From our spot in the loft, a friend and I surveyed the scene at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant. We arrived early enough to snag a seat without reservations and were lucky to get one--last night was a special evening for the restaurant and venue, the 25th anniversary of Clarence Acox and his Legacy Quartet's weekly residence there.
The venue is a long, brick-layered room arranged like a true Southern shot-gun, with a simple, narrow aisle between two rows of seating and a cramped stage that still manages to comfortably accommodate four full-grown men and their instruments. The 200-person capacity house was packed by 8 p.m.The Mayor's Arts Award winner and the man who led the Garfield High School Jazz Ensemble to four first-place wins at New York's Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition seemed comfortably at home in the restaurant, mingling casually with the crowd before the show. A native of New Orleans, Acox has made some friends at the club, but not entirely because of his origins; the large man is instantly charismatic with a distinctive, bellowing vocal tone like James Earl Jones. He's the kind of man you pay attention to.
When the quartet arrived onstage--festooned with chintzy helium balloons--Acox said a few words about Floyd Standifer, the original band member for whom the Legacy Quartet is named, and soon launched into a solid set of the standards: Mercer Ellington's (Duke's son) "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," a bossa-tinged version of George Gershwin's "Summertime," and an easy-flowing "I Love You" by Cole Porter, among many others. The group eased along with the unhurried leadership of a seasoned, seen-it-all high-school music teacher and the years behind them as a tight-knit jazz ensemble.
As I watched the band play to an engaged, fully packed house, it occurred to me that this hard-knock, underappreciated restaurant in Pioneer Square is lacking the prestige of a venue like Dimitriou's or the nightclubby vibe of Tula's. Folks don't pay a cover to hear music here. Looks aside, the New Orleans Creole Restaurant is a long-standing Seattle establishment that gives back to the community with quality free entertainment week after week. With an anchor like Acox--a man as committed to giving back and establishing community as he is to Garfield's High School jazz band--it's no wonder Acox makes friends wherever he goes.
The Scene: Mid- to older '60s (a contingent my friend aptly called the "gray tops"), a few scattered 30-somethings, some of Acox's students and their families. A dancing couple in their '60s twirled and jerked their way into the only functioning aisle like some kind of beatnik Fred and Ginger.
Overheard in the Crowd (to Acox): "You're having a pretty good party up here."
Sweet Audience Participation: The crowd singing "Happy Birthday" to "Marsha" as part of what Acox tagged as the "New Orleans Tabernacle Choir."
A Little Old-School Action: Acox going table-to-table for a short meet-and-greet.