Familiar sounds are stirring near the corner of 19th and Broadway in Sacramento. Saxophone licks, drum fills and walking bass lines once again are filling a club with a longtime jazz history.
Known to local jazz fans as On Broadway, the club’s full name now is Roland On Broadway, and it shares a building with Pho Bac Hoa Viet restaurant. The venue specializes in DJs spinning R&B tracks and karaoke nights, though jazz has started trickling back in over the past few months, signaling a return of the sound that defined this club decades ago. But as development plans take shape for the building and its adjacent parking lot, the question remains if jazz will stay in the mix for the long term.
For now, some local musicians are hoping to develop the club as a home base in a city that’s long been hit and miss in its support for jazz. Robbie Kwock, a local horn player, has started organizing twice-monthly jazz shows at Roland On Broadway, including a gig Thursday, Nov. 17, with saxophonist Darius Babazadeh and others.
“Everyone remembers this as a jazz club in the ’80s and ’90s,” Kwock said. “I’ve tried to put together a good band that does jazz with a funky flair that’s appealing and try to build it up. There are some good musicians (in Sacramento), but not many venues.”
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On Broadway attracted some of the leading names in jazz during the club’s peak years. Jazz drumming legend Buddy Rich played On Broadway in 1986, as did the great trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Other musicians who gigged at the club include Woody Herman, Wynton Marsalis and Carmen McRae. On Broadway also nurtured Sacramento’s top local talent, including a popular Tuesday night residency from guitarist Henry Robinett.
“Twenty-three years ago it was a real happening place,” Babazadeh said. “You had Henry on Tuesday nights, Joyce Diamond on Wednesdays. It was kind of a steady jazz scene that you knew you could count on.”
The club has hosted music sporadically since a 2001 fire damaged the venue. The space opened as Roland On Broadway in late spring this year with club nights dedicated to reggae, R&B and neo-soul music. After Robinett played a show at the club in August as a release party for his latest CD, “I Have Known Mountains,” Kwock was inspired to revive the club as a jazz spot.
“All these local musicians showed up and it was great,” Kwock said. “It’s a good-sized room – not too large, not too small – and it’s a good listening environment. It’s a good vibe.”
For now, the club is dedicating two Thursdays a month to jazz. The shows are mostly promoted through word-of-mouth and Facebook. Kwock uses these nights to present a funkier side of jazz that provides for more of an upbeat nightclub vibe. Kwock hopes to build an audience through this groove-based jazz before branching into more modern stylings of the musical genre, a la the sound of someone like Wayne Shorter.
The catch is that the building that houses Pho Bac Hoa Viet and Roland On Broadway will soon see some significant transformations. The space is being re-fashioned as a restaurant destination with a food-centric apartment complex planned for an adjacent lot. The current lease for Pho Bac Hoa Viet will end in mid-2017, and it’s unknown if the Vietnamese restaurant will stay.
Construction on the project isn’t expected until the summer of 2017 and should be completed sometime in 2018. Andrew Skanchy, a Sacramento attorney who’s part of the development team that owns the property, said he hopes that jazz will continue to be a fixture as the space enters a new era.
“I’ve been there a couple times recently with the jazz acts and I love it,” Skanchy said.
“It’s exciting for me to see it open and working again, and drawing crowds. It would be a great asset and it’s absolutely an option to stay long term.”
For Kwock, even if he’s just blowing his horn at the club a couple times a month for now, it’s better than the sounds of silence.
“I’ve been trying to get the buzz out,” he said. “The people who came out were loving it. They were starved for live music.”
Roland on Broadway
Address: 1827 Broadway, Sacramento