THE JAZZ HANG with Katy Bourne
The other day, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Craig Baker, the heart and soul behind the Eastside’s beautiful jazz spot, Bake’s Place. Baker and his wife and partner, Laura, are on a simple mission, which is to “preach the gospel of jazz”. If the Bakers are preaching, then Bake’s is certainly their church. Downbeat magazine voted Bake’s as one of the top 100 jazz clubs in the world, and there is a reason for that.
Baker is enthusiastic, altruistic and focused. Bake’s initially began nine years ago as a private jazz club in Baker’s home in Redmond. After difficulties with local zoning ordinances, Baker moved the club to its present residence, Providence Point in Issaquah, where it has been for four years. The room, with its lush interiors and pristine sound, is like a combination of a living room and a meditation hall. This is very much in keeping with Baker’s intention. “This is a place of meditation. The meditation is music.” Craig and Laura have created a space, which is an extension of their own living room, where guests can relax, unwind, forget the stress of busy lives and truly listen to great jazz performances. In Baker’s words, “The intention is you are here for the music.” The programming at Bake’s is excellent, regularly offering a line-up of some of the nation’s top, touring jazz musicians as well as providing a home stage for some of the region’s brightest jazz luminaries. The majority of Bake’s performers are vocalists. This is in keeping with his goal of bringing new fans to jazz music. Baker is looking for new converts, people not previously exposed to jazz. In that vein, Baker believes that vocal jazz, in particular, is an accessible introduction to the “non-jazz public”. Bake’s regular rotation includes top-notch singers such as Greta Matassa, Karin Plato, Rebecca Parris and Gail Pettis. Instrumental acts include Seattle vibraphonist, Ben Thomas, and Brazilian-born pianist, Jovino Santos Neto.
One thing that strikes me about Bake’s, is that it truly is a “family affair”. Bake’s recently underwent a fairly ambitious remodel, which involved removing the fireplace, which sat squarely in the middle of the room, moving the stage and upgrading the sound system. Everyone in the family pitched in: Craig, Laura and their children did the demolition. Laura and Craig did all the painting. Their son did the dry walling. Their daughter’s boyfriend helped with new construction. Along with Rick Chen, Craig helped design the new sound system. It is interesting to note that the remodel did not interrupt performances. Craig and crew worked hard on remodeling on the weekdays and then put things back together each week so the room would be suitable for weekend performances. In addition, the family also manages the day-to-day operations of the club. When you arrive, you will more than likely be greeted and seated by Craig. Laura or their daughter will also welcome you and serve your dinner. The only non-family member is executive chef, Joy Lund, who, it should be noted, creates an outstanding three- course meal for each performance. Bake’s place really is an extension of the Baker family living room. “This is our life,” says Baker.
For 2008, Baker will be bringing in vocalists from all across the country. For many, this will be their first time to perform in the Seattle area. Bake’s will also continue to present performances from local favorites (Greta Matassa will be there this weekend.) and will also be showcasing some new local talent. Baker is true to his mission. Clearly the gospel is spreading. Bake’s is located at 4135 Providence Point Drive SE, Issaquah, WA 98029. The phone is 425-391-3335. They have a wonderful website. Check it out at www.bakesplace.org.