Monday, January 12, 2009


I've been meaning to visit HR-57 since I moved up here almost a year ago. It wasn't until this past Saturday night that I finally made it. The place was described to me as a BYOB jazz venue, and I pictured it as a dimly lit museum hall where a jazz group performs on a distant stage and snobby Smithsonian staff grudgingly oblige patrons to sip their wine at corner tables. It is, after all, named for House Resolution 57, which designated jazz music as a "rare and valuable national American treasure," and the website has no mention of alcohol being allowed. Their website describes the venue as a place "where aspiring musicians gather to learn the history and cultures of the genres of jazz and blues. It's a venue for the exchange of ideas and information between aspiring and professional musicians, students, aficionados and the general public."

It's not in the most easily accessible location - situated 7-8 blocks from the nearest metro station (Dupont, U-Street, Shaw-Howard) - but that only adds to its charm and keeps the place from overcrowding or getting rowdy. It's not Adams Morgan (that's a good thing). And the walk from Dupont was a pleasant one, down cracked sidewalks and past old row houses on tree-shaded streets.

The venue itself turned out to be little like I imagined. It's a quite intimate club, with a small black stage and about 10 small tables covering a small (20'x30') floor. Classic B&W jazz videos were playing on a drop-down projection screen to the right of the stage when we walked in. The exposed brick walls on either side are lined with cushioned benches and dim area lights above them. We sat at a coffee table in the rear of this front room, on chairs and a 4-seater leather armless couch. The room continued up a step behind us with about 10 more tables and a small glass bar where food (fried chicken, red beans & rice, and collard greens, which were pretty tasty) and a few drinks were on order.

The bar was apparently relatively new - we brought our own wine and, in addition to the $12 cover, we paid a $3 corking fee per person. We each had a bottle but could have easily brought more. The staff are very chill and friendly - all smiles. They supplied us with small plastic cups.

The jazz was good - the Michael Price quartet (piano, drums, bass, and trumpet/french horn) were on stage all night, from 9p-1a, and never lost their energy. The pianist, Michael Price, was fantastic. I remember thinking that his fingers looked like the legs of a spider crawling frantically across the keys. After their first piece he stood up to introduce the members, and then lightly scolded the audience for talking while they played. "It's not polite to hold a conversation while artists are performing at a jazz place. And this is a jazz place." His scolding was warranted (the din of voices was clearly audible above the music), but I thought he held us a bit too much in contempt, namedropping a jazz composer and joking that he used to be a member of Coldplay. "That seems to be what you people would know." Maybe he was right. We weren't an audience of jazz critics. But we're not going to get anywhere if people like him merely scorn us for our ignorance. I'd rather he let his own excitement for and love of the music draw us in. Shut us up with his piano. But maybe I was being too idealistic.

After that, people shut up and drank and jammed.

We left shortly after midnight, all satisfied, though we missed their final set. We all said we'd like to come back another night, maybe for some Cuban jazz next time. Though Lisa and I only have a month left, and there are a lot of places we still haven't been.

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