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Chandra Currelley Looks Back and Sees Herself

Monday, October 14th, 2019

By Adrianne Murchison

Imagine attending a fabulous party where you’re engaged in good-humored conversation with one of the guests – a complete stranger before that moment. The laughs are hearty about Atlanta life back-in-the-day. And then, this new down-to-earth friend excuses herself for a moment. But, before she returns, the host introduces the guest performer and suddenly, you realize the person that you exchanged laughs and memories with is actress and singer Chandra Currelley.

Chandra’s adaptability in settings from small gatherings to international theater audiences has made her a multifaceted and widely admired entertainer. She takes The Velvet Note stage, Oct. 18-19, with Tyrone Jackson on piano, Joel Powell on bass, and Brian Andrews on drums.

“I have a pretty versatile show,” Chandra says. “I do this music that I call “urspijaz.” It’s urban, spiritual jazz. It’s urban in a sense of the feel and grooves that I sing on; food for the spirit, and jazz improvisation, which is part of who I am. All of those things are blended in what I do.”     


Chandra was lead singer for R&B’s former S.O.S. Band and has performed in numerous musical theater productions by Tyler Perry, Debbie Allen and Kenny Leon. On film, she’s appeared in at least eight Perry films, as well as his series “For Better or Worse,” which ran on the OWN Network from 2011-2016.

The longtime Atlantan was born in Jacksonville, Fla. “This feels like home,” she says. “We moved here when I was 11. My mother had visited…and she liked it. I’m so glad she did.”  

Chandra has often credited LaTonya Richardson and Samuel Jackson for guiding her in the right direction professionally long before the married couple became Hollywood heavyweights. Richardson was Chandra’s drama teacher at Booker T. Washington High School. 

One day when the teenager was to act out a scene, Richardson became annoyed at her student’s joking around.

“It was a monologue from ‘Ain’t I a Woman,’” Chandra says. “I was clowning but I liked her a lot. She was my buddy and it was just part of me being a ham. 

“I got up there playing and she said, ‘Get off the stage. When you get ready to do it, just let me know.’

“I went back there [and did the scene again]. Something happened. I was just channeled and I forgot where I was. I just remember her being quiet and she started to laugh. She said, ‘Um hmm, I thought you had something.’”

It was Samuel Jackson that advised Chandra to spread her wings beyond one form of entertainment, considering she had a powerful singing voice. “He said, ‘Sing. Get some voice lessons and you will work more because people love musicals,’” Chandra recalls. “And that’s what I did. He paid for my theater workshop. And she [LaTonya] paid for my male friend’s workshop.”

Samuel Jackson’s advice proved to be true after the S.O.S. Band’s record label A&M records was sold to PolyGram in 1989. As subsequent mergers took place music groups disbanded including S.O.S. 

Chandra turned to musical theater. It was while performing in the Duke Ellington music showcase “Sophisticated Ladies” at 14th Street Playhouse that the singer was sought out by Tyler Perry.   

“He said, ‘I would like you to read my play,’” she says. “It was a different kind of theater. I was seeing characters that I recognized but never [before] saw on stage. [Tyler] said, ‘I want to uplift people.’ And I said, ‘I’m going to do it.’”

Chandra is reluctant to choose a favorite music experience, as they are all different. Among the most treasured, she admits, was about eight years ago when she performed composer Ray Leslee’s “MAYA Songs: The Poems of Maya Angelou” with The Riverside Chamber Players of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

The songs compositions were based on the late poet’s poems on the theme of time. 

“It was classical. It was beautiful,” Chandra says as she turns to reflect on her entire career. “And I realized, I’ve been singing a long time.”

Come and see Chandra up close at The Velvet Note, this weekend, Oct. 18-19. Get your tickets at http://thevelvetnote.com/chandra-currelley or by calling 855.5.VELVET.

Grant Green, Jr.: A Jazzman at Heart

Monday, October 14th, 2019

Guitarist Grant Green has kept listeners hip and nostalgic through his Masters of Groove music group projects and traditional jazz works. And although his new album on “The Burt Bacharach Songbook” is still a work in progress, the jazz guitarist will include a preview of the future release in his performance at The Velvet Note on Oct. 20.  

“He is one of my favorite American composers,” Grant says. “His sense of melody in a song like ‘Alfie’ is beautiful and timeless.”

Grant, 64, says his love for all types of music made him the multidimensional musician that he is today. The self-proclaimed Led Zeppelin fan recalls how one-time pop songs such as “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Misty,” and “Stella by Starlight” later became jazz standards. 

“Basically that’s what I’m doing with the Burt Bacharach stuff, he says. “It’s great material that you want to put your own spin on.”

While Bacharach is an artist that Grant looks to, there are many others. He’s named after his father, the late guitarist Grant Green. As a child, Grant Jr. spent part of his childhood in Detroit living near Motown greats, and New York City where he had a bird’s eye view of the jazz scene.  

In Detroit, Stevie Wonder’s parents were neighbors. Outside Marvin Gaye’s home only a few blocks away, Grant and his buddies would perfectly time playing football on the big island in the middle of the street to when the singer would arrive home.   

