David Boyd remembers those days, too. His father, Bobby (who died in 2011), owned the club; the younger Boyd helped run it and eventually became a co-owner.
“It was packed every night — I’m talking Sunday to Sunday,” he says. “Some magical thing happened and made it really a big social event.”
The club has remained successful even after switching to R&B, but Boyd misses the elegant, chilled-out vibe that once dwelt inside its brick walls. He’s enlisted Michael Philips, a onetime regular who’s now music director of Takoma’s WOWD-FM, to help bring jazz back to Takoma Station.
The experiment begins Sunday night with Carr-Keys, a quintet that Keys co-leads with tenor saxophonist Paul Carr — another weekly booking from the club’s jazz heyday.
Carr also has fond memories of that time. “It was the place, man. Everybody would come to the Station,” he says. “It would be nice to re-create at least some modicum of that.”
Takoma Station’s customer base was Howard University students, drawn to the 1980s jazz renaissance spawned by the likes of Wynton Marsalis. The charismatic young trumpeter sat in at the club whenever he was in town. So did musicians from veteran vibraphonist Lionel Hampton to teenage organist Joey DeFrancesco.
Older customers who grew up on jazz soon found Takoma Station. Then as now, Howard student haunts attracted the attention of African American elites. “I met Don King there, and Welsey Snipes,” Carr recalls. “Bernard Shaw, the anchor at CNN, would come every Tuesday night and listen to me and the band.”
If Tuesday night drew big names, Carr, Keys and Boyd all agree that Thursday night — Keys’s — drew everyone. “It was super popular,” says Keys. “We were doing contemporary jazz, all instrumental songs and nice grooves — really hip stuff. We would crank it up, and everybody was clapping. … It was fantastic.” One night, Stevie Wonder even sat in.
Tastes inevitably changed; the new generation of college students wasn’t interested in jazz, and the previous one had moved on from the club scene.
“It was time to try something new,” says Boyd, who, as a native Washingtonian and a child of the ’70s, loved go-go music. “I started with Chuck Brown once a month, and it was a huge success. I did reggae also, and reggae was humongous; then I did comedy, and that was bigger than any other night. All I was doing was following the trend — going with what worked.”
These days, R&B and some go-go make up most of the programming; jazz holds sway on Tuesday nights in the form of a weekly jam session, which is spottily attended and mostly attracts hobbyist musicians. Yet Takoma Station celebrates its jazz heritage. Its bar menu offers items such as the Donald Byrd turkey burger and Sarah Vaughan tenders, and a plaque outside its front entrance displays a photograph of Wynton Marsalis with Bobby Boyd.
Meanwhile, Boyd senses another sea change in D.C.’s music scene.
“I think jazz is making a certain type of resurgence,” he says. “I think it could do something — in the right room.”
Philips happened to suggest the possibility a few months ago at a Tuesday night session. “I said to David, ‘You know, I think it would be great if you brought jazz back here on some nights.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you do it? We’ll start out once a month, and if it’s successful then we’ll do it weekly.’ So I kind of backed into doing this.”
That said, Philips is committed to the project — he’s already booked trombonist Reginald Cyntje for the second installment, on Oct. 27 — which augurs success. Another good omen is the premiere’s featuring of Carr-Keys, led by two of Takoma Station’s most popular former stalwarts. The saxophonists combine with a superlative D.C. rhythm section (pianist Allyn Johnson, bassist Michael Bowie and drummer Lenny Robinson) to play bebop-based straight-ahead jazz.
“Carr-Keys has become my favorite thing to do,” says Keys. “Every time we do it, it’s exhilarating.”
Boyd hopes that, along with their current fans, Carr and Keys will bring in some Takoma Station nostalgia. “I’m hoping they’ll be able to generate more people to come in and remember the old days, when that was what we had to offer,” he says. “I hope we can turn it around for jazz — I would like for it to happen.”
If you go
Sunday at 6 p.m. at Takoma Station, 6914 Fourth St. NW. takomastation.com. $15-$20.