From our spot in the loft, a friend and I surveyed the

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.Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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