THE JAZZ HANG by Katy Bourne
It had been awhile since I’d been up to Capitol Hill. However, for some time I’ve been hearing about a happening piano bistro that has live music 7 nights a week, so I decided to pay a visit. Off to the hill I went. Martin’s Off Madison is a bustling neighborhood joint that is located on 14th street just off, well, Madison Avenue. This straight-friendly bar and restaurant is lively and welcoming. It almost feels like the neighborhood living room. Patrons sit in comfortable, red easy chairs that are situated around little, round center tables with votive candles glowing away on top. More tables sit flush against the wall, and all provide a view of a playing area with a small grand piano. Burnt- orange colored drapes and tear-shaped lights hang around the piano and add an elegant touch. Behind the piano is a cheerful print of a chimpanzee swigging from a bottle of liqueur. The bar is separated from the dining and music area by a dividing wall. Busy waiters donned in black polo shirts and Utilikilts buzz around the room. When you walk in the door, you are greeted with smiles and nods from customers and staff alike.
The two nights that I popped in, Karin Kajita was playing. Karin hosts a regular vocal jam at Martin’s on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Kevin McCarthy usually joins her on bass. Both times I was there, trumpeter Jim Knoodle was sitting in as well. Karin is the perfect host for these jams. She’s been on the Seattle jazz scene for a very long while and is a marvelous player. She knows lots of tunes in many keys, offers steady accompaniment for each and every singer and has a playful style, which keeps things fun and relaxed. Karin banters between singers and has a sense of humor that seems to fit perfectly with the crowd. There is no sign-up sheet. Karin somehow keeps track of everybody in her head. There are stacks of Real Books around for anyone needing charts or ideas for what to sing. All kinds of vocalists show up: One night a somewhat portly gentleman led the crowd in a rousing sing-a-long of “Cabaret”. Another crooner sang “What A Difference a Day Makes” with a particularly operatic flourish. This same evening, vocalist Kay Bailey was in the house and offered up a soulful treatment of “Don’t Explain”. The crowd applauds enthusiastically after every tune, and there is definitely a strong sense that everyone there shares a common love of the music. On a break one night, I spent a fair amount of time discussing Cole Porter with a slightly inebriated yet charming music lover. It should be noted that there are often just as many if not more listeners than there are singers. The room is loud and clanky, and the acoustics are less than perfect. Still, everyone seems to get his or her jazz fix all the same.
Martin’s musical line-up varies evening to evening. Musicians such as Tim Kennedy and Bonnie Birch also host regular jam sessions, but other nights are simply performances. It is good to check the website to see what’s happening. Martin’s is a one-stop shop for an evening out. They have a great menu, and the one meal I’ve had there was yummy and satisfying and was also served quickly. Martin’s has a full bar, and from this non-drinker’s outside perspective, they seem to bang out some pretty creative-looking cocktails
There is no doubt in my mind that I will be back to Martin’s Off Madison, and sooner than later. It is a wonderful place to relax, kick back and listen to music. But more than that, Martin’s possess a certain spirit that draws me in and offers a sweet escape from the woes of the day. They have live jazz, and it’s a happy place to be. What more do we need?
Martin’s Off Madison is located at 1413 14th Ave., Seattle, WA 98122. They do accept reservations. Phone is 206-325-7000. For more information, check out: http://www.martinsoffmadison.com/index.html