The pandemic sadly killed off some local performing-arts productions—but the people behind Jazzville Palm Springs would not let the concert series, which honors the historic Palm Springs jazz scene, go gentle into that good night.
Jazzville Palm Springs celebrated its return on July 1, in a brand-new location: The revamped concert series takes place every Thursday at 7 p.m. at Agua Caliente Palm Springs’ Cascade Lounge.
“Jazzville is four years strong, and has had a number of different venues—but none as illustrious as the Cascade Lounge,” said Adam Levy, executive producer of Jazzville. “I had been behind the scenes helping founders Mark Alan and Barry Martin fulfill their vision, and serendipitously, we connected over the pandemic when I heard that Jazzville was probably going to disappear. The pandemic really did Jazzville dirty—and I wanted to keep the vision alive.
“We were exploring different venues, and I bumped into some former colleagues I knew from when I was working at Agua Caliente as their advertising manager. They asked about the Jazzville show and other events I had produced in the past, and they sounded interested—and everything worked out.”
Levy said it became apparent when the first shows went on sale that audiences were eager for Jazzville’s return.
“Some were driving from L.A., Orange County and, of course, all over Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley,” Levy said.
Barry Martin—also known as DJ Baz—is the co-founder of Jazzville.
“What we’re doing is sustaining a culture that’s over 100 years old now, and some people just have to take it upon themselves to keep this art form alive,” Martin said. “The musicians do it on their own, but they need places to play and audiences to play for, and that’s where Jazzville comes in.”
In the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, Palm Springs was home to one of the most popular jazz clubs on the West Coast—the Chi Chi, which featured performances by Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole and Sophie Tucker, among others.
“I read an article, in an older issue of Palm Springs Life, about Irwin Schuman and the Chi Chi club,” Martin said. “They could entertain 700 people on that stage, and everybody who was anybody played on that stage. It all goes back to reading that article, as it was the first time the thought popped up in my mind, and I wondered why Palm Springs didn’t have something like that.”
That thought led to the first iteration of Jazzville, at Oscar’s Palm Springs.
“One night, I saw this indoor cabaret room not being used,” Martin said. “It had a beautiful red velvet curtain, and the acoustics were nice, and I’m like, ‘Let’s just do something.’ The owner, Dan, agreed, and gave me Wednesday nights.”
The Chi Chi was located on Palm Canyon Drive, near Andreas Road.
“It was the hottest nightclub west of the Mississippi for about 18 years,” Martin said. “Nobody could touch it, and everybody who was anybody wanted to play there. All the Black jazz singers who couldn’t get work in L.A. and other states always played at Irwin’s club. They also had some bawdy burlesque shows that couldn’t be performed anywhere else at the time. Palm Springs has a history of bringing the real cabaret-jazz style and the big show, and kept it alive for many, many years after jazz had started to get into the bebop age. The Chi Chi kept early jazz alive, and it was such a huge, phenomenal, world-famous place—so we get all of our inspiration from the style of the Chi Chi club.”
Jazzville moved from Oscar’s to Hotel Zozo, then to Wang’s in the Desert, before making the Cascade Lounge its current home. Levy said the biggest challenge for producers has been continual improvement.
“Jazzville has always been an event where we’ve tried to really honor the traditions of Palm Springs and the culture of jazz music, mainly the Chi Chi club,” Levy said. “The pressure that we have here is really taking our production values and our new venue to the next level. It’s something we’ve been more excited to do than ever before, and in this new venue, we’re able to incorporate multimedia presentations before the show—a pre roll of curated vintage videos, tours, clips from Palm Springs in the ’50s, snippets of Frank Sinatra, etc. We even had showgirls passing out candy cigarettes. The only pressure, really, is just razzling and dazzling on a consistent basis.”
While Jazzville is committed to honoring the history of the valley, its producers also want to show off jazz music to younger audiences.
“One thing we want to make really loud and clear is that Jazzville isn’t your parents’ jazz show,” Levy said. “The groups that are performing are younger than me, and I’m in my mid-30s. This is stuff that has always had a place in musicians’ and aficionados’ hearts, and what we’re doing is bringing that culture to Palm Springs and making it hip again. We have a lot of young folks coming in, and (one of the first shows back), about 50% of the room were in their 20s. I feel like what we’re trying to accomplish here translates to the rock ’n’ roll demographic, rockabilly and even metal. When you listen to heavy metal, the technicalities of playing are the same in jazz music. We’re trying to spread awareness of not only the music, but the whole vibe and the culture that Palm Springs brings in creating that experience. You can watch jazz anywhere for free, but we’re trying to give you the experience, and I feel like that’s really our biggest mission.”
Martin said jazz music has always been hip.
“It’s the audience that became un-hip, so we’re got to make them hip again,” Martin said. “Jazz was the only music that people used to listen to; there was nothing else on the radio. Everything came out of jazz—R&B, soul and pop music. It’s the beginning of it all, and it has a very illustrious history. There are a lot of styles of jazz, so we focus on everything that’s perfectly in the middle. We don’t do lazy jazz, and we don’t do loud, crazy jazz.
“We did a Jazzville at The Abbey in West Hollywood, and Lady Gaga was in the audience for that show. We had a nice little gypsy jazz trio on a beautiful Sunday afternoon outside The Abbey, and The Abbey is now interested in having a regular thing happening there.”
Management at the Agua Caliente Palm Springs has liked what they’ve seen during the first couple of Jazzville shows at the Cascade Lounge.
“I kind of expected an older, retirement-age crowd to be there, and I was very pleasantly surprised to see that nearly half the crowd was younger couples and younger people who were in their late 20s and early 30s,” said Stephenie Streiff-Process, director of marketing at Agua Caliente Palm Springs. “It’s encouraging to watch a younger generation just fall in love with or continue to love what’s truly the most unique art form to come out of the United States.”
Martin said the Cascade Lounge is a perfect fit for Jazzville.
“That was the only room in Palm Springs that I really wanted,” Martin said. “There’s no other room in Palm Springs like it as far as seating, comfort, the look and feel of the room, the service, the stage and the lights, the staff, and everything. It was either build something from the ground up, or go to that space—and when it was offered, I was thrilled.”
Martin said he’s proud to be continuing Palm Springs’ proud jazz history.
“Our mission is to make more jazz lovers out of people who would love jazz if they would only go to one show,” Martin said.
Jazzville Palm Springs takes place every Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Cascade Lounge, inside Agua Caliente Palm Springs, 401 E. Amado Road. Tickets start at $10. Upcoming shows include the Sandra Booker Quintet on July 22, and the Luke Carlsen Big Band on July 29. For tickets or more information, visit www.jazzvillepalmsprings.com.