A decent jazz venue in Cape Town has been a dream for many, all the more so since the Green Dolphin went dark. Some place cosy and laid-back; a little rustic, but comfortable; welcoming but off-centre.
There have been some attempts at it since the advent of demo-cracy, none has lasted long enough to inscribe itself in the collective nostalgia.
Of course, apartheid was intrinsically anti-jazz — inherently averse to spontaneity and improvisation and the carefree mingling of people across its racial categories. As far as the Nationalists were concerned, jazz belonged in the townships, along with hoods, shebeens, noise and vice.
So it is appropriate that Lawson Naidoo of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution should be one of the leading lights in a new jazz club, the Mahogany Room.
He caught up with Kesivan Naidoo at the National Arts Festival in 2010 and discovered they shared the dream of a New York-style jazz venue. In November last year they found an appropriate spot on the “east side” of town — the burgeoning art and design district that is home to the Fugard Theatre, the Book Lounge and the Assembly.
They opened five weeks later.
Musician-cum-builder Mark Buchanan pulled off the speedy re-novation. Theatre veteran Nicholas Ellenbogen built the bar and front stage out of African mahogany.
Naidoo wanted the biggest baby grand that could fit the stage to emulate the Greenwich Village basement jazz bar, the Village Vanguard (the other inspirations were Smalls, also in the Village, and Ronnie Scott’s in Soho, London), which boasts a Steinway Model “O”.
Astonishingly, they found their piano at Ian Burgess-Simpson in Muizenberg.
The result is the Mahogany Room, a tiny venue seating fewer than 50 people at tables placed in rows, plus a few bar stools at Ellenbogen’s smooth counter.
Rashid Lombard and George Hallett supplied photographic prints of South African jazz greats for the walls.
There are also tables and chairs on a small, pleasant patio in front of the venue. Snacks are served and pizzas can be ordered from next door.
There is a good selection of premium wines, beers and spirits at reasonable prices. Important for Cape Town, there is ample secure parking on an adjacent empty lot.
The emphasis is on listening to the music.
Reservations are advisable — this is not a dance or nightclub. There are usually two sets in an evening. The line-up changes on a weekly basis.
The inaugural evening in December featured the Feya Faku Quintet, with Kesivan Naidoo on drums, Mark Fransman on piano, Shane Cooper on bass and Buddy Wells on sax. Guest spots presented Lee Thomson (the third partner in the business) and Darren English on trumpet. They played for four nights.
Generally, the club is open from Wednesday to Saturday.
The March line-up includes: Following De Moli, Oliver Fox (Berlin), Offshore (featuring Buddy Wells and Lee Thomson), Nicky Shrirer and Dan Shout. From March 28 to 31, the Mahogany Room will be part of the Cape Town Jazz Festival.
If you are a jazz fan or you have not explored jazz before, there is no better way to check it out. You will feel right at home.
The Mahogany Room, 79 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town. Cover charge is R60 per person per set or R100 per person for both sets. Tel: 076?679?2697