Requiem for a Jazz Club: Saying goodbye to How Art Thou

How Art Thou jazz clubReprinted, with permission of the author, from Charleston Jazz News

by Rob Rosenblum

Last week, David Berger announced the closing of How Art Thou Jazz Club in James Island. It was a sad day for Charleston.

Full disclosure: I worked hard with David to attract international jazz stars to perform at the club, hoping to attract jazz fans from around the Charleston area. The club had a lot going for it. It was a small, intimate environment, and whoever walked into the 75 seat venue could easily see and hear the musicians almost as if they were in their own living room. Berger invested in a baby grand piano, rare in this day of electric imitations. The sound system was more than adequate and David’s warm, inviting nature welcomed all patrons with a smile.

Berger’s goal was to be the top jazz club in South Carolina. In a way, he reached that goal, with a roster of superb veteran jazz musicians like Warren Vache, Lew Tabackin and the inimitable Richie Cole. No club in the state had such highly regarded jazz players on such a regular basis. While a great many other clubs had jazz, the music was just part of the background, sort of like the pictures on the wall. Other than The Jazz Corner in Hilton Head and The Blues Boulevard in Greenville, few if any other clubs in the state put the music front and center.

David Berger working the bar at How Art ThouUnfortunately, while attendance was fairly good for the bigger names, there was little support for local talent. Mr. Berger’s funds and energy hit bottom, and thus ends the brief history of a promising, but failing jazz club in Charleston.

This marked the second such club to close down. The Mezz, which featured the top local jazz artists, closed in January. And this leaves the inevitable question; can a jazz club successfully operate in Charleston?

Over the next several weeks, I will be talking to a number of musicians, club owners and fans to try to determine if a jazz club can exist here in Charleston. I have already had a lot of opinions regarding what has gone wrong with local jazz clubs, ranging from poor management, lack of public appreciation of the art form, to the belief that everything is just fine thank you and nothing to see here.

I will be publishing a series of articles based on what I have heard from key players in the Charleston area, including people like you. The focus won’t be what others have done wrong, but rather ask the question, can a jazz club flourish in Charleston. It is a precarious line to walk. There are a lot of very strong feelings regarding who is responsible for the struggles that jazz has here. A good many long term residents insist that we have a great tradition of jazz here and any criticism aimed at the music scene here is unwarranted.

So, my dear readers, please feel free to weigh in on this issue. Do you feel a jazz club can be a viable entity in Charleston? If so, email me at jazz@csatennis.com, and include your phone number so that I can call you and discuss your remarks in greater detail.

Meanwhile, here is a solo performance of Harlem Nocturne by Richie Cole, performed after hours at How Art Thou

musical instruments at HAT

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The James Island Bugle shares news about the James Island, South Carolina and brings you stories about people, places and events. We are all all-volunteer, no profit news site. If you would like to contribute, write us at jamesislandbugle@gmail.com.

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