“He would come out and play football with us,” Grant says. “Detroit was very musical back in those days. I learned more of my pop, R&B and rock in Detroit. Stevie was a huge influence on me. Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ kind of changed my life.”

The musicianship of Grant’s father, however, has had the greatest sway over him. “He highly influenced me,” Grant says. “He’s why I play the guitar.”

The elder Grant, who inspired the likes of Carlos Santana and George Benson, was not interested in his son following in his footsteps. He preferred that young Grant become a doctor or a lawyer. But, from adolescence the son had studied his father playing the guitar, and at age 17 Grant gained his musical respect.

“I used to go to all of his shows as a kid and I would go home and mimic them,” Grant says. “That’s how I actually learned. When he finally took me serious as a musician, it was because I got to the point where I used his material and I could rehearse with the band.”

Grant wrote a song as teenager that his father was unaware of until one day when it caught Grant Sr.’s attention as the band’s keyboardist played it during downtime from rehearsal. 

“My father thought the keyboardist wrote it but he said, ‘No that’s your son,” Grant recalls. “He said to me, ‘Show me the melody.’ That’s when he took me seriously as a musician. ”

Grant titled the tune, “My Father’s Song.”

Dionne Farris Spreads Her Wings

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

By Adrianne Murchison, Staff Editor

*** Dionne Farris performs this Friday, September 20th at The Velvet Note ***

There’s something about Dionne. In a day and age whenmost artists appeal to certain demographics, Dionne Farriscan rest assured that her music attracts fans of nearly every ilk, from jazz to hip hop to pop and rock.

Along with her natural born vocal gifts, the key to Dionne’sartistry might be her very Zen approach to music. 

“Creating and creativity is the catalyst for the jewel that comes from [within],” Dionne says. “You can’t do this for the money or fame. You have to do it for the creativity. We are creators, here to create. If you start from that space, everything you desire will come.” 

The former Grammy nominee performs at The Velvet Note on September 20th with a quartet that includes Russell Gunn on trumpet, Nick Rosen on piano, Sean Michael Ray onbass and Lil John Robert’s on drums. 

Dionne’s creativity has extended far and wide since the release of her debut album, “Wild Seed-Wild Flower” on Columbia Records in 1994. That release featured a Top 40 Single in “I Know.” Another tune “Stop to Think,” is a cautionary tale on drug life that sampled Lenny Kravitz’s “Freedom Train.’

One of Dionne’s collaborations with Russell Gunn (who also serves as her manager) is “Dionne Get Your Gunn,” an album recorded live at Atlanta’s former Churchill Grounds.

“He took my songs and reimagined them from a jazz perspective,” Dionne says. “Like the song, ‘I Know,’ he changed it and it still has the same energy.” 

Dionne describes her melodic runs as “the vocal instrument” on the jazz trumpeter’s just released album “Pyramids.” 

“It’s the expansion of the ability to use the voice,” she explains. “It’s Russell’s magnum opus inspired by his trip to Egypt. He came back with all of this great information and music inside of him and put that together.” 

Dionne, who is a native of New Jersey and named after Dionne Warwick, has placed her imprint on the film and theater world. Her song “Hopeless,” was made popular in the 1997 film “Love Jones,” a classic etched in African American culture. The passionate “So Blind” from Dionne’s 2007 album “for truth, if not love” inspired playwright Shenise McRoberts to give her production the same moniker, and cast Dionne.

“I played a preacher’s wife in distress,” Dionne recalls. 

The singer also left lasting impressions with the late Tupac Shakur and Prince. The former said her music helped him through difficult times. And the latter, well, shortly after they met he wrote a song about her. 

The playful tune by an adoring Prince, then known as “The Artist,” is simply titled, “Dionne.” The song is featured on his acoustic album, “The Truth,” and included in the Crystal Ball box set that was made available in 2018.

The song is also a front-page highlight on Dionne’s website, dionnefarris.com.

Prince and Dionne met through their mutual agent in 1995 following her set at The Roxy in Los Angeles. 

“My booking agent came up and said The Artist is downstairs and he would like to meet you,” Dionne says. “I was like ‘Are you kidding me!?’”

Over the years, she has developed an increased understanding of the late music genius. 

“Like everyone else, I was inspired by Prince growing up. He was the catalyst to why I was able to do a project like “Wild-Seed, Wild Flower,” she says. “When you have someone like Prince write a song about you and for you, and sing your name; he really kind of opens your third eye. He communicated the way he felt that he wanted to communicate with me – through music.”

For Dionne, the power of creativity and connection is undeniable; and that’s the essence of what she continues to feel towards Prince, although ultimately they did not have an opportunity to work together. 

“It’s uncanny. If [that experience has] never happened to you, you wouldn’t understand,” she says. “And no one on this planet can say whether [the connection is] true or not;because I know that it is.” 

While Prince had The Revolution, in many ways Dionne is in the midst of an evolution that speaks to the diversity of her entire music catalog. 

