Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series
Part 74 - The Cleveland Bop Stop
Considered one of the best jazz clubs in the city for almost a decade before it closed in 2000, the Cleveland Bop Stop finally re-opened in a brand new, state-of-the-arts building just west of the Detroit-Superior Bridge.
Vibraphonist Ron Busch opened the first Bop Stop in a small neighborhood bar at East 40th and St. Clair in 1991. Five years later, he moved to larger quarters at East 6th and Lakeside. That club was closed in the fall of 2000 and Busch and his partner, Anita Nonneman, planned to move to an old warehouse building on Detroit Avenue by the spring of 2001, but Busch said they ran into a major problem.
"We bought a piece of property in the historic area with the idea of restoring the building that was on the site," recalled Busch, "and what happened was, we found the ground building sat on was completely compromised with underground rubble. We couldnít build or restore a building there. It wouldnít work."
Ron and Anita were forced to completely re-work their original plan. "We decided to knock that building down and dig out the lot," said Busch. "We found the remains of a 90 year old farmhouse. They had constructed a building on top of it. Thatís the reason it took about twice as long to build the new jazz club."
In a sense, Busch said, the set-back was a blessing in disguise. "We built a beautiful new listening room from the ground up."
On March 7, 2003, they finally opened their new club at 2920 Detroit, nestled in an area between Clevelandís West Shoreway and Detroit Avenue. About 150 people turned out that night to listen to live jazz and to see the first nightclub built from the ground up specifically for jazz in Cleveland, and perhaps anywhere.
From his viewpoint as a musician, vibraphonist Busch knew exactly what he wanted in a quality jazz club. "Hey, if I can build a jazz club exactly the way I want it, because Iím a performer myself," he said, "what better input?"
Busch has always said the principal focus in his clubs is the music and he and Nonneman hired an architect to design a club built around the jazz music. "Itís configured in a semi-circle, with the stage being the center point, and three-tiered seating so everybody has a perfect seat to see the whole show, to see all the musicians," said Busch. "There are no posts or poles to look around."
The new Cleveland Bop Stop can seat about 120 people at one time. The sound of the music is just about perfect. Busch said, "We brought in an acoustical engineer to design the bandstand, to spread the sound all around the room. Our speaker system creates a surround sound so everybody sees and hears everything."
They also included a control room to control the sound and the lighting system. Busch said they are also be able to record live performances.
For the musicians, the new Bop Stop added a completely restored Steinway piano, a house drum set, its own microphones, stage monitors, and instrument pick-ups. According to Busch, "We didnít spare any expense in making sure that we had the acoustic integrity."
The re-opening of the Cleveland Bop Stop also meant the re-birth of the Jack Schantz Bop Stop Jazz Unit, an experimental little big band that performed every Monday night at the old Bop Stops. In a sense, itís the house band. "Weíve been together about six years," said Busch who plays vibes with the group, "and weíre really looking forward to getting Monday nights back." The Bop Stop Jazz Unit is sort of a Cleveland version of the Village Vanguard Big Band that plays Monday nights in New York City. "Itís not a big band per se," said Busch. "Itís a 13-piece chamber orchestra that does jazz, stylized jazz music, and has unusual instrumentation with the vibes. Itís a listening experience, not a dancing experience. We do a lot of original music. All the music that the Unit does is written by guys in the band. We have about four or five guys who write."
Busch also said he planned to expand the stylistic approach of his club. Unlike his earlier Bop Stops, he planned to present some singers, Latin jazz, blues, fusion, perhaps even dixieland and occasional national jazz artists.
Ron Busch and Nonneman are hoping that their new, state-of-the-art jazz club will become Clevelandís central place for jazz and a regular headquarters for Clevelandís jazz musicians. As a working musician, Busch has always wanted to strengthen the jazz community in Cleveland. He said he planned to also build "a really comprehensive web site with all kinds of musiciansí services."
Busch obviously hopes Cleveland jazz fans will support his new business. He said he believes there should be much more to jazz than just a few non-profit organizations trying to perpetuate the art form with corporate donations and foundation grants. "At some point," said Busch, "you just gotta go ahead and say, ĎI want to present this music as a for-profit business and I think we can make a profit doing this music. It doesnít have to be a handout."
Standing in the middle of his new, state-of-the-art jazz club -- that was build from the ground up exclusively for jazz Ė Busch smiles like a proud new father and says, "Now, all we have to do is handle the baby with care and bring in the best music that we can."
Copyright 2003 Joe Mosbrook
CLICK HERE for the last installment of "Jazzed in Cleveland"
You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. Mosbrook's 1993 Cleveland Jazz History book, based on research for earlier broadcasts, is available at some Cleveland area bookstores, libraries and the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society (216-426-9900).