By: Laura Youngs
Stepping into Jazz TX, the swanky new jazz club within the Historic Pearl District, was like taking a step back in time. Pardon me as I was nostalgic but a dimly lit nightclub offering dining and dancing with a twelve -piece orchestra gracing the stage is something I have not seen in decades and has been sorely missed. There was a time when San Antonio had a vibrant nightlife fraught with clubs where you could hear live music virtually any night of the week. The orchestras of Ramiro Cervera, Paul Elizondo and Felix Solis played regularly to throngs of dancers dressed to the nines. That, however, was long ago and now too many clubs have been relegated to the likes of canned music and karaoke.
Aware of the lack of entertainment in our city the debonair owner/bandleader Brent “Doc” Watkins has brought us Jazz TX. This is Watkins first venture as a club owner but at his young age he is already a seasoned musician. He pursued his Master’s and Doctorate in music from the University of Texas at Austin and moving to San Antonio in 2006 he had no problem finding gigs. It was not long before he was leading his own groups and going on tour. The highlight was when his trio performed at New York City’s famed Carnegie Hall in January 2014 to a full house. As well, he has a full house at home with wife Jessica and four kids. Being able to stay close to home played a role in his decision to have his own place. It also offers himself and his band members a steady gig. “Making a living playing in a really awesome jazz club. What’s not to love about that?” he states.
The club plans to offer live music five nights a week, with his own group playing three of those nights in either an orchestra format or broken down to a trio or six-piece ensemble. The other nights will showcase local talent, which this city has no lack of. The music calendar includes the Aaron Prado Trio, Pierre Poiree and the King William Jazz Collective, for starters. But Watkins has no intention of this being solely a jazz club, in spite of its moniker. Seeing our city growing on a fast track he said “I hope we don’t lose the culture of our city by places going too upscale” as he feels happened in Austin, and with which many critics agree. To this bent he will also vary the music with regional sounds varying from blues, Texas swing, Salsa, Americana and even some conjunto.
The interior was designed with the same concept in mind, “a place where jazz meets Texas. “ On this note he is successful. The stage backdrop is a scene from our Hill Country and the dance floor is constructed of long leaf pine, indicative of Texas dance halls. The bartenders looked exceedingly stylish in their black button down shirts beneath tan leather aprons. Located in the basement of the newly built replica of the Bottling Department building, they have tastefully reused items from the old brewery such as hangar windows and an elevator cage as part of the entryway. But the seating is where the look and feel of true jazz clubs, such as Ronnie Scott’s in London and the Carlysle in New York ,can be seen. Low tables with suede arm chairs are directly in front of the dance floor, giving one a birds eye view of the orchestra. There are also lush sofas and high top tables artfully placed and the night of the soft opening there was not an empty seat to be found. The elegance of the bar is not a surprise as the General Manager is Jake Corney who came directly from Bohanan’s. His influence can be seen on the drink menu that serves up the classics with a twist. The Old-Fashioned is the traditional bourbon and bitters then adding brown sugar, peach and basil and the specialty Margarita is comprised of tequila, citrus, ginger and honey. The full bar also includes craft beers from Texas.
The kitchen is run by Chef Lorenzo Moreles who has worked at restaurants such as Arcade Midtown Kitchen and The Last Word. “Southwest” and “eclectic” have become overused descriptions so I will not pigeon-hole the menu style but can say that I know of no other restaurant in this city that offers a bucket of fried quail! The owner also insisted on having his favorite dish on the lineup – chilaquiles. This is one of my favorites as well and can assure you that they are the real deal. If you are on a diet you should eat before you go as there is no light fare however you might want to splurge that night and order the flat iron steak with chorizo potatoes or the country fried pork chop with creamed mustard greens. And finish it off with a delicious peach cobbler or pecan pie! You won’t regret it.
In all honesty I was not sure what to expect when I arrived but I was not disappointed. People of all ages were out on the floor dancing to the tunes of Ellington, Basie and Kenton. Watkins is not only a great talent but has a magnetic personality that drew everyone in. Jazz TX is a must go for any age group. Watkins jokingly told me “If it doesn’t work I’ll be living under a bridge so we can do a follow up piece!” I don’t think he needs to worry about that.
To read more stories like this and others not featured on the website pick up a copy of San Antonio Scene Magazines September 2016 issue today at the TWIG bookstore in the Pearl, or at Club Humidor at Heubner and I-10 in San Antonio.
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