In the past, music executives would steer the songstressinto a certain lane and categorize her in a particular way, she says. But that’s contrary to the very nature of a person who experiences inspiration in a variety of different ways, and resulted in Dionne leaving Columbia Records to start her own music label. 

“You can’t create what you want and market it in a structure that is traditional,” she says. “Music is for healing but you have to be careful of the agenda that it’s being used for; if you even know.”

So while, Dionne decided years ago that she would notcompromise her creativity, she continues to stand alongside more well-known peers.

“I’m in the same space as everyone else,” she remarks. “I’m out here too. I may not have as many things as everyone else, but I’m doing the same thing. We all get to the same place but from different directions. It gives me the opportunity to come up with my own strokes in my own painting.”

And Dionne has come to a new awareness in her music. 

“I don’t want to be in the world to say nothing. I like to speak to people,” she says. “That’s my approach to writing. I initially felt that I was speaking to myself. Now, I feel that I’m not alone in my expression. I let the gift be given. I let it resonate with who it will resonate with. I’ve been in a cocoon long enough. It’s time to be the butterfly.

I’m a Mutant, Too!

Sunday, September 15th, 2019

Last night, I went on a date.  

Yes, that’s right.  I went on a real, honest-to-goodness, Saturday night, margaritas and nachos first date.  It began with the standard oral presentation of our resumes, where we’re from, what we do, what we like to do when we’re not doing the thing we spend most of our time doing…you know the drill.  He went first: Harvard educated engineer, skipped three grades in school, loves playing guitar, self-described ferocious workaholic (“I want to love my work so much that it feels like sex.”) Ahem.

Then came my turn:  Retired business consultant, impassioned entrepreneur, founder of an FDIC-insured bank, equestrian, loves collecting both fine realist art and cheap costume jewelry, and of course, the owner of The Velvet Note.  

“You own that place?” he sounded stunned.

“I thought you knew that.” 

“I know that’s where we met, dahling, but I thought you were just a customer sitting outside talking to friends.”

“Sometimes I do that too.  Please don’t tell my boss or she might think I’m a slacker.”

A long silence followed.  He couldn’t possibly still be thinking about that joke.  My eyebrow shot up quizzically. “What?” I asked.

“Wow!”  he exclaimed.  “You’re a mutant!”

Wha…wait a minute,  mutant…meeeeuuuuuwwww-tant…  Could this be some form of modern street venacular that I’d missed while burrowing in the suburbs?  I quickly paged through my mind’s dictionary but the only thing that I could come up with was a visual of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Based on that, I was pretty sure that this was not a compliment.

Just as I was about to work up a head of steam, our server stopped by. “Would you all like another round?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.  “Yes, I would definitely like another margarita.”  The words were enunciated with paced precision, and as they exited my mouth, my mutant eyes bore a hole through the server’s skull where I implanted the following secret message:  Help me…..need…..additional…alcohol…..now……..Run……..do…….not……walk.

As I broke eye contact, I quickly summarized how the date was going.  Twenty minutes prior, I had been told that my voice sounded like warm honey.  Ten minutes ago, I had flawless skin. Now, I was a mutant.

“So…you were saying that I’m a mutant?  Dare I ask, what do you mean by that?”

“Well, I mean that you’re not just one thing,” he asserted.  “I mean, you are, but you’ve got all of these disparate elements baked in, and they’re so different from each other that you would expect them to cause a disruption, but instead, the synthesized whole makes you completely different from normal people.  If you knew more about me, you’d know that I’m a mutant, too! It’s a surprise…a really good surprise. The bottom line is, I’m not bored.”

“Oh.  Okay. Has anyone ever told you what a smooth-talking romantic you are?”

And then, we laughed.

Later that night, my thoughts shifted to The Velvet Note. The music industry insists on categorizing artists, usually by genre and subgenre.  Jazz..Soul…Folk…Smooth Jazz…we are constantly asking, “What is he/she?” It’s as if the sum and substance of an individual’s entire musical career can be boiled down to one word.  All of the artists we feature this week have proudly and intentionally defied that norm. Their variations are baked in, and it makes them different, special and rare. Isn’t it great when you don’t need to pin someone into a box, but instead, you simply allow them be the mutant they are and appreciate their uniqueness?  Come out and hang with the mutants this week, and we hope to see you soon!

The AMP Trio: Hot and Ready!

Friday, September 6th, 2019

Adrianne Murchison, Staff Editor 

The Velvet Note Acoustic Living Room

The musicians of AMP Trio have a global reach similar to that of The Velvet Note: Friends around the world with a love and appreciation for jazz artistry. In fact, the title of AMP Trio’s upcoming album, “Go-Naïve”is inspired by a friend who invited them to perform in Japan back in 2012. 

AMP Trio, featuring vocalist Tahira Clayton, takes The Velvet Note stage on Saturday, September 7, performing tunes from four albums, as well as their soon-to-be-released fifth record. 

“We are going to be coming pretty hot,” drummer Matt Young says. “We will all be in Atlanta and with our new music.”

