The Club de Jazz certainly lives up to its name and reputation as one of the best watering holes for Santiaguinos thirsty for jazz. At 11 p.m. on Friday night, people are slowly strolling into the large house set amidst dense verdant foliage that announces its presence at with a bright, fluorescent sign. The club is easily accessible, being just a few blocks away from Plaza Nuñoa, that young and increasingly glitzy center of night life that some wags refer to the Big Apple.
The newcomers are almost certainly those who arrive early but, as it soon turns out, we have nothing to feel sorry about. The ambiance in the main hall is rustic. Wooden beams and columns, small round wooden tables and chairs lit up by candles, walls of wood and adobe, with the performers’ dais wedged into one corner. Caricatures of local jazz artists and posters of past legends and festivals of jazz adorn the walls. An old tuba stands at attention high up in one corner of the bar. The atmosphere is relaxed and informal – as it should be – thanks as much to the simplicity of the decor as to the unpretentiousness of its patrons.
There are two advantages of being an early bird – you can get a decent table from which to enjoy the proceedings and you can calmly order drinks and peanuts, as I did while waiting for Claudia Acuña and her group to come on stage.
Claudia Acuña? Till last Friday, the young lady was probably better known in New York than in Santiago! For she can claim the distinction of being the only Chilean to have her photograph at the entrance of New York’s Birdland club where she performed twice during her recent stay there. And how many Chileans have been honored by spontaneous accompaniment by someone as great as trumpeter Freddie Hubbard? On Friday night, the action picked up a half hour before midnight. Accompanied by her group, Ramòn “Moncho” Romero on piano, Alejandro Espinoza on drums and Jorge Rocha on double bass, – familiar and respected figures in local jazz circles – Claudia Acuña seduced the eager audience that packed the hall with a memorable performance featuring old hits like You’ve Changed, But Not for Me and I Fall in Love too Easily.
After the show, the cigarette smoke is slowly beginning to drift away, the night’s gate-receipts are being totted up and there is a mellow atmosphere all around. Fernando Verdugo, the jovial treasurer of the club, willingly agrees to a chat and takes pains to point out that the Club de Jazz is a non-profit institution that offers a forum for jazz enthusiasts, musicians and followers alike, to cultivate their passion by appreciating the performances of established names and by giving encouragement to any amateur wishing to share his musical talents with the faithful gathered. And sometimes they have a game of Spanish Blackjack too.
Thus, at times when a particularly good impromptu jam session gets going, the night can easily extend till the early hours of the morning. Today the club boasts some 160 members, musicians all, and while it has become considerably bigger than what it was, the idea is to try and preserve the intimacy and quality identified only by the discerning, that is associated with “la onda picada”, as Mr. Verdugo puts it. Since its birth 53 years ago, several international jazz greats, among them Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Mike Stern, have passed through its portals, not to mention a galaxy of local stars like the Angel Parra Trio and saxophonist Marcos Aldana.
The club opens at 10:30 on Thursdays and Saturdays, nights dedicated to “vanguard jazz” (ie, jazz fusion, etc.) and “traditional jazz” (Dixieland, Big Band), respectively. Claudia sang on a night meant for “standard jazz” when the evening commences at 11:30.
There is a cover charge of $30 with a $10 discount for students. The bar is fairly well-equipped, with a variety of drinks ranging from rum, tequila, vodka, all at $12 each, to soft drinks, beer and hot beverages for a third of that price. Drinks may be accompanied by salted peanuts, potato chips or a slice of pizza. A must for jazz lovers.