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The essential jazz experience is live performance and attentive listening, and the best venue for this particular activity is a well-appointed jazz club. Running a club, however, is a tough business proposition -- one which even years of experience won't necessarily make easier. If you're considering life as a club owner, you need to conduct thorough research into your venue, costs and audience to succeed.
Get a Spot
Find a venue. The space must be available for a lease of at least a year because you'll need that much time to develop a steady clientele and establish your club among reviewers, local media and jazz fans. If the venue was not previously a music club, you'll need to check with the local zoning authority to ensure it is properly zoned for a commercial and/or restaurant business. The zoning laws tend to be more restrictive in dense urban areas, which is where many successful jazz clubs are located. You'll want to be in a location where there is good local foot traffic, sufficient parking and nearby nighttime amenities such as restaurants, hotels and shops to draw customers from.
Prepare your venue with a bandstand, tables and chairs for customers, a front station for admission, and bar service if you intend to provide beverages. You'll need a sound system with microphones, board and speakers, and a piano because keyboard players don't carry their instruments around. Improve soundproofing by adding a second surface layer to the existing walls and ceiling. A useful product for this purpose is dB-Bloc, a soundproofing vinyl that can be applied to your second wall. You can make the acoustics even better by adding acoustical panels or other, less expensive materials such as egg carton flats. Get your bar ready with the requisite coolers, sinks, racks, glassware, ice machines, bar caddies and drinks. If you intend to serve food, you'll also need to invest in commercial kitchen equipment and get a restaurant permit.
Contact booking agents who cover your location and musical specialty. Jazz agents offer rosters of artists they represent exclusively, and any of them will be happy to discuss available dates and fees. Their websites give current touring schedules, including dates and locations. They also might provide samples, biographies and a press kit you can use for local media. Once your club is established, these agents will be contacting you to promote and schedule artists who may be planning a tour. To track down the agent for a particular artist, navigate to that artist's website or Facebook page. Also, following an artist's Twitter account will give you an idea of what she is focusing on musically and performance-wise to learn if she is appropriate for your club.
Promote your club by contacting local newspapers, radio stations, music websites and magazines. Furnish them with press kits that include photos of your venue, a schedule of performances and press releases with current events and background information. See if you can land a spot as a guest on the local jazz station, and offer your time and story to local restaurant and music beat writers. Pull together a web page and an e-mail list of your friends, acquaintances and anyone who might have an interest in a jazz night out. A social media presence is essential: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all useful in getting the word out.
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.