(Jun 24, 2014, 6:42 AM PDT)
You can be sure there will always be smiles and laughs at the Monday open mic night at Jax Bar and Grill in Glendale (339 N. Brand). But that doesn’t mean the singing is anything to smile about.
If you know this place, you know it’s a quaint hangout for Jazz singers who are nowhere near professionals. But, for a few hours they’re certainly made to feel as if they are, thanks to an appreciative audience on this night (June 23, 2014).
Hosted by the big voiced Dave Hopkins, backed by the jewel of an artist Karen Hernandez on keys and the always deft, Jack LeCompte on drums, musically, you can’t go wrong. A concert featuring these three alone would be just fine.
Just for clarity, I’ll only mention performers by their first names. Not because the following critique will be harsh, it’s just that the singing was, at times, harsh.
The biggest offender was a silky voiced crooner known as Vin. Decked out in a rhinestone hat and perhaps the wildest pants to grace a Jazz room, Vin kicked off with a tidy little version of “In Other Words” (known most often as Fly Me To The Moon). But it was his version of Harry Belafonte’s classic, “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)”, that left me a bit disappointed. It’s without question this man can sing. The problem, though, is when you overdo it. You don’t need to shout – ever – when playing a room like Jax. It’s so tight (the singing area) you can practically do it without a mic. But, thanks to some drunken cheering-on from a patron, Vin’s voice grew louder and louder, often punctuated by near manic screams directly into the fine Shure Beta 57 mic. That’s eardrum rattling. No need for all of that when your voice is just fine.
The next offender was the singer, Marilyn. Singing the oh-so-tired and done to death, “Fever”, she got through the classic without much energy or pizzazz. When you’re performing a song like Fever, you MUST bring something new to the table. Marilyn has a fine voice, but bump up the performance power and offer the crowd a lot more.
Like I said, though, this is not a pro singer’s hangout.
Yolanda did a nice job of “Old Fashion”, but nothing to shout over. Claudia got through two standards, “Exactly Like You” and “I Thought About You” with no trouble, but no flavor either. Sandra did a fine job on the rarely heard tunes “Dukes Place” and “Mailman, Bring Me Home More Blues.” I’d like to hear more of her. Finally, the always-entertaining poet, Judy, recited a great piece about the summer solstice. Too bad the crowd grew loud and drowned out her voice.
But, the star of the night, as she is most nights she performs, I’m told, was the 91-year-old chanteuse, Helen! Moving with the grace of a woman half her age, Helen performed not only a spirited standard, but she can teach every singer in the place a thing or two about stage presence. Don’t let her small frame and slightly hunched posture fool you – this woman is all about strength. I easily could listen to her perform all night and smile all the way through it!
Small criticisms: The host doesn’t need to sing as much. Maybe two songs a set, MAX. But Hopkins, who has a very special voice, did a tune after every 2nd or 3rd singer, practically. No need. Open mics are about the brave souls that must perform, making life a dream.
Second, make sure the PA is properly adjusted before the show starts. Originally, the singers all sounded muffled and muddy. A quick adjustment left the room sounding perfect for singers.
Overall, Monday’s fine open mic night at Jax is is one that will make any singer, from novice to pro, feel comfortable. Don’t worry about getting blown of the stage here. That won’t happen. But, do come to blow! The crowd knows music. You can tell by what makes them smile.