BEST JAZZ CLUB (2001)
Lowell Pickett celebrated his club's 15th anniversary in regal fashion this past year, packing his monthly calendars--and testing his precarious bottom line--with a list of national treasures that rivaled jazz-festival lineups from San Francisco to Glasgow. As the seasons changed, the best-known names came through with set after set of memorable work: Avant bopper Steve Lacy blew through the bell of his soprano, conjuring visions of a young, adventurous Ornette; alums of the great Coltrane quartet, pianist McCoy Tyner and drummer Elvin Jones, each backed his own group, spitting at time, swinging with an urgent sense of invention; Roy Hargrove, exhausted by a recent illness, laid back to touch the aching heart of his flügelhorn; and Cuban-born pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba proved once again that jazz is a vibrant form of multicultural expression, more vital than any mere documentary footage. For years, musicians in Pickett's makeshift greenroom, from composer Terence Blanchard to sax legend Charles Lloyd, have been overheard raving about the gourmet food, the gratis wine, and the well-educated audiences. Elvin Jones went so far as to tell a reporter the Dakota was "the best jazz club in the world," even when stacked up against the Village Vanguard in New York or Yoshi's in Oakland. We used to think that was hyperbole, fueled by hospitality (and more than a few post-show glasses of port). But after sitting through show after mind-blowing show in 2000, we know this: Its noisy cash registers and shopping-mall locale notwithstanding, the Dakota is special--a place, as pianist Benny Green explained, where artists feel like "part of the family," free to massage their muse.