(Nestor Torres performing this past Thursday at Jazziz)
“We’re a jazz club, but we’re not,” said Jazziz Nightlife owner Michael Fagien as he introduced his club’s headliner, Nestor Torres, last night. This self-contradictory statement perfectly describes Jazziz, but you have to visit to believe it.
It’s certainly a jazz club, in that jazz musicians constitute the bulk – but not necessarily all – of the acts that grace its stage. But it’s not yesterday’s picture of a jazz club, with its cramped tables, shadowy non-lighting, and the overwhelming stench of cigarette smoke wafting into the brass instruments wailing with hedonistic anarchy onstage. This is a jazz club Boca style: A new Mizner Park anchor (it officially opened at the beginning of this month) that is as classy in its presentation and service as any five-star restaurant, with a menu of classic comfort food (hamburgers and pizzas are top sellers) bedazzled with gourmet filigree. In addition to the piano bar and private, glass-enclosed “chef’s table,” there also are dedicated bars for caviar, cigars, and Champagne, in case you forgot you were in Boca.
I visited Jazziz for the first time last night, in part to interview Fagien, its passionate and charismatic founder whose career as a jazz impresario dates back to 1983 with his first, groundbreaking publication of Jazziz magazine (there will be more on Fagien in the Sept-Oct issue of Boca Raton, so stay tuned). But I also wanted to sample the food and catch a show, both of which exceeded the high standards indicated by their costs. I tried a rich Caesar salad, which was given a spiky kick with fresh-ground black pepper. It led into the killer Jazziz beef burger, a succulent beef slab with a house-made bun, cheddar cheese and garlic aioli, which had the familiar brilliance of a Charm City burger – an establishment Fagien admits influenced his chefs’ burger concoctions. And for dessert, ordering anything less than the chocolate chip bread budding topped with vanilla ice cream would be considered a shameful deprivation to your taste buds.
As for the music, it was terrific, of course. Celebrated Puerto Rican flautist Nestor Torres performed in Mizner Park for the first time in a decade, playing to multiple standing ovations, alongside a percussionist, drummer, bassist and keyboardist. He worked the flute likes Miles worked the trumpe – his fast, nimble fingers gliding gracefully across his instrument as he traversed the length of the stage.
When he took the mike, Torres described his music as somewhere in between calculated control and totally improvised abandon, and that sounds just about right. His songs invariably suggested Caribbean relaxation, Middle Eastern jubilance, pop sophistication and classical elegance, pulling all the way from his earliest material. (His set list included “Daybreak,” “Make You Dance,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “If I Could,” “Alfonsina y el mar,” “Biscayne,” and “Over the Rainbow.”)
It was a pretty stellar experience, and Jazziz has plenty of eclectic surprises up its sleeve over the next month, including Jon Secada (on June 12 and 13) and former “Tonight Show” bandleader Kevin Eubanks (June 26 and 27). Fagien also told me he plans to book at least one non-jazz musician a month, to mix it up, and he’s eying Sinbad and Jamie Foxx for future dates. Sounds awfully appropriate for a jazz club that isn’t a jazz club.
Jazziz is located at 201 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. For information, visit 561/300-0732 or visit jazziznightlife.com.