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Tula's: Seattle Jazz Club

Jason West By

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On the east side of Second Avenue, between Blanchard and Bell St., there's something for everyone. For the rockers there's The Crocodile; for the mods there's The Lava Lounge; for margaritas there's Mama's Mexican Kitchen; an for the best local jazz six nights a week, there's Tula's.
With blinds drawn and only a modest blue neon sign over the entrance, Tula's can be easily missed, yet once you open her tinted glass doors and step inside-away from the noisy, mingling crowds on the strip-you'll feel as if you've entered a hipper, classier world. Newcomers receive the pleasurable shock of intimate light illuminating a warm, wooden interior. Seated close to the bandstand, well-dressed patrons speak in hushed tones, respectful of the musicians on stage.
A few moments later and you're encouraged by Raymond, Tula's always ebullient host, to relax and make yourself comfortable. If you are hungry the entrees are tasty and reasonably priced (averaging around ten dollars a plate). If you are thirsty you have your choice of 12 beers on tap, fine wines and liquors. And if it's great jazz you're after, then just listen.
It should be immediately noted that the austere, rock-of-a-man behind the sprawling, green bar is one Elliot Mack Waldron, Tula's owner and chief bartender. A native Texan, Mack is a veteran jazzman with 26 years experience in Navy bands as a player and bandleader. In the service he was considered a players' bandleader. Today he's considered a players' club owner.

How do you become a millionaire running a jazz club? Start with two. That humor isn't lost on Mack, who could have retired to "planting flowers or things of that nature" rather than take the gamble of opening Tula's. Actually, there was little hesitation. After serving in the Navy, Mack resolved to continue his affair with jazz. "I love the music," he says. "It's very exciting to participate and I feel like I'm contributing something to further young musicians in the Seattle area." Unlike most club owners, who aren't music savvy, Mack knows his jazz. He books the bands, treats musicians well, pays a decent wage, and therefore ensures that Seattle's fine crop of jazz talent keep coming back to play.

The club's honor role of local jazz luminaries includes guitarist, Milo Peterson; pianist, John Hansen; reedman, Don Lanphere; trumpeter and bandleader, Jim Knapp; trumpeter/saxophonist Jay Thomas (whose most recent CD is entitled "Live at Tula's"); and vocalists Greta Matassa and Jay Clayton.

Quite often, up and coming jazz heavies-not quite big enough to play Jazz Alley-will gig a few nights at Tula's, accompanied by our local players. In July, Bobby Porcelli and Ray Vega, both members of Tito Puente's band, performed with the New Stories trio. On August 29th, New York's Bob Moses and Charles Pillow shared the stage with Jim Knapp and Pax Wallace. One of the club's biggest advocates is bassist Chuck Bergeron, for years a NY musician, who now makes his home here. This year Chuck has made a point of bringing top talent to Seattle, with Mack providing the ideal venue. Tula's playlist so far includes Bergeron compatriots, Dave Pietro, Charles Pillow, and John Fedchock. John Hart will be here in early November.

Certainly, it is rare that a club owner is so well respected by the musicians he hires. In response Mack says, "We have a mutual admiration. I admire them for their musicianship, and I think they do appreciate me for providing a venue for them to perform." Admiration's warm glow is contagious and can be easily found among Tula's clientele: ladies and gentlemen who enjoy being part of something special, refined and classy. From snuggling, romantic couples, to large-partied celebrants, to highschool musicians intent on listening to Seattle's best-jazz at Tula's attracts all kinds of discriminating, intelligent ears. And the word is starting to spread. Like Mack says, "Good people tend to invite other good people, and good players tend to invite other great jazz players."

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