A Fine Place To Hear The Royalty Of Jazz

49 West Coffeehouse's Ambience Reflects Its Owners' Personalities

July 05, 2009|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Baltimore Sun

The 49 West Coffeehouse and Cafe back room is an intimate, homey space where music fans can experience, up-close, musicians' creative artistry.

On occasion it's possible to hear music royalty, as we did June 14 when native Brazilians Duduka Da Fonseca on drums and Leonardo Cioglio on bass performed. They were joined by local favorites Chuck Redd on vibes and his brother Robert on piano.

Remembering Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim seemed appropriate in Annapolis, where the late, great guitarist Charlie Byrd helped popularize his music. The Brazilian concert was arranged by Elana Byrd, wife of legendary bassist Joe Byrd (Charlie's brother), who created many memorable 49 West Jazz Jam sessions before his recent retirement.

From the first selection, the musicians transported the capacity audience to the magical, moonlit Brazilian beaches where Da Fonseca grew up. During a break, he spoke of his admiration for those famous girls on the beach at Ipanema and how he had played with Jobim.

Born in Rio, Da Fonseca moved to New York in 1975 and has played with major musicians on each continent, from Jobim to Gerry Mulligan. He is credited with reviving the Brazilian jazz scene in New York City.

After concerts in Washington, the Brazilians, along with the Redd brothers, concentrated on jazz samba and the seductive sway of authentic bossa nova. Through two heartfelt sets, the music exceeded each prior peak, with Da Fonseca and Cioglio challenging each other in infectious polyrhythmic complexity that seemed as natural to the pair as breathing. Da Fonseca matched Cioglio on bass in his lovingly improvised, increasingly frenetic rhythms. In each number, these masters knew precisely when to welcome Chuck and Robert Redd on vibes and piano to bring tunes exactly where they wanted to go.

The 49 West back room has a warm ambience that reflects the personalities of owners Brian and Sarah Cahalan, who patterned their place on a favorite French-style caf? in Chicago. The venue also reflects the couple's dedication to preserving and promoting local artists through the fine art displayed on the walls and the nightly musical performers.

Classical musician Pam Godfrey Stevens describes 49 West as "a musical oasis where Brian and Sarah get more variety than any other place in town. ... Where can you go to listen to a classical duo and then an hour later hear a really swinging jazz group?

"As a musician, it is wonderful to play in a club that is a real listening room. You don't have to compete with talking, TVs and distractions," she says. "You just get to focus on playing and really produce the most creative music. I applaud these owners for their vision to try new music that is cutting-edge as well as skillfully mastered."

Musician Mike Noonan, principal member of Unified Jazz Ensemble, adds, "Brian and Sarah as owners had the idea to have a venue that supports artists who try to make a living in the arts. ... It's such an intimate informality that artists feel special to be so close to our audience. There is no other room like it anywhere.

"When Brian opened, he had to apply for a music license," Noonan says. "Now we've been playing there for 13 years, and can always rely on playing here. Other groups may play weekly or monthly, but we all feel good about this place."

If you go

49 West Coffeehouse and Caf? presents live music daily.

Brunch is offered 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sundays and includes Brazilian jazz performed by Jonathan Stone.

Sunday afternoons and evenings feature performances by the Swing Brothers or Electronica.

Ben's Bones, a regional band playing acoustic rock, plays Monday evenings, alternating with groups such as 12 Voices.

Tuesdays feature the Unified Jazz Ensemble, a musical foursome concentrating on acoustic jazz.

Wednesdays feature diverse performers, from classical to jazz, including Starr's Jazz Jam.

Thursdays are devoted to guitarist-composer Rob Levitt.

Fridays offer classic American jazz.

Saturdays feature classic jazz and rock.

Go to 49WestCoffeehouse.com for a complete calendar.

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