Monday, December 15, 2014

Take Five, Take Two

I’m not a journalist, I’m a blogger. As much as some bloggers on the national scene try to blur the distinction, I hold too much respect for Kansas City’s journalists to pretend to be something I’m not. Nonetheless, I contribute an occasional article to The Pitch, KC’s alternative weekly. A couple months back I wrote an introduction to the new location of Take Five. The editors wisely adjusted the focus of the article from the space and acoustics, as I wrote it, to the people. And they were right. The editors at The Pitch are among the professionals I respect.

The story is a bit dated now. Many of Kansas City’s jazz aficionados have experienced the wonderful new space, and all of the references to upcoming shows are shows which have passed. However, some may yet find this alternative take interesting. And since I have this blog where I can share it, below it is shared.


Walk into the new Take Five Coffee + Bar and immediately you notice the stage.

Customers knew Take Five by its lantern lights dangling from the ceiling and slanted wood beams. But at 26 feet across, defined by stacked stone, surrounding a house piano and drum kit, and visible from any seat in the room, the stage is the new Take Five’s visual signature.

“We never have been, at least after the first six months, your average coffee shop,” says owner Lori Chandler.

Six months into its original location at 151st and Nall, in July, 2010, Take Five held a fundraiser for local jazz ensemble Diverse. Four years later, Take Five had built a reputation as a suburban mecca for jazz. With superb acoustics and a living room ambiance, weekends might find wall-to-wall fans delighting in Kansas City's renaissance of young and veteran jazz talent. People were going out to listen to jazz in Johnson County.

“We’re either a coffee shop with a night job or a jazz club with a day job,” explains Chandler. “I don't know which. But they all work together and they have to work together. The music business is hard. The coffee shop business is hard. Putting them together has made it not so hard.”

Then last November, developers of Corbin Park called. The once-stalled shopping development at 135th and Metcalf, anchored by Von Maur, envisioned a strip of shops along a curving drive behind the department store as a mini entertainment district. From the initial discussion, developers understood the unique coffee shop-bar-jazz club that Chandler and her husband Doug had built. Lori remembers, “They were like, we know what you’ve been doing. We know how hard it is to have done that in the shopping center where you are. We know you have a great customer base. We know you do live music.” Corbin Park offered more than double the space.

Musicians and fans were delighted over Take Five’s success, but also felt trepidation. The jazz community had something special here. The acoustics were delightful happenstance. Nobody, not even Lori or Doug, expected jazz in that little shop to sound so perfect. And the cozy atmosphere was integral to the experience. Downtown’s Green Lady Lounge is another jazz club where the audience becomes a part of the stage, nearly sitting in musicians’ laps. But Green Lady isn’t a listening room. Take Five is. Could Take Five really be replicated in a larger space?

“I think we did it,” says Lori. “It was 100 percent by design. This orange is the exact same color as we had at the shop over there. We knew we needed the stacked stone. The only thing we’re missing is the wood beams.” Lori continues. “We wanted the low rise, so we still had that intimacy. It’s not a three foot or four foot stage. You’re still right there with the musicians, but they have a more defined space to work in. And we put in wood floors instead of tiles, which helps acoustically, but also all of the woodwork here brings the element of the beams that we had before, just in a different place. That was the goal.” The wood floor can also be used for dancing.

The front door opens to a bar at your right, to order drinks and food. Stools line one counter. Booths are tucked in by the windows, an area where people can talk. Then, to the left, is the living room, with plush chairs in front of the stage and tables and seats spread about. This area faces the stage. Over here, when musicians perform, don’t talk.

The entire shop is designed for acoustics. “The room is set on a whole bunch of different angles,” Lori explains. “The stage is angled. The acoustic tiles are slanted six inches back to front. This here” – she points to a slanted beam descending from the ceiling, over the ordering counter on the right – “breaks up the room. All of those things serve to trap sound.” She points towards another beam, facing the windows, designed to suppress sound from the espresso machine. “That was one of the problems we had in the old space. If you’re trying to make drinks, especially run a blender in the middle of a bass solo, we would have to take the blender back into the kitchen. The goal is we could be making drinks and the sound from the espresso machine goes up into the acoustic tiles and gets caught by that beam.”

More than double the space brings advantages. The old location had 32 seats before folding chairs were brought out. The new location seats 80. Lori adds, “We’ll have stacking chairs available. If we fill this place up and need to bring those out, that will be a wonderful problem.”

More space also means a complete kitchen. “We’re going to have an expanded appetizer menu,” Lori says. “We’re going to have expanded sandwich menus as well. We’re going to do Cubans, we’re going to do pulled pork. We’re going to have daily specials. We’re going to have expanded salads. We’re going to have options so you can get breakfast for dinner if you want to.”

Take Five will add a Sunday brunch from 10:00 to 2:00 starting November 2nd with Mark Lowrey. “It will always be a piano ensemble. No vocals. Brunch is an opportunity for families to gather together and talk. It will be the one music event where we don’t ask people to be quiet.”

Weekend jazz begins Friday, September 24th when saxophonist Rob Scheps returns with Steely Dan saxophonist Roger Rosenberg. Stan Kessler's double drummer group Parallax performs on Halloween night, in costume. And Sunday, November 2nd is the official reopening (they’re calling it a housewarming) with the People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City.

And while you’re there. just try to think of another coffee shop designed to hear bass solos.

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