AMP Trio, featuring Tahira Clayton

Matt Young, Perrin Grace and Addison Frei met about seven years ago while attending the University of Texas and discovered they have a few important things in common. They’re fans of acoustic bands, and similarly influenced by the likes of Phineas Newborn Jr., Blue Mitchell and Oscar Peterson. 

“We were probably sophomores in college and had been playing in a fusion band that was pretty much opposite of what we do in this band,” Matt says. “It was a loud, crazy intense energy and we missed playing acoustic music.”

So the drummer, pianist and bassist formed AMP Trio. Matt lives in Atlanta and the other band members reside in the New York City area. Before coming together each had received international acclaim. 

First prize in the 2017 Parmigiani Montreau Jazz Piano Solo Competition is one of Addison’s numerous honors. 

Germany, South Korea and The Netherlands are only a few countries where Perrin has performed. 

And in addition to Matt’s globe travels, in 2015 he took part in the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program, a two-week international residency project at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.,

Tahira Clayton

AMP Trio’s many collaborations with Tahira  – whose rich harmonic voice captivates audiences – include top honors at the 2017 DCJazzPrix international band competition in Washington D. C. 

“We push each other and share the same music morals,” Matt says. “We know that we can rely on each other, and represent each other in a way that we trust.”

The Velvet Note sets a high bar that the trio takes pride in reaching, Matt adds. For the upcoming show, the crowd can expect the band’s new music to be a little more groove driven than their previous albums, he says. “Perry’s [compositions] are definitely darker songs, tonally and texturally.” 

Not too long after AMP Trio came together, the band received their first invitation to Ofunato, Japan, a port city shattered by the tsunami of 2011. 

“We go back to Japan every summer,” Matt says. “Eiko Konno, the host, brought us over one time after finding us on the Internet and listening to our music. She’s a big classical music buff, and an incredible classical pianist.”

Eiko’s invitation was on behalf of a cultural program and government grant that would introduce AMP Trio’s jazz music to citizens of Ofunato. 

“They had a newly built performance hall,” Matt recalls. “The tsunami was tough on them. It’s crazy because you go there now and everything is brand spanking new, ‘[with the exception of some structures] and artifacts that were on higher ground.”

It’s Eiko, who is the muse behind AMP Trio’s new album title.

“She and Perry had become pen pals, and when we visited she asked, ‘What did you think of me when I emailed you out of nowhere,’” Matt explained. “Perry said, ‘If that’s what it takes to come to Japan, let’s go naïve.’”

From Homeless to a Huge Hit: The Ray Howard Band Lights Up Our Labor Day Again

Friday, August 30th, 2019

Adrianne Murchison, Staff Editor

The Velvet Note Acoustic Living Room

You know that line at the end of the film, Casablanca?Humphrey Bogart says to Claude Rains, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” 

That’s The Ray Howard Band and The Velvet Note. A beautiful friendship born out of an occasion when the R&B band performed Earth Wind and Fire classics on short notice and became a resounding hit with the audience. 

Ray Howard and his band return for the fourth year to perform to a sold out house, August 30th– September 1st.

Close your eyes for a few moments and you can probably envision the band singing your favorite Earth, Wind and Fire jam – and no doubt you’re starting to groove in your seat.

“This is the fourth or fifth year that I’ve done the show at The Velvet Note,” Ray Howard says. “For the first show, vocally, we knew five of those songs. At the time, I said, ‘I can only do what we do and add to the instrumental.’” 

Despite the limitations of not knowing the material, the first year was a big success. “Ray has had more sold out shows than anyone we’ve ever featured onstage. And he works like crazy make sure his band is on point in every conceivable way. To say that I’m proud of him would be an enormous understatement,” Tamara says.

Before The Velvet Note, Ray Howard’s band performed Motown and other classic R&B songs. After year one, the band spent the next year learning the songbook of one of the most well-known music groups of all time, and became a popular draw at The Velvet Note. 

“It’s so ironic that Tamara calls it the “acoustic living room,” Rays says. “It feels like I’m performing in my living room and I have family there. It makes you feel like the people are part of the show.”

As Ray sings his heart out on stage, lyrics such as “Every man has a place, in his heart there’s a space, and the world can’t erase his fantasies,” ring true in a very profound way for him.  

In the early 1980s, the singer, who had discovered his talent while in high school, became homeless for two years. “It was a struggle and humbling to not have a place to lay my head,” Ray recalls. 

One day, a man walking in downtown Atlanta gave him $20. Ray says he felt inspired to use the money to purchase an inexpensive shirt, a $5 pair of khakis and some toiletries. He cleaned himself up in a McDonald’s bathroom and decided to return to the clothing store to ask for a job. 

“My life changed after that,” the Chicago native recalls. “Leaving that day, the [supervisor] said, ‘Can I give you a lift home?’”

Ray acknowledged that he was homeless. His boss then invited him to live at under his roof until Ray could afford to move into a place of his own.

“Homelessness showed me that where I was, was not my ending at all,” Ray says. “Because a lot of people that become homeless, they end up staying there. I’m just glad that I didn’t let it beat me. It gave me a passion. My passion now is to help homeless people.”

