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Nothing has changed at Jazz in 15 years

The greatest acknowledgement you can get is when people start copying your concept.

music Updated: Aug 13, 2010 13:19 IST
Vidya Balachander

When it opened in 1968, the restaurant that stood in place of Not Just Jazz by the Bay was called Talk of the Town. It was a meeting place, a restaurant with live entertainment and a glass dance floor with lights. One of my fondest memories of the place is watching Usha Uthup perform. She started her career there. She had her own style, always dressed in colourful saris.

Talk of the Town had a very successful run right until the 1980s. We wanted to continue the idea of live entertainment, so we started a jazz club. People thought it would do miserably, but it was a challenge to do something different. Prominent jazz bars exist in all big cities of the world.

We didn’t start Jazz by the Bay with an eye on profit. I believe that if you do something with passion, the profits will automatically flow in. Three Flights Up (discotheque) could pack in 1,000 people, that’s where we were chasing the numbers. We were hoping to reach a more discerning audience with Jazz.

Louis Banks played on opening night and it was a thrill. Eight years later, a world-famous guitarist who was eating dinner suddenly started jamming on stage. We didn’t realise until later what a big name he was.

A couple of years after it opened, we realised there were too few jazz bands in Mumbai, playing the same 30 songs. That’s how the ‘Not Just’ was added to the name in 1999 - to include more elements to the live entertainment.

In 2001 or 2002, we started karaoke nights which caught on in a big way. We only had them on Mondays or Tuesdays, which were absolutely dead nights in any other restaurant. But within the first six weeks, we were packing in 300 people. I think it’s because Jazz has a natural stage. When someone went on stage after a couple of beers, they felt that they were performing before an audience.

I’m proud that not an inch of Jazz has changed in the last 15 years, not even the wall paint. The lunchtime soup-salad buffet has been the same for 15 years. We haven’t changed the recipes or even the location of the dishes on the bar. People have been coming for 10 years, eating the same thing. It’s wonderful when you build up such a loyal client base. It showcased talent right from Louis Banks to young kids. It gave them a taste of what it was to be a star.

The greatest acknowledgement you can get is when people start copying your concept. So many live music venues coming up shows that Mumbai’s got talent. It also shows that you have an audience that appreciates the uniqueness of a live performance.