been to Jazz Alley before (I met Jessy J there last year) so I knew I wanted to sit at one of the six deuces near the bar. As luck would have it, being Tuesday night and all, there were a few available. The reason I like this spot is because the tables near the bar are raised so you get a great view and usually the band hangs out at the bar before and/or after the show. Sure enough, I strike up a conversation with one of the guys at the bar and it turns out to be Milo Petersen, whose is playing drums this evening for Mose. Milo is a very personable guy, and an extremely talented musician and composer, playing both drums and guitar. Check out his CD “Visiting Dignitaries”.
Mose played a great set, about an hour and a half nonstop. Hard to believe this guy is over 80 years old. He did some of his more well known compositions, including Your Mind is on Vacation and Your Molecular Structure, but the real crowd pleasers were some of his more sardonic and lesser known tunes like Meet Me at No Special Place, Tell Me Something, and Ever Since the World Ended. The room was filled with fans and at the end of the set he got the standing O he rightly deserves. He even graced us with an encore, a spirited rendition of Ever Since I Stole the Blues.
This is a clip of Mose on PBS’s Soundstage in 1975
After the show, I hung around the bar chatting with Milo. When Mose came out to the bar from the dressing room, Milo introduced me, I gushed like the fanboy I am, and had my picture taken with one of the most iconic and influential blues and jazz musicians living today. A moment I will cherish forever. Thanks, Mose! Everybody’s crying mercy…