HR-57’s planned move from 14th Street to the Atlas District made big news this week, with observers agreeing that
I’m ignorant/racist for questioning the new location’s accessibility this is a tough break for the strip on 14th Street, but great news for the nascent entertainment corridor on H Street NE. Less discussed, though, is how the move will affect the jazz scene. HR-57 is probably best known for the open jam sessions it operates every Wednesday and Thursday night—-and location can make all the difference on that front.
Musicians attend the jam sessions, according to trumpeter, pianist, and semi-regular participant Mark Chuvala, because “They are hanging around U Street, Adams Morgan…where all the other jazz clubs are. [Owner Tony Puesan] is in the middle of the District’s jazz corridor—-why would he want to move from it?”
The stated reason for moving, of course, is lower overhead. Chuvala doesn’t buy it, at least in terms of the jam sessions. “I don’t think it’s worth it,” he says. “Players aren’t gonna want to go down there.”
Elijah Balbed, who usually runs the Wednesday night session, agrees that turnout at the Logan Circle location has recently been very good, both in the audience and on the bandstand. As for how the move will affect that attendance, his non-comment might be more telling than intended: “Not sure,” he says. “I don’t go to H Street very much.”
On the other hand, some musicians express more optimism. “Tony has always been slightly ahead of the game,” says Mark Saltman, a bassist and co-leader of Saltman Knowles, a frequent headliner at HR-57. “He moved into Logan Circle a year or two before it got going. I’m thinking the foot traffic over there might bring out more folks on weeknights.” As for the jam sessions, he says, “It’s not super far. And jazz needs to be more places than just U Street and Georgetown here in D.C.”
These sentiments are echoed by singer Jessica Boykin-Settles. “As far as I know there aren’t places that have jazz along there,” she acknowledges. “But someone has to be the first, right? Hopefully other venues will follow.”
The bottom line, they say, is that musicians will go where the work is—-“and,” adds Saltman, “where folks will listen and appreciate.” HR-57’s jam sessions, however, are work that’s not about cash in hand—-indeed, the venue charges participating musicians a small admission—-but about opportunities for practice and networking. Will that be enough of an incentive? There’s only one way to find out.