Churchill Grounds and the Atlanta Jazz Horizon
Churchill Grounds’ Whisper Room closed yesterday. (See article HERE) The Whisper Room was Churchill’s listening room that seated 150 or so patrons, and played host to their jazz performances for the past several years. Several people have asked me what I think of this event, implying that it is some sort of competitive triumph or a bad omen of things to come. Although I do not know the owner personally, and I do not know the details surrounding this event, here are my thoughts:
I think that any metropolitan area and its patrons, musicians, venue owners, etc. benefits from a broad array of locations in which to enjoy great music. I think that Atlanta has a rich, diverse, passionate, talented and vibrant jazz community and I am proud to be both a contributor and a beneficiary. Churchill Grounds has been and will continue to be a beacon of quality in this community, which benefits everyone. It’s like having a dress shop at the mall. You want to be located in the mall where people will drive to get dresses because there are plenty of relevant options. We don’t want to be the one and only dress shop in a mall of, say, toy stores. No one will think to seek you out in that location. We want residents and visitors alike to know that there is plenty of great jazz here in Atlanta and lots of venues from which to choose.
Secondly, the financial pressure on a jazz club owner can be quite daunting. Unlike venues featuring other genres of music,jazz patrons are not slamming down cheap beers or flocking to a “meat market” mingle or paying astronomical ticket prices to see an artist who is #1 on the pop or hip-hop charts. It is nothing short of remarkable that Churchill stayed the course as long as they did, and it is a clear testament to Mr. Yi’s unshakeable commitment to the development and advancement of great jazz in Atlanta. Pulling money out of one’s own personal reserves, year after year, in the face of uncertain economic times, is an act of cultural heroism. But as any long-term, visionary entrepreneur can attest, doing the right thing isn’t right when it threatens one’s own self-sustainability.
Sometimes you must take a step back in order to make a leap forward. I wasn’t around when Churchill operated exclusively out of its café side, but I can say first-hand that when it comes to live jazz music environments, smaller is better. The Velvet Note’s 40-seat listening room is a prime illustrative example. There’s something about experiencing live performances within close proximity of fellow enthusiasts and the performers that makes it magical, electric, hypnotic—and this feeling that simply cannot be scaled up- it unfortunately gets lost in the translation. A smaller, more manageable, stable venue has more opportunity to do the myriad of other activities (i.e., marketing) that are associated with running live performances. Sure, the stage will be smaller and the room will have more of a bustling ambiance than before, but it will likely remind you of some of the best city hangs in places like New York and Chicago. You know, the kind of midtown place where you can’t wait to get inside, will stand at the bar for hours, and be the last to leave. I am personally looking forward to visiting Churchill Grounds and enjoying the intimacy and magic that I hope they will reclaim in this next stage of their legacy. All the best to you, Churchill Grounds, and long live Jazz!