Another Washington area jazz room has fallen victim to economic hard times -- rising fees for performers and lack of customers.
The Showboat Lounge, a cavernous, dimly lit room on the first floor of the Villa Rosa restaurant, at 813 Ellsworth Dr. in Silver Spring, closed its doors Sunday night after vocalist-pianist Mose Allison and his trio had played to a sprinkling of people in the 200-seat room.
The closing leaves the Washington area with only one jazz club, Blues Alley, that regularly books nationally known, established performers.
"The primary thing was that the acts got so expensive we couldn't afford them," said Pete Lambros, who booked talent for the club. "In some cases there was an 80 percent increase in what the artists charged."
One performer, whom Lambros declined to identify, raised his price from $4,500 to $7,500 in 18 months. At the same time, club management was trying tohhold to a $5 cover and two-drink minimum.
"Another problem we had was that the medium-priced acts didn't draw well," Lambros added. "People like Clark Terry and Joe Venuti just didn't make money. We just didn't have enough cash flow. We did our main business on weekends. You need 300 seats in a club to make any real money."
The club, open since May 1976, was a revived version of the old Showboat Lounge, a popular jazz room in the 1950s and 1960s at the corner of 18th Street and Columbia Road NW. From the fall of 1967 to the spring of 1969 the club was Byrd's Nest, owned jointly by guitarist Charlie Byrd and Lambros.
The jazz scene in Washington is no different from that in many other cities, Lalmbros said. La Bastille in Houston closed recently, he explained. The Jazz Workshop in Boston is scheduled to shut down next month, Lambros added, and rumors are flying that Chicago's Jazz Showcase will close.
"There is more competition for acts now," Lambros explained. "Clubs in the same cities are bidding against each other for the same acts. That drives up the prices. It's good for the artist. I'm not faulting the musicians at all. But their managers and the club managers should take a more long-ranged view of things."
Lambros suggested that jazz rooms might take a cue from pop music clubs like the Cellar Door (which cut its capacity by 35 percent last week) the Bottom Line in New York or Great American Music Hall in San Francisco that book performers for a maximum of three nights and schedule a variety of popular and advanced performers.