Pasadena Jazz Institute hunts for a new venue with the end of a three-year gig at Paseo Colorado
By André Coleman 08/27/2009
While teaching music at Cleveland and Madison elementary schools 10 years ago, Pasadena Jazz Institute founder Paul Lines could not understand why the African-American kids at Cleveland weren’t picking up the piano, while Latino students at Madison had no problems tickling the ivories, even holding a recital.
“Over at Madison, they tore it up. In eight weeks we did a recital and every one of them played something,” Lines remembered. “I didn’t do a recital at Cleveland and it bothered me. It was lack of self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence with the African-American kids, which made no sense to me. The African-American kids didn’t even know who these artists were, so I started thinking that we needed a place to educate them.”
Soon after that, Lines, a native of Detroit and a drummer by profession, started the nonprofit Pasadena Jazz Institute, which for the past three years has been teaching a few dozen children by day and hosting shows at night headlined by major jazz artists — Buddy Collette, Julie Niemack and Barbara Morrison, to name just a few — in a cavernous leased restaurant and bar space on the second floor of Paseo Colorado.
But on Saturday, following performances by the eight-piece band The Big Pill, the PJI’s lease expires, forcing Lines to close up shop and look for another location. (See a related story on page 37.)
“The Pasadena Jazz Institute has been an upstart organization that has contributed significantly to Pasadena’s cultural scene,” said Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard. “I admire Paul’s energy and his effectiveness and sincerely hope he will find another venue.”
In April 2008, NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar celebrated his 61st birthday at the institute, with guests like Smokey Robinson and jazz great Herbie Hancock performing.
Although the Paseo location provided a steady audience stream, Lines said that Paseo Colorado management finally found a permanent tenant for the space, ending his month-to-month lease. Beyond that, it had become increasingly difficult for him to focus on putting on good shows and running a bar at the same time. Some online reviews of the place have quoted customers saying they loved the music and the atmosphere, but not the service. Lines said it was nearly impossible for barmaids to get drinks to customers quickly because the venue was so large. At 7,300 square feet, it offered both a spacious dining and stage area inside, along with an open balcony terrace overlooking Colorado Boulevard and Pasadena City Hall.
The space, slated to become a banquet hall after Lines and company leave, was certainly roomy enough, but the increased wait time for drinks and appetizers produced a financially detrimental domino effect: Customers unhappy with waiting left smaller tips, which brought turnover among bar staff, resulting in less rapport developing with bartenders and servers, all ending with fewer customers.
“I can’t run a bar,” said Lines, who acknowledged that it is rare for a nonprofit to have a liquor license. “The truth of it is I underestimated how difficult it is. I am so naive, I did concerts and I thought that is what I will do here, but the only difference is I will have a bartender and a waitress, and a cook and a dishwasher. I got scuffed up. I just could not do it. I am taking the Jazz Institute back to what we were doing before.” According to Lines, that’s supplying a simple venue for Pasadena residents to hear jazz.
A jazz fan all his life, Lines’ boyhood heroes included Art Blakey, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. While other young men had posters of Farrah Fawcett on their walls, Lines hung pictures of Louis Armstrong.
When he first started out teaching music, Lines noticed that many of the kids had no connection to the jazz artists, despite their impact on the nation’s black experience.
“The Benny Goodman Quartet of 1933 had Teddy Wilson, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton and Benny Goodman, two black guys and two white guys pre-dating Jackie Robinson. They were in the recording studio, onstage, in public, performing. Gene Krupa’s band wouldn’t perform if Roy Eldridge couldn’t stay in the same hotel the band was staying in. It was a big thing. It would have connected music back to their lives and back to their parents’ lives. Kids could have come to take that tour and walked in with an, ‘I can’t’ attitude and left with an ‘I can’ attitude.”
Lines originally envisioned the institute as a cultural anchor in Northwest Pasadena, one with two performing spaces and an education wing where children could come to learn about the history of music and how it impacted their lives, much as the story of Pasadena’s Robinson did in 1947 after he broke professional baseball’s color barrier.
But that never happened. Instead, Lines was forced to run the institute out of his basement for six years before moving to venues like the Balcony Theater and the auditorium at Fuller Theological Seminary. There he hosted jazz events for Black History Month, which included performances by Spanky Wilson. He also hosted the successful Jazz on the Terrace Series at the Pasadena Museum of California Art.
“It seems to me like it has become an important cultural institution. It’s too bad that it’s not continuing in this venue,” said Jim Jadikin, who helps Lines in teaching children during the day. “If it had succeeded, it would have been very valuable.”
Originally, Lines was only supposed to teach children to play jazz at the location. He planned to use the liquor sales to fund that endeavor but, as Lines noted, that became increasingly challenging, especially with 28 students.
Now Lines says that he is trying to convince the Pasadena Unified School District to place the educational arm of his nonprofit at a local school. After that, he plans to take some time off and hopes to come back in a scaled-down venue.
“We got in here September 2006 with a temporary lease. It could have been 30 days, two months, four months, six months or a year,” Lines said. “It ended up being three years. The mall helped us to present, with their rather generous terms, 800 shows. That’s a lot of musicians and a lot of music, and that enabled the Pasadena community to hear great musicians practically seven nights a week. It will go on. The Jazz Institute will live to fight another day.”