Published on July 19th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
The Mezz: Charleston’s Top Jazz Club Celebrates Year One
It’s been a year since the Mezz opened its door above Sermet’s Downtown at the corner of King and Wentworth Streets (276 King Street). According to co-owner and musical director Quentin Baxter, a veteran drummer and bandleader in the Lowcountry music scene, things are going quite well for the elegant downtown jazz venue.
“It’s been a blessing, and I’m having a blast,” Baxter says. “I’m excited for Charleston and the musicians. I’m excited by the concept having a music venue with great food.”
In the spring of 2012, Baxter partnered with Sermet Aslan and J.D. Madison to renovate the space above Sermet’s. It previously housed the popular jazz bar Mezzane in the early 2000s (it closed in late 2004). They designed the new venue as a listening room specifically for jazz performances.
“I’ve had a hundred percent influence on the sound equipment and the way the stage is set up because that’s my thing,” Baxter says. “How it sounds, who’s in there playing … figuring out how we can book shows and offer a consistent product three nights a week — those were the main challenges for me.”
“I feel grateful to have it and to be able to offer it,” he adds. “I’m still learning a lot about the business. It’s very much about collaboration and sharing the influences and decisions, much like paying drums in a group. It’s about the teamwork. It’s so much that I’ve learned how to run a joint as I’ve learned how to agree and disagree well and work together.”
Baxter and his quintet played the opening weekend last July as the staff served drinks, appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and entrees from the Sermet’s menu. Local musicians and music fans took notice, and a regional buzz about the place started to develop.
“The highlight for me has been when I have the opportunity to be in the audience, and to look at people enjoy the room and enjoy what it sounds like and looks like,” Baxter says.
Through word-of-mouth in the music community and some basic promotion from the Sermet’s team, the Mezz gradually established a reputation for top-quality shows in a cozy setting with fine cuisine and drinks.
“Charleston is a special place,” says Baxter. “It is a creature of habit, and it has to get used to new places. Not everyone will jump on new things immediately. The Mezz offers a great menu and dining experience, but we’ve tried to figure out how to let people upstairs for the listening room experiences without forcing a dining experience on them. I like the destination aspect of it. I like that it’s not a huge, 200-seat room with a front window. It’s an intimate venue, and it took shape naturally. It’s a good, natural fit with Sermet’s.”
Over the last 12 months, Baxter has booked a variety of local combos and visiting acts on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings with an occasional special event here and there. Most night feature two full sets at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., showcasing the cream of the crop from the gallery of Charleston jazz players involved with the Jazz Artists of Charleston and the Charleston Jazz Orchestra (conducted by trumpeter Charlton Singleton).
“In the first year, we’ve had some great local musicians along with some of the biggest names in jazz, like Marcus Roberts, Etienne Charles, and the Freddy Cole Quartet,” Baxter says. “Year two is lining up with some great players, too. It’s growing. We’re selling out shows now on the regular, and that’s the direction we want to be going. It’s so encouraging to see Charleston supporting it.”
This weekend (July 19-20), the Mezz celebrates its official one-year anniversary at 276 King Street with performances at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. by the Quentin Baxter Quintet, featuring Baxter on drums, Charlton Singleton on trumpet, Mark Sterbank on tenor saxophone, Richard H. White, Jr. on piano, and Kevin Hamilton on bass. Admission for each show is $10.
Top photo by Reese Moore.
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