If it makes sense to run a country for the people, by the people, then …
It’s a hot summer night downtown, and I’m tucked away inside a hidden jazz club within a century-old building. It’s plush and dimly lit, emanating sultry sounds and tempting cocktails. Billiards and betting are upstairs in The Rialto Poolroom and the adjoining Jockey Club and Off Track Betting. One could say it’s all of the vices under one roof.
The Rialto has been a long time pillar of Portland nights. This included the basement bar known as the Jack London, monikered after the Pacific Northwest novelist. And it was all set to close last Christmas due to inflation.
That same week late in 2016, Jimmy Mak’s, one of the last jazz venues in the city announced it would also close. This was a huge blow, but Portland purveyors of nightlife, Frank Faillace and Manish Patel, decided to reopen The Rialto and reinvent the Jack London into a crucially needed jazz venue.
They approached Soul’d Out Productions, who have surged diverse shows in Portland, especially during their Soul’d Out Music Festival every spring. The plan to reopen quickly was hindered by a fire, but worked as an advantage, giving more time to fully renovate.
“We were digging up the history of jazz and digging into the original foundation of the space,” says co-owner of Soul’d Out, Nicholas Harris. “It was about pulling up layers of old ugly ‘70s tile and finding the original hardwood floors and dark wood posts. It’s not too hard to imagine what a classic jazz club should look or feel like. Our inspirations were classic clubs in east coast basements, like Village Vanguard in New York City and Bohemian Caverns in DC.”
Harris cites that part of what brought them to Portland was noting that this type of music was underutilized here. There was an underserved audience that needed more diversity in shows, in spite of Portland’s rich jazz history.
“We’ve focused on that history,” he tells me. “This was known as Swing City, Jazz Town, Jumptown… Some of the greatest jazz artists played Vanport in the ‘40s and ‘50s–Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan.”
The new Jack London Revue is a high-end jazz supper club featuring a full menu, cabaret seating, cocktail waitresses, a really nice stage and a PA capable of handling big name touring artists. It hosts weekly resident artists that represent different aspects of Portland’s jazz culture, including The Mel Brown B-3 Organ Group, Coco Columbia’s Cacophony, Farnell and Friends, Neo Soul Sundays and more.
“It was critical for us to pick up where Jimmy Mak’s left off and give a lot of the core people that played there a home again,” says Harris. “These artists also bring their contacts to help curate future shows. This gives us different audiences and groups of people, all complimentary of each other.” Their calendar for August includes acts such as long time Portland resident Andy Stokes, LA’s Urban Renewal Project, and NYC-based world-music/jazz-fusion artists House Of Waters.