For years, during that time and beyond, Ray lost his singing voice. When it returned, he started singing solo wherever he could. About 2011, he formed a trio with BJ Johnson and Tricia Spicer, now performers of the 11-member Ray Howard Band. 

Ray says many fans have flocked to the Earth Wind and Fire tribute show after seeing the band’s music sets streamed through The Velvet’s Note’s Facebook live feed. 

“Oh man,” Ray says. “I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘I saw Earth, Wind and Fire a year ago and I’ve never seen anybody do them justice like you do.”

The band prides themselves on their polished vocals and musicianship.

“Our whole point of doing the music is to pay alms to Earth, Wind and Fire, but do it in a very professional way, and a very good way,” Ray says. “When people leave, I want them to feel like they’ve been to an actual Earth, Wind and Fire show.”

As usual, the Earth Wind and Fire shows at The Velvet Note are completely sold out for 2019. Fans can begin purchasing 2020 seats on September 1st.

A Musician-Studded Sendoff for Marlon Patton

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

Adrianne Murchison, Staff Editor

The Velvet Note Acoustic Living Room

Trumpeter Melvin Jones will lead a celebrated musical send-off for Marlon Patton during Jones’s return to The Velvet Note on Sunday, Aug. 25. Patton, a highly regarded drummer across many genres, departs soon for new residential digs in New York City.  

To mark the occasion, guest musicians are set to come jam and improvise with Jones, Patton and the entire quintet that also includes Mace Hibbard on sax, Kevin Bales on piano and Billy Thornton on Bass.

Improvisation can be a thrill for Jones, a Morehouse College graduate and trumpet professor. “With jazz improvisation, the composition is at lightning speed from your mind to the listener’s ear,” he says. “[If it’s your own composition] with other musicians it’s beautiful to see how it comes out.”

He adds, “It’s going to be fun. [Patton] enjoys playing new music, and we will play a lot of my new music.” 

Jones, a man of many dimensions in his artistry, will premiere songs from an upcoming album. In his latest music, the Memphis, Tenn. native blends his original jazz compositions with old spiritual songs and hymns, modernizing them to inspire every listening ear. Each song such as “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and “Wade in the Water” could very well become Jones’s favorite of all the music he has released to date. 

“It’s funny because my favorite has been an arrangement of Richard Smallwood’s song “Angels,”’ he says. The song on Jones’s 2011 album, “Pivot,” shows how beautifully jazz and gospel come together.

“I’m a preacher’s kid,” he explains. “The church, when I was growing up, it didn’t smile on you playing jazz.”

Interestingly, jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum attended the same church as Jones and was an early mentor. “He gave me my first music theory lessons from the pulpit of the church,” Jones recalls. 

Jones has shared the stage with a myriad of musicians including Quincy Jones – who is one of his greatest influences, Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, Jennifer Lopez, Brian McKnight and more.  

In addition to college students, Jones teaches music fundamentals and theory of jazz to middle and high schoolers in workshops and master classes in St. Thomas, St. John and St, Croix, Virgin Islands. He’s part of an artist-in-residence program titled, “Mentoring Through the Music Arts.” The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Education and United Jazz Foundation co-sponsor the program.

Jones encourages the young music protégés to live a life worth writing about. His own former teacher, the late William “Prof” Fielder, imparted a similar message while Jones studied for his Master’s Degree in Music at the Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Jersey.

“He [would say be] ‘gratified but never satisfied,’” Jones remembers. “So even though what you accomplished may be great, you can always be better.”

Fielder taught the likes of Wynton Marsalis, David Sanchez, Kenny Garrett and Terence Blanchard.

“That man changed the course of my life. His teaching method automatically creates other teachers,” Jones says.” It was expected that you would be able to show him what you know… That prepared me to teach.”

Jones demonstrates to crowds what he knows on stages from Atlanta to Qatar, where he has performed at the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Club in Doha. 

Of his new music and upcoming sets at The Velvet Note, he says, “I’m excited to see how it’s received.” 

Just One of Those Things: An Open Letter to The Staff of The Velvet Note

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Just One of Those Things is a weekly blog and column about jazz, life and love, 

although not necessarily in that order.  



As summer 2017 races to a close, I realize that as a manager, I don’t always communicate as much as I should, especially when things are going well (smile).  We’ve all worked very hard to put together the best team in the business, so I wanted to take a moment, catch my breath and remind you of a few of the “behind-the-scenes” encounters from the last several months that you probably didn’t see, but that underscore how much I appreciate what you do.

Saturday, June 3rd.  One of my favorite customers is Deion Washington, and he came in to celebrate our Fifth Anniversary.   As an overworked, underpaid civil servant, Corporal Washington doesn’t come into our establishment nearly enough, but when he does, I am always happy to see him.  Earlier in his career, he was on the SWAT team, and even walked the homicide beat.  He’s a true hero.  Today, he is the Public Information Officer for the Gwinnett County Police Department.  Consider the most heinous crimes you can think of that happen in our community.  He’s the guy who courageously stands in front of the firing squad of television cameras and flash bulbs and reporters and microphones and questions and cynicism and tries to help us make sense of it all.

