Sophisticated jazz venue draws top artists

An Die Musik is a Mount Vernon nightspot for music lovers

Scene: Clubs, Bars, Nightlife

August 19, 2004|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

The most striking feature about An Die Musik's upstairs concert venue is the rows of comfortable armchairs for the audience. They give the venue a sophistication and formality. This is a place that takes music seriously.

On a recent Saturday night, roughly 30 people enjoyed this plush seating while listening to a nine-piece jazz orchestra. It was a small crowd - possibly because of the day's weather warnings. But men and women of all ages and ethnicities sipped red wine, tapped their feet and absorbed the music in one of the city's newest jazz venues. The performers were so close to the audience that, from the front row, it was possible to see the notes on their sheet music.

"We want you to come in and enjoy the music," said owner Henry Wong. "You go home, you feel like, `I'm happy, I have jazz in my ears.' "

Wong, a neurologist by training, opened An Die Musik purely as a music store in 1990. (The name means "To music" in German and comes from the opening lines of a Franz Schubert composition.)

The store first opened in Towson, but Wong moved it to North Charles Street in Mount Vernon in 1997 because he could no longer compete with such suburban chains as Best Buy and Circuit City that sold music at cut-rate prices.

Wong recently moved again - one door down on North Charles Street - to a larger space that allowed him to open an art gallery and, in November, to begin hosting live acts.

The venue, called An Die Musik Live, takes up much of the second floor of the three-story building. It is a long room with high ceilings and hardwood floors. The walls are light yellow, and the audience faces a slightly raised wooden stage at the end of the room.

Between sets at a recent concert, band members were downstairs, chatting and drinking with the audience. Wong moved from one group to the next, refilling wine glasses, telling stories and cracking jokes.

"There are lots of talented artists out there," jazz aficionado Ann Masnik said while sitting downstairs after the first set. "It is so wonderful having a live place to listen to jazz and to hear them in a small venue like this."

The venue relies heavily on word of mouth, free listings in newspapers and the bands that are booked to fill the hall. They don't have an advertising budget. "We're the quiet type," said Wong. "We're not really a Taj Mahal."

Despite this, the venue has attracted performers including the European Tomasz Stanko Quartet and cellist Matt Haimovitz. Tomorrow, jazz pianist John Hicks will play to what they expect to be a sold-out crowd.

Artists like Hicks come, Wong said, because of good relationships he has established with the various record labels. He books European acts because of his personal friendships with staffers from foreign embassies. This fall, Wong plans to do a French baroque concert in conjunction with the French embassy.

But artists also come because they appreciate Wong's dedication and love for music, said Harry Appelman, a pianist in the jazz orchestra.

Half an hour after midnight, the place shuts down. Wong sits out on his front stoop, still animated, still talking to several of his young staff members, creating some life on an otherwise quiet Saturday night in this part of Mount Vernon.

Tomorrow, catch John Hicks and the Al Maniscalco Quartet at An Die Musik Live at 409 N. Charles St. Shows are scheduled at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tickets cost $15, $12 for senior citizens and students with valid identification. Call 410-385-2638 or visit www. andiemusik.com.

For more club events, see Page 29.

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