AMERICA'S MAJOR jazz journal may be called downbeat, but prospects for Washington jazz clubs appear upbeat. For years, the only dependable venues have been Blues Alley and One Step Down, but in the last few months, jazz policies seem to be taking hold, firmly at Trumpets, hopefully at Murph's and Twins.
Trumpets, at 1633 Q St. NW, is quietly tooting its horn by booking the likes of singer Jon Lucien (Friday through Sunday), local saxmaster Buck Hill (who celebrates the release of his new Muse album Oct. 12 and 13) and fusion drummer Norman Connors and the Starship Orchestra (Oct. 18-20).
"The essence of what we are doing is area-based but we are doing it from a commercial business perspective," says manager Robert Smith. "In terms of giving the club both commercial and artistic credibility, you need the name acts, so we will intermittently be bringing in those name acts."
Smith points out that the club's location -- on the corner of 17th and Q streets -- is "a built-in demographic asset" that has managed to attract mixed audiences -- black and white, young and old -- looking for "a neigborhood restaurant with an upscale ambience," he says. "The people that live in this area are heavily yuppified, so when they get off work, they usually want to be casual."
Trumpets' basic American cuisine is attractive enough, but music lovers will appreciate the room to breathe even more. "Legally, we can seat 198, but we usually seat no more than 180," Smith explains. "This is essentially a restaurant that offers jazz. We don't want to be the negative beneficiaries of the congested club atmosphere."
Currently, Trumpets features a house quartet led by trumpeter Tommy Williams, a Baltimore native who is also a member of the Army's Jazz Ambassadors. "We have been working with Tommy Williams since before he went into the military," Smith points out. "That he plays the trumpet is just poetic coincidence that had nothing to do with the name of the club."
Williams's wife, Dolores, is a featured singer, both with the Ambassadors and at Trumpets. Next year, Smith hopes the house band will expand to a sextet, and he has plans for various "trumpet and brass scenarios" and flute and string choirs, as well as brunches featuring classical and gospel music.
"We're not doing social work per se, but I think our music approach is quite refreshing," Smith says, adding that Lucien, Hill and Connors represent "what you might call highly commercialized acts."
During the week, the accent is on local talent: October features the Julie Hall-Ronnie Patterson-Paul Bollenback Trio on Tuesdays, Denise Pearson on Wednesdays and the Kent Jordan-Ronnie Patterson Duo on Thursdays. There are also champagne jazz brunches Sundays from 11 to 3. For information, call 202/232-4141.
Ed Murphy is a longtime Washington fixture -- his Georgia Avenue supper club was a watering hole for the city's black community in the '60s and '70s, and his long-dreamed-of but short-lived Harambee Hotel (now the Howard Inn) was one of the largest black-owned hotels in the country. Two years ago, Murphy opened Ed Murphy's Supper Club at 14th and U streets NW, in the Reeves Municipal Center.
"Few people realize it's probably the safest place in Washington," Murphy says. "The mayor's office is there. So is his command center, and one of the precincts and there's underground, 24-hour secured parking. We haven't had any incidents there."
Murphy admits that while he's long been commited to bringing in quality entertainment, "it's always been a question of working out deals with the record companies and recording artists."
One such deal brings the Young-Holt Trio to the club Oct. 16-21 (one week after their old bandmate Ramsey Lewis holds forth at Blues Alley: That would have made a fine reunion). Usually, the bookings are on weekend nights only.
Murphy says things are on the move in the developing U Street area.
"Historically, U Street used to be the strip and that's one of my pet projects -- to work with the new mayor and others to try and redevelop it. As soon as the subway cleans up there, it's going to bust the street wide open," he says, pointing to the Howard and Lincoln Theatre renovations and the five "legitimate theaters" on 14th Street between U and Rhode Island. "This will be the strip in the future, hopefully in the next couple of years."
Murphy's Supper Club is located inside the Reeves Municipal Center at 2000 14th St. NW; for information, call 202/745-7150.
Twins Lounge, at 5516 Colorado Ave. NW, is a bit off the over-beaten track, but it's been bringing in some top-notch talent, such as pianist James Williams, who appeared last weekend. According to manager Paul Malessa, the club is going through a "slow upgrade . . . we just put in a six-foot piano, wall-to-wall carpeting and a new stage and we're definitely looking to make some music happen."
The club's owners have booked local jazz since opening three years ago, but Malessa, who has been there four months, hopes to spice up the weekends with national attractions like Don Pullen, Jeff Keiser and Cyrus Chestnut. He'd also like to bring in more people than the 55 customers Twins seats now.
"We're looking to expand into an area that would give us about 40 or 50 more, to 90 or 105 seats. You really need 100 to make it do-able," Malessa says.
When national acts aren't scheduled, local jazz takes the spotlight on Wednesdays (Lawrence Wheatley), Fridays (the Dave Kane Quartet), Saturdays (the Peter Edelman Trio) and Sundays (a jam session). Thursday is given over to the blues with Triple Rock.
For information, call 202/882-2523.