Anyway, after our celebration, he called to let me know that he was eagerly looking forward to coming back, hopefully as soon as our friend, multi-GRAMMY—winning Robert Glasper makes his return visit.  “Sometimes I just need a mental escape and break.  The Velvet Note is where I come to get it.  You have no idea of the impact you have on people.”  We are honored to provide a place that takes care of those who take care of…well…everyone else.

Saturday, July 1stA guy walked into the club after insisting on meeting me in person.  “You look nervous,” I said.  “Should I be concerned?”  “No, although I am really nervous.  I have been with my girlfriend for twelve years and I’m finally going to propose to her, here at The Velvet Note. “  “Twelve years?  Um….sir….what in the world have you been waiting for?!?”  “I know, it sounds crazy.  You see, I wasn’t the man then that I am now.  I didn’t deserve her.  But I’ve grown and learned and become a better person, and much of it is due to her.  I am finally ready to pop the question, ”he beamed.

By show time, we had all worked hard to nail down every conceivable detail, and the groom-to-be had ME sweating bullets. He had bought out almost every seat in the house, and a stretch limousine delivered the love of his life to our doorstep, just before the music started.  “Lawd”, I thought.  “I hope she says ‘yes’.”  And, as you recall, she did!

Saturday, August 4th.  A gentleman came in with his family.  He had called me a few nights before to make a reservation. He said that he had finally lost his decade-long battle with cancer, and he would be leaving in a week to live out the rest of his one-month life expectancy in a hospice back in his hometown.  He had flown his children and his brothers in from different parts of the country to do the one thing he wanted to experience with them before he died— he wanted them to join him for one night at The Velvet Note.   After the show, and without fanfare, he ushered his family out to the parking lot and the car.  Then, he turned and stood in front of me and just looked into my eyes, his eyes filled with tears.  It was all I could muster to just stay with him, moment by moment.  The entire front of house stopped and you guys quietly gave him the space to say what he needed.  The moments stretched into minutes.  Finally, I whispered, “Did you do what you came here to do?”  He knew that I wasn’t just referring to the show.  He nodded his head and closed his eyes.  “I love you,” he said.  “Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s a truly great thing.”   And then he turned around and walked into the night.

You are my staff.  You are my team.  You are my tribe.  These encounters remind me of how much it means for us to work together.  You are smart and productive and hard-working.  Each of you has a  job during the day that demands a great deal of you, and then you come here and give your very best work, long into the night.  You are entrepreneurs and customer service experts and students and moms and dads.  You are creative and articulate and committed to excellence.   I know I’m not an easy boss to work for, and I know that I demand more than would typically be expected.   

After conducting tons of research we think we know why people come here— for their weekly or monthly “date night”, or to celebrate a birthday, or an anniversary, or a wedding engagement.  But the fact is, we don’t really know why they’re here.  Sometimes it’s happy, sometimes it’s sad.  Sometimes it’s something so unfathomable, we cannot possibly guess and they will never say.  It is our job to be open to all of their life possibilities.  It is our job to give them the dignity and space to let the music flow over them and lift them up and carry them away.  Everything we do has the potential to impact every customer at the most meaningful time of their lives, in the most profound way.   I want you to take pride and pleasure in knowing that you provide a place where people come for the most important times of their lives.

When Corporal Washington called me, he shared a Robert Glasper tune that he loves, and I have come to love it too.  I often play it on the way to work.  To listen, click HERE.  The music is beautiful and the lyrics speak to our mission—to show our love through thoughtful service.  Tonight, as with every night, we will strive to do no thoughtless thing.  We are all connected, to each other, to our customers, to life.

“It’s one, big, small thing… like pollen in the spring. It’s all matter…it’s all matter…matter…matter…”


Things That Really Happened Along The Way: I Can Hear You

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Saturday, June 3rd is The Velvet Note’s Fifth Anniversary.  You can attend our celebration by making a reservation at http://thevelvetnote.com/fifth-anniversary.




In March of 2014, I picked up the telephone, as I do a hundred times a day.

“Good Morning, The Velvet Note.” 

There was a woman on the other end of line.  She was crying.  Actually, she was transitioning from the twangy cry to the ugly cry and she was completely incoherent.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, I cannot understand you.  Just …try and calm down and tell me how I can help.”

“Can you hear me?” she pushed through the tears.

“I can hear you.  What’s the matter?” I asked.  

The woman explained that she had just heard that Diane Schuur would be performing at The Velvet Note and she had tried to buy tickets, but they were all sold out.  She simply must attend the show.

I rolled my eyes.  Seriously, Lady?  Such drama.  “Um…yes ma’am.  We are definitely sold out.  I wish I could create a seat, but I can’t.  Perhaps you can see Diane another time.”

“No, you don’t understand,” she said.  “We grew up together.  We have been friends for most of our lives.  I love her dearly.  I rarely get out of Georgia these days because it’s hard for me to travel now.  This is the first time she’s been here.  I need to come to this concert.  It would literally break my heart if I missed her.”

