Since Fort Worth has never had a pure jazz club, I felt obligated to flip on my fedora last Wednesday night and check out the grand opening of the Scat Jazz Lounge.
Now, I love jazz almost as much as I love telling people I love jazz, but with a square name like “Scat Jazz Lounge” and a Sundance Square address, the joint was giving me all kinds of nightmares of illuminated bars, bad art, Rat Pack (in-)action figures for sale, and $10 domestic drafts. But, boy, was I off. For one thing, the booze was free. For another, the Scat seems to have gone out of its way to avoid frilliness. The vibe is downright workingman-classy, which is awesome and appropriate. Jazz was invented by tough Americans with broad shoulders and bad habits. Jazz is dirty. “Dirty” martinis are not.
Don’t get me wrong: The Scat isn’t grungy. Rather, think minimalist: just one banquet-sized room, with a bar on one side, a stage on the other, black crescent-shaped booths on the sides, a low ceiling, and black tables and chairs in the middle. The flair is limited to cinched-back, blood-red curtains on the walls, probably not to distract patrons from the real action: each other.
At the opening, the chatter was about as loud as the music onstage: Sinatra-ish jazz by crooner and co-owner Ricki Derek and a crack cast of four veteran jazzbos, including Fort Worth bassist Paul Unger. Derek, who is a big guy but not fat and who looks like a cross between Eddie Money and Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, told the 50-plus people there he was keeping the music rather low to let them conversate comfortably – if there’s a nicer way of saying “Quiet the fuck down!” I haven’t heard it. Not that Derek seemed unhappy with the bonhomie going on, but based on the Scat’s calendar of upcoming performers – serious cats like Johnny Reno, who sat in briefly Wednesday night, and Joey Carter – loud bonhomie will not fly.
My associates and I were as guilty of jabbering on high volume as everyone else. At one point, co-owner Neil Connell, a non-tall, non-lanky, smartly dressed Englishman – replete with derby hat – came over to our table and jokingly scolded us for talking business. How he knew we were talking business, I don’t know. Maybe the shouting gave us away.
Usually, openings are tricky deals for me. I’m afraid the free booze will compromise my ability to quiet the fuck down (um, I mean, “drive home”). Thankfully, the lovely cocktail waitresses were too swamped to favor any one table. I sometimes had to wait an entire 30 seconds between beers – how does the Scat expect anyone to get any business done sober?
And there were a lot of businessfolk there. The place was crawling with fat cats – you could just smell the oil and gas (and I don’t mean the bodily secretions). When I first met Derek, a couple of weeks earlier at a Lone Star Film Festival party, he told me – and I’m paraphrasing here – that he wants the Scat to be classy but not overpriced and hip but not arty. In other words, he wants what every other cool club owner does. There’s nothing wrong with fat cats – not at all – but you know that with them typically come the parasites, specifically gold-diggers and douchebags, just the kinds of people jazz was created partly as a rebuke to.
But I’m not worried about Derek, Connell, and the other co-owner, Cary Ray (he of Daddy Jack’s New England Lobster & Chowder House). My favorite haunts are my favorite haunts because of the staff, the vibe, and sometimes the regulars. The Scat is the kind of place I’ll go to not only for the staff and vibe but also for the excellent tuneage, anti-frilly décor, and inexpensive booze. If I swing a few deals while I’m there, fine. If I just keep my trap shut and swing, even better. – Anthony Mariani
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