Bye bye, Blu Jaz Cafe: It's the end of an era as the curtain comes down tonight
Musicians and artists look back at the good times they've had at the popular live music venue – and ponder the future of the cafe-bar.
Tucked between an eyelash extension clinic and a salad stall, live music venue Blu Jaz Cafe stands out in a row of shophouses along Bali Lane. By tomorrow (Feb 1), everything will be quiet.
Tonight, musicians and performers who are regular fixtures at Blu Jaz Cafe will be playing for the last time at the watering hole, following the termination of its public entertainment licence.
Jordan Wei, leader of the Jordan Wei Trio, first performed at Blu Jaz in 2010 and has since taken to the stage every fortnight with his three-piece band. “Blu Jaz was a place where one didn't have to worry about pandering to the audience's tastes. It was an avenue to experiment and create ‘art’," said the 35-year-old jazz pianist.
"No other club I knew was brave enough to allow musical experiments from bands because other venues were more concerned about profits.”
Wei, who holds a Masters in Jazz Performance and has played for the likes of Dami Im, JJ Lin, Wang Lee Hom and Elva Hsiao, enjoyed the “arts hub” that was Blu Jaz, where all performers could gather.
“Blu Jaz was also a place where younger musicians could practice their craft alongside the veteran jazzers without any form of judgement or prejudice,” he said.
A POOR TRACK RECORD OF COMPLIANCE
News of the cafe’s troubles first made headlines last October. Founder and director Aileen Tan created a Facebook event page on Oct 14 titled “Don’t Let The Music Die”, explaining that Blu Jaz’s public entertainment license would cease on Oct 22 due to the venue’s “poor track record of compliance” with licensing conditions.
She wrote that two offences prompted the police’s decision to cancel their licence: A “noise issue” caused by “failure to ensure windows and doors remained closed” in July 2016 and November 2017, and two offences of “overcrowding by over 20 per cent above the capacity” in April and May 2018.
She urged supporters to sign an online petition and send “personal letters of reference in support of Blu Jaz”, which were then submitted to the Public Entertainment Appeal Board (PEAB) with a written appeal requesting an extension of the termination date.
Though an extension was granted, the PEAB ultimately rejected an appeal against the cancellation of the licence on Dec 31 last year.
While the three-storey eatery will still be allowed to serve food and drinks, Blu Jaz will not be able to provide any form of public entertainment, including their popular open mic nights, from Feb 1.
The management at Blu Jaz declined to comment for this story.
For arts manager Michelle Liew, 26, Blu Jaz has been her go-to joint for close to two years.
“While the tight space limits the number of people who can be there, there’s something quite intimate about the place. The open jams have quite a raw but unique energy,” said Liew.
“Poetry slam, comedy nights, New Orleans Night, R&B Jam – they cater to different interests.”
Poetry nights at Blu Jaz are helmed by literary arts company Word Forward. Led by co-founder and director Dr Chris Mooney-Singh, the organisation began hosting monthly Poetry Slam evenings at Blu Jaz in late 2009.
“Venues such as Blu Jaz have done tremendous work in supporting the arts without financial consideration. If we want a thriving ecosystem for the arts, we need such places to cultivate a local taste for the home-made product,” said Dr Mooney-Singh.
“Many international poets pass through Singapore on a regular basis and add new flavours of expression to the scene. The lack of venues for performers limits arts development, cutting the arts off at the knees in a tiny place like Singapore,” he said.
ALL THAT JAZZ
Perhaps the ones least affected by the end of an era at Blu Jaz are the patrons. Regulars CNA Lifestyle spoke to said they would not be returning to the cafe once the live shows end today.
“Blu Jaz will need to find alternative means of attracting patrons," said Liew. "Though I am sad to see (the musicians) go, I believe and hope that the demand for a space like Blu Jaz will be filled by another place."
Undergraduate Zenas Oh, 23, thinks that those affected “will recover soon enough”.
“While it is sad how things have turned out, I think it isn’t the end of the arts and music scene. While we may have lost a space, we have not lost the people, the talents and the passion.”
As the curtain falls on Blu Jaz’s small stage, Wei reflects on his nine years performing for Singapore’s jazz aficionados.
“l'm thankful for the opportunities I've had to play at Blu Jaz. It was the one place I went to whenever I needed a kick in my own artistic growth,” he said.
“Although I empathise with the fact that Blu Jaz needed a certain number of patrons to cover rent, I feel they could have been more open with us," he said. "A lot of the bands I talked with were oblivious to the overcrowding issue."
“It would be presumptuous to point fingers at the authorities without getting all the facts… I don't think law enforcement jumps to conclusions without conducting thorough investigations,” he said.
“One thing I've learned from being in this scene for so long is that nothing lasts forever and change is inevitable. It's what you do afterwards that determines how much you grow.”