Now, I had heard lots of reasons why people needed me to create seats that didn’t exist.  Anniversary, birthday, getting out of the doghouse….I didn’t know whether to believe her or not.  I explained to her that we simply couldn’t do it, and there was only one night of shows.  “What if I could get her to do a second night?” she asked.

“Um….I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t think that’s likely to happen.” We had been lucky to get the first night.  “However, I will make you a deal:   You get Diane Schuur to perform for a second night at The Velvet Note and I will GIVE you your seat for free.  Just have her management call me.” 

That oughtta call your bluff, Ms. Crazy Crying Lady.    

I really have to hire a service to answer these calls, I thought.  I now understand why there’s no jazz owner in the country who picks up their own phone.  I thought of all the additional hours I could recover each day if I only returned messages.  I started looking on the internet for answering services we could afford.  I found one, and reached for the phone.  It began ringing before I could dial.


“Hello, Tamara?”


“This is Deedles!” she bubbled over.

“Deed…? Hello…what?  Ms. Schuur?” Everyone in jazz knew that “Deedles” was Diane Schuur’s nickname.

“Yes, honey, and I am so glad you answered your phone.  I’m in the airport and I only have a second to talk, but I understand that my friend has been trying to get seats to my show at your place and she can’t get in.

“Um….yes ma’am.  That’s correct.  Apparently, you’re quite the legendary celebrity, or something like that.”  She chuckled.  Whew, boy was I glad she had a sense of humor.  “I am pleased to report that there are no more seats left in your show.”  While talking, I had stood up and begun looking around the room for hidden cameras.  Surely I was being punked for entertainment purposes.

“Well, what if I called Nick over at the agency and told him to add a second night.  I have the next day off.  Would that work?”

“Yes ma’am.  We would be honored to have you for a second night.

“Good then.  It’s all settled. Expect his call.  I look forward to meeting you.  Goodbye!”

I wasn’t sure what had just happened, but I was pretty sure it would never have happened if I hadn’t answered the phone.  And yes, we got Diane Schuur for a second night and The Crazy Crying Lady was on the front row with tears in her eyes and a huge smile on her face.  

Back in the Green Room, Diane told me that she had gotten a bit nervous for the first time in a very long time, because the audience was so close to the stage.

“But how do you know we’re so close?  You can’t see us.” I asked.  (Diane Schuur is blind).  

And then, the Legendary Diane Schuur reached out her hand placed it on my chest.  “I can hear you.” she said.

I threw away the number to the answering service, and I’ve never looked at it again.  Over the years, many of you have thanked me for answering the phone personally, and I want you to know that it’s my pleasure.  Truly.  Thank you for letting me hear you.  I hear your compliments and your complaints.  I hear your excitement and anticipation.  I hear about your first dates and blind dates and 30th anniversary celebrations.  I hear you when you are making reservations to introduce your children to jazz for the first time.  I hear you when you have a request to meet an artist or ask that he/she play a special song.  It’s part of what makes it all worth it.  Five years later, I’m still answering the phone, with every call, I thank you for letting me be a small part of the time of your life and the song in your heart.

Lesson Learned:  The behavior of the leader should be consistent with the values of the organization.  In order to have an “up close” club, you must find a way to stay in close touch with your customers. Even if it hurts a little, it’s more than worth it.

Things That Really Happened Along the Way: Stroke of Genius

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Saturday, June 3rd is The Velvet Note’s Fifth Anniversary.  You can attend our celebration by making a reservation at http://thevelvetnote.com/fifth-anniversary.




In 2014, Henry Davenporte suffered a stroke.

Henry Davenporte was the founder and owner of Studio 281, a jazz club located in the Castlelberry Hill section of Atlanta, a neighborhood that was gaining a tentative reputation for becoming “the new Buckhead”.   Every night, Castleberry enjoyed a cultural tango between the mass influx of its up-an- coming young partygoers and its long-standing, conservative well-heeled resident homeowners.  Studio 281 had been there for almost a decade, exclusively featuring straight-ahead jazz acts in a somewhat hidden two-story building on 281 Peters Street, with exposed brick interiors, cigar smoking, a stage, a bar and some light food items.

281’s owner was known far and wide as a salty, disagreeable curmudgeon.  Quite scary, in fact.  By the time Davenporte had his stroke, there were probably as many Atlanta musicians who had vowed never to play at his club again as there were interested in getting a gig.

Upon hearing the sad news, my first thought was, “Wow, this jazz club thing can kill you.  I’d better get out now while my heart’s still beating! ”  But as the days passed, I found myself wondering if anyone had reached out to Henry, wondering if he was suffering, wondering if he was all alone, which would be horrible.

So, I called him.  And he returned my message immediately.

“This is Henry Davenporte, and I’m returning your call.”

“Yes, Mr. Davenporte,” I said.  “This is Tamara Fuller, Owner of The Velvet Note.”

“I know who you are.”

“Oh, okay….well um…I know you don’t know me….never mind, we’ve established tha…. um, I heard that you had a stroke and I just wanted to let you know how sorry I am.  Is there anything I can do for you?”

“It’s nice of you to call.  Wanna buy another jazz club?”

I was shocked. I coughed in incredulity.   I barely had one jazz club.  “Uh…I’m flattered that you would even think to ask me that.  Can I ask why?”

“Well, from what I can tell, you’re the only jazz club owner around here who’s on the way up.  I hear good things about what you’re doing over there.  This is your chance to expand.”

“Hmmm…Henry—can I call you Henry?  I am sure that’s not quite accurate…at least the part about being the only one on the way up.  In terms of expanding though, I hadn’t actually thought about it.  Let me ask you some questions…”  And then we proceeded to have one of those conversations about location and building price and audiences and equipment and facilities, and hundred other things.  I told him I would give it some thought and get back to him. 

For several hours, I flirted with the fantasy of having both a downtown club and an uptown club, of spritzing the Velvet Note name across the city.  We would enjoy the economy of scale of booking musicians who could play both ends of the metropolis.  Two jazz locations in a top-10 market?  Yaaaay, me, I could be Queen of The World!  And then I got down to the sobering work of peeling back the curtain and taking a serious look at what I’d be getting myself into.  Two days later, I called him again. 

“I’m not going to buy your club, Henry, but thanks for asking me.”

“Okay.  Why not?”

“Well, frankly, I don’t understand the market down there.  Up here, I’ve studied my customer base.  I know where they live, I know what they do, I know where they get their coffee, when they buy groceries, how much they have to spend on a night out, and mostly, I know what inspires them to come out and hear music.  Castleberry is a multi-headed mystery to me and I’m not sure I could figure it out anytime soon.  I’m going to pass.”

“I understand.”  There was an awkward silence.  It sounded like disappointment. 

“What will you do now?” I asked.

“I’m moving to Philadelphia.”

“Oh, to open another club?”

“Nope. To live my life.  That’s where I’m from.”

“I see.  Before I let you go, can I ask you one question?”

“Go ahead, Kiddo.”

“What advice do you have for me?”

There was a thoughtful pause.  Then, he said, “Sooner rather than later, you’re going to run out of local artists.”

“Seriously?  Um….I don’t think so, Henry. I’m not sure you understand what’s happening up here.  I’ve got requests for booking wrapped around the block.  Artists are scratching at the door to get on our stage.”

“I understand exactly what’s happening, and trust me, you’re going to exhaust your supply, if you haven’t already.  Then you’ll start booking the same people over and over and they’ll become over-exposed and underappreciated and that will be the beginning of the end.”

Now, this idea that we’d soon run out of local artists didn’t make much sense to me at the time. After all, one of the reasons I had decided to put the club in Alpharetta was its proximity to university-level jazz programs.  In addition to the rich, deep population of professional musicians who live here, the schools were turning out a constant stream of new generation jazzers.  This wasn’t a Velvet Note problem, this sounded like a Henry problem, one that he perhaps had because of the number of musicians who thought he was a disagreeable ass.  But, of course, it was probably best to keep that perspective to myself.

“Okay, let’s say you’re right,” I posed.  “I would be stupid to believe that I’m better than you are at seeing what’s coming around the corner.   What can I do?”

“Book national acts.”


“I know.  You think you don’t have the money to do that, right?”

“You read my mind.  Are you aware of the fact that we only have 40 seats up here?”

“I know.  Now let me give you a lesson in booking economics.  It costs you the same amount of money to book a national act as it does a local act.  When you adjust for the novelty factor, the name draw, the sold-out capacity, the higher ticket price, the marquee value….it evens out.”

“Hmmm….hmmmm….you’ve given me something to think about.  Thanks for taking the time with me Henry.  I wish you the best.”

“I know, Kiddo.  You too.  All the best.”

It turns out that grumpy, disagreeable, kind, loving, genius-smart Henry Davenporte knew exactly what he was talking about.  Later that year, we began seeing that in order to fill The Velvet Note calendar, we would have to book the most successful local acts three or four times each year, which was entirely too much exposure for our little club, and completely unfair to the local artists, as well.  So, this is what Henry was talking about!  His words rang in my head and ears like a Wall Street tickertape shooting out from a fortune cookie.  It wasn’t long before we made a landmark decision to reach out to nationally-recognized artists who were touring through our area.  In short order, we began presenting the likes of Diane Schuur, Christian McBride, Marcus Roberts, Tierney Sutton, Gretchen Parlato, Kenny Garrett, Robert Glasper, Jimmy Cobb and many more.  There were performing arts centers booking the big names, small jazz clubs booking the local guys and then there was us—the smallest of jazz clubs booking the biggest jazz icons.  And that’s how The Velvet Note became known as one of the best jazz clubs in the world. 

Lesson Learned:  Figure out how to do what you do well, and at some point in time, you will be presented with your chance to break free from the pack. Wait for it….wait for it…. Listen to your inner wisdom.  Listen to your outer wisdom.  When your moment comes, get up on the trapeze, let go of your past paradigms and swing!

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