| Jim (Jimmy Mak) Makarounis |
IMAGE: TOM OLIVER
Since 1996, Jimmy Mak's has made a tremendous impact on the health and vitality of the Portland jazz scene by providing a genial neighborhood vibe, homey Greek food and a welcoming room for music from Mel Brown, Thara Memory, Patrick Lamb, Dan Balmer and many others—not to mention the loyal legions of under-21 jazz talent that show up for Brown's all-ages Tuesday sessions. Change in jazzland has a bad rap, and justifiably so. Usually it means video poker or karaoke machines replacing saxophonists, a cut in pay, or a shuttering of doors—rarely does it mean improved sound, bathrooms with heat, plush surroundings, a streamlined kitchen, VIP mezzanine seating, ringside booths and a stage twice the size. But that's exactly the change that is coming to Jimmy Mak's.
With the new space, Makarounis is upping the ante for the presentation and experience of jazz in Portland. Set in earthy hues of sepia, umber and velvety maroon, it will have the intimacy and warmth of the best of jazz clubs but maintain the neighborly, genial vibe of its affable proprietor. The original was voted one of the top 100 jazz clubs by Down Beat magazine—clearly for the modesty of the room and the charmed relationship that Jimmy and Mel Brown have cultivated with audiences. The new improved setting will probably live up to the title on all counts. For once jazz will find itself stepping proudly on the red carpet, instead of being snuck in the back door. And that's a good thing, folks. Cozied up next to Portland Center Stage's Armory development, the new venue is a great example of the sort of low-key developments that encourage and nurture social capital without Pearlesque ostentation. Look for a "soft" opening in the merry month of May. On the horizon: a first-Thursday grand opening in June, with a live recording session featuring Mel Brown's organ combo, followed by a lavish, well-deserved 10th-anniversary blowout in midsummer.
In honor of the club's Heraclitian shift and jazz renewal, closing night at the old space features an exemplary evening with Jazz Society of Oregon Hall-of-Famer guitarist Dan Balmer. A mainstay at Jimmy Mak's for many years, Balmer is the perfect go-to guy for this high-voltage sayonara. Updating the classic organ-guitar-drums trio, Balmer strikes fire with two New York-based hitmen: wickedly talented Hammond organist (and former Portlander) Gary Versace, who's a regular with John Scofield these days, and the equally incendiary, wry swingmatist Matt Wilson (a regular with Dewey Redman, Lee Konitz, et al.) on drums. Expect Balmer's trademark thoughtful, sophisticated jazz sensibility (a blend of Wes Montgomery-Pat Martino-Coltranesque heat) to shine alongside the riveting chemistry of Versace and Wilson. A fitting farewell for the moment, but Jimmy Mak's is a-comin' back.
Jimmy Mak's closing night features Dan Balmer with Gary Versace and Matt Wilson on Saturday, April 15. $10. 7:30 pm, all ages. 9 pm, 21+.
Mark Baumgarten is on temporary leave from Riff City.