By Amber McLinden
CALGARY — The Canadian music scene is essentially a small city, made up of various neighbourhoods that don’t meet up in the centre of town as often as maybe they could. Each scene has its gathering places: from derelict, esoteric joints that do their best to survive while still providing an excellent and eclectic musical experience, to larger clubs that thrive with the hum of large shows, big headliners, and events that bring music to bigger crowds of more mainstream tastes. In the middle ground though, are the medium-scale venues that create communities around themselves, enhancing the neighbourhoods they’re in, and becoming a destination venue for music lovers, and for the artists themselves. In this, the third in our Roots section’s profiles of Calgary’s venues, we make our way to Inglewood and pay a visit to Lolita’s Lounge.
Situated on Ninth Avenue S.E. in the heart of Inglewood, on top of a Mexican restaurant, Lolita’s Lounge offers a unique perspective on Calgary’s ever-changing live music scene.
The 1940s-themed venue is a host to many events, ranging anywhere from drag shows to comedy nights. Yet the most unique thing about the venue might be their dedication to jazz music. Through a series lovingly titled Just Jazz, the club hosts a plethora of jazz jammers every Friday night.
“More mainstream types of music were taking over and a lot of jazz bars closed,” Alisa Grosser, Lolita’s manager, tells BeatRoute. “They wanted to concentrate on that, to just have something where that older clientele was relating to the jazz and not let[ting] it go.”
Established in 2011, Lolita’s took over Club Paradiso, as well as its vintage theme. Just Jazz however only came about two years ago, when Lolita’s connected with JazzYYC (one of Calgary’s biggest jazz presenters). The night might be dedicated to jazz, but they strive to provide as much diversity as they can within the genre. Young, old, local, touring, vocal, instrumental, you’ll find it all, Friday nights at Lolita’s.
“I relate more to the vocal ones, because I can sing along and I find it more entertaining for me.” Grosser explains. “But for other ‘jazzies’ that come in, they will just sit there and close their eyes and listen to the music, it’s actually quite interesting to see that.”
Lolita’s also operates differently than Calgary’s other bar venues. JazzYYC finds the acts that play Just Jazz, and all the door money goes directly to the artist. The lounge acts as a platform for jazz musicians to perform without sapping money from the artists. Yet like any bar, lounge, or club, Lolita’s can attest to the difficulty of keeping the doors open in these trying economic times. Being one of the only places that has an evening dedicated to jazz, trying to diversify but stay consistent with the music choice can be a balancing act. Grosser hopes to add blues and swing to the lineup, as well as adding to the only two nights a week in which the bar is currently open.
The allure of jazz music is a lot more personal than popular, Grosser explains. “Discovering music that you’ve never even heard of [is the best part]. We have one regular, and we basically base our opinion on him, because if he gets up in the middle it means it wasn’t good, but if he stays until the end and asks for a cab home, then we know it was a good night.”
But Just Jazz is around for the long haul, Grosser attests. The venue’s hands-off approach to booking artists means that they never know what to expect. Some nights, it’s packed and on other nights only a few people show up. In either situation, things tend to work out for the best.
“Even the less popular ones sometimes are one of the best bands I’ve ever heard, you know? It’s interesting, I wish people would give it a try a bit more, they’d see different things, but that’s not always the case.”
What does the future of Lolita’s and Just Jazz look like? “[Just Jazz] is sticking around, for sure. I think it’s something that we need, and it’s good. Not a lot of places just have jazz, but it’s also good to maybe open up to other things as well. I don’t know, time will tell.”
Lolita’s Lounge is located above Salt & Pepper at 1413 – 9 Ave. S.E., Just Jazz happens every Friday night.AB, Alberta, Inglewood, jazz, JazzYYC, Just Jazz, Lolita's Lounge, roots venues