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By Tom Murphy
When I first started getting into jazz almost two decades ago, I listened repeatedly to Chet. It's a gorgeous Chet Baker album comprising mostly ballads, ideal for a late-night seduction. At the same time, I was frequenting a jazz club in Santa Barbara that featured Nate Birkey, a trumpeter heavily schooled in the ways of Baker — everything from his tone to his wispy vocals. Birkey even looked a bit like Baker.
Once, when my dad came to visit, we stopped by the club for a few drinks and to listen to Birkey, and started chatting up two lovely Australian women in their mid-forties. Dad started dishing out the charm, smooth as hell. This was a side of him I'd never seen before, and they were probably the most beautiful two hours I ever spent with him. Birkey provided the perfect soundtrack for the whole thing, and I mentioned that evening in my dad's eulogy after he passed away four years later.
Until recently, I had no idea that Birkey had grown up in Evergreen before moving to Santa Barbara (and subsequently New York, where he lives now). And when I heard that he would be playing at Nissi's, 2675 North Park Drive in Lafayette, I figured it was high time I finally made the trek to that club — which is really no farther from Denver than Boulder.
At Nissi's, I took a seat at the "bar," which is more of a counter near the back. I could've gotten a table, but I didn't want to stick out as the solo guy among all those couples sipping wine and sitting at candlelit tables. Even on a Wednesday, the place was about three-quarters full, and it can seat up to 130 people. Nissi's brings in live music most nights of the week, including a cappella acts on Tuesdays, jazz acts on Wednesdays and a variety of bands on the weekends.
I was impressed by the room's acoustics when Birkey opened his set with Cole Porter's "All of You." But a few songs later, the chatter of the crowd started getting in the way of a near-perfect listening experience, especially on a ballad the trumpeter was playing. It reminded me of the documentary Let's Get Lost, where an older Chet Baker, irate at a bickering audience, talks about how he once played for crowds so attentive he could hear a pin drop. At Nissi's, the talking eventually tapered off right around the time the couples were finishing their dinners, which looked quite tasty. And once they quieted down, I found myself really liking the place, even if it's a tad classier than most of the joints I'm used to. I just wish Pops had been there to share the experience, especially since I was sitting beside two gals.
Club scout: Not too far from Nissi's, the Waterloo Icehouse, at 809 South Main Street in Louisville, will celebrate its first anniversary on September 1 with its first annual Birthday Bash, Labor Day, Music, Beer and BBQ Festival at Steinbaugh Pavilion, a block away at 824 Front Street. And since owner Ryan Karp's father started Austin's Waterloo Records (which inspired the name of the spot) over 25 years ago, it's only fitting that he's bringing in some damn fine Austin musicians for the occasion, including Junior Brown, Joe Ely, the South Austin Jug Band and the Belleville Outfit. Local singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov will kick off the festivities at noon, and if the music isn't enough to convince you to make the drive, John Lennon's 1965 Rolls-Royce will also be on display.
Comedy Works South (5345 Landmark Place, Greenwood Village) is gearing up for its grand opening October 10 and 11; George Lopez will help inaugurate the three-story, 21,000-square-foot spot that includes a 450-person showroom, a lounge, a restaurant, and a ballroom that will be available for private events, parties and receptions. Bob Saget, Jimmy Fallon and Kathleen Madigan will appear throughout October.