At the beginning of the pandemic, Sansom Street’s Chris Jazz Café became the first music club in town to stage live shows with no audience, starting with Pat Martino benefits, and create in-house live streams with the potential to make money for artists and club alike.
Mark DeNinno, the chef-owner of Chris Jazz Café, started rebuilding his restaurant-venue when the March-April downtime hit. Ripping out bathrooms, re-doing them with touchless faucets and soap dispensers. Carpets, replacing with hardwoods. And working on an A/V studio for live streams and sound-video recording to make his Jazz Café viable and alive at a time when other clubs were still pondering their future.
“We actually started thinking about live streaming in January as a marketing-branding tool since most of our shows this season and last were sell-outs,” DeNinno told me in August, about making, then, new live shows into sellable revenue streams for artist and venue alike. He even spent around $25,000 on equipment. Cameras, lights, sound, drum kits. And another $25K in labor. Not only to create a state-of-the-art studio for streaming, but for recording. And for engineering master classes.
“We’re keeping our options open as to how we best utilize and maximize this space.”
At this time, however, counting on live streams billed as pay-what-you-can affairs have not turned a profit for Chris, and now it has forged a Go Fund Me campaign so to keep afloat.
”The possible loss of an important venue such as Chris’ shook me,” wrote Jazz Philadelphia’s president and bassist Gerald Veasley, still devastated by the end of the Jazz Standard in New York City due to the pandemic’s lockdown. “As Frank Machos, Executive Director of Arts & Creative Learning for the School District of Philadelphia told me, ‘losing any venue is tough but a venue this core to the city’s Jazz scene seems unimaginable.’”
Yes, Senator Amy Klobuchar’s $10 billion Save Our Stages Act will probably pass by 2021. But not in time to save the Boot & Saddle or Warmdaddy’s, both gone and done due to C-19. And maybe not in time to save Chris. So, along with supporting the Chris’ Jazz Cafe Go Fund Me campaign, $10,000 has been raised so far with a $50,000 goal, hit up and pay into a much needed benefit concert featuring Eric Wortham II for Chris artists, engineers and owner-operators take place on December 17, tonight.
Trust me. The living spirit of jazz in this city is a Christmas present that we all need.