Lifestyle

Takoma Station Gives New Life to Local Jazz Scene

For Michael Philips, it started with an evening of jazz last spring.

That night, Philips, a longtime jazz lover who hosts a jazz show on Takoma Park’s non-commercial WOWD-FM radio, took in a jam session at Washington’s Takoma Station.

Twenty-five years earlier, the club, then a mainstay of the Washington area jazz scene, had been one of Philips’ favorite haunts, offering jazz practically every night of the week.

But later, it cut its jazz format to about one or two days a week, replacing it with reggae, go-go, hip-hop and other styles.

The night out made Philips want to bring back the old Takoma Station – at least as much as possible.

Co-owner David Boyd agreed with him and thus was born Takoma Station’s new Sunday jazz series, which opened September 29 with a performance from a quintet headed by saxophonists Paul Carr and Marshall Keys, two veterans from the old days.

Since then, the club has continued to offer jazz shows on the last Sunday of each month. A band fronted by trombonist Reginald Cyntje played there in October and saxophonist Lionel Lyles brought his group to the club in November.

A fourth concert will take place Dec. 29, when drummer and percussionist Lenny Robinson brings his group Exploration to the club for its first-ever public performance.

Boyd said he thinks the venture essentially recreates the atmosphere that drew jazz fans to the iconic club during the 1980s and early 1990s.

“You have that whole atmosphere of being in the ‘80s all over again,” he said. “People laughing and people clapping. The jazz musicians coming off the stage and mingling with the customers. It’s Takoma Station all over again.”

The attendance at Cyntje’s show was slower because of competition from this year’s World Series between the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros, said Robinson, who played drums that night.

“At the time that it was booked there was no way to know that would happen, “Robinson said. “It was the luck of the draw.”

Still, once the Series was over, fans packed the house once again for Lyles’ show, Boyd said.

Boyd’s father, Bobby, founded the club in 1984. An avid jazz fan who frequently traveled to New York to hear jazz, Bobby Boyd wanted to make it accessible to Washington area residents, his son said.

It soon became a popular hangout for Howard University students, as well as celebrities such as Muhammad Ali, CNN’s Bernard Shaw, actor Wesley Snipes and boxing promoter Don King, among others. They were all entertained by the cream of D.C. and Baltimore area jazz talent, among them Robinson, Keys and Carr.

“Tuesday and Saturday were always jam-packed,” recalled Carr, who led the house band at least twice a week between 1987 and 1993.

Keys described the tavern as a “combination of a jazz club and a social mecca.”

“It was family-owned; it was in a neighborhood, not downtown; you could park; the drinks were nice; Bobby Boyd and his wife were super cool people; and they paid people decent and treated them well,” he said.

Nationally-known musicians frequently came to listen to and sit in with the house bands, among them trumpeters Wynton Marsalis and Woody Shaw, drummer Art Blakey, bassist Stanley Clarke, keyboardist George Duke and saxophonist Gerald Albright, Boyd said.

Gil Scott-Heron came often, both to listen and perform, he recalled.

Keys said that Stevie Wonder showed up a couple of times and played piano with his band. “And he wasn’t trying to be Stevie Wonder, he was just hanging’,” he said.

Bobby Boyd retired in 1991. Afterwards, business concerns prompted the club to look at other styles of music, as well as comedy.

“I can’t say that jazz took a back seat, it’s just that jazz shares a back seat,” David Boyd said.

Some patrons of a recent Sunday night hip-hop show at the club said they like the idea of bringing in more jazz.

“I’ll take my wife there, it sounds interesting,” said J’Don Little, 33, a rapper and singer from Manassas who performs under the name “J 2 Da Little.” “We love jazz. We sample jazz when we make hip-hop.”

Boyd said that if more people take interest, the tavern will expand the series to two Sundays a month. “We’ll take it as far as it will go,” he said.

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