"Kelly's becoming hot spot"
by Steve Monroe 9/06
While the weather is starting to turn cool with the fading of summertime, the hot sounds of jazz promise to enliven one Northeast neighborhood for sometime to come. The coming of jazz on saturday nights at Kelly's Ellis Island Restaurant and Pub in the Brookland neighborhood has featured many nights of crowds of enjoying the talents of some of the area's and the country's top performers.
A while back, vocalese guru and jazz evangelist George V Johnson Jr was on one of his walkabouts looking for a place to sprout jazz and bumped into Kelly's new owner, Tom McNiff, a New York City jazz guy looking to start something at his new DC restaurant.
Johnson has been helped mightily by other music veterans who join in to provide some steamy Saturday nights, notably drummer Lenny Robinson.
Robinson, who joins Johnson and company for at least a couple of Saturdays in September, has been a stalwart, anchoring groups led by Fred Foss and Antonio Parker on saxophone, and Bob Butta and Janelle Gill, amoung others, on piano.
One particular night in July, Foss, Parker, Robinson, Gill and Steve Novosel on bass were dropping some serious jazz on the eager listeners, with the intimate bar layout providing fans an opportunityto sit and stand within feet of the musicians. From the standard "Softly As In a Morning Sunrise" to other standards and then Johnson's rousing "Mother Africa," the band sizzled with Foss on tenor and Parker on alto, exchanging spiraling, gritty riffs, with Gilland Novosel backing them with lyrical flights of their own, and Robinson firing it all with his trademark efficient and tasteful intensity on drums.
If you want to check out more of Robinson, by the way, as hot as he played at Kelly's that night, his latest CD, "Songs I Like to Play" shows his versatility with his softer side, featuring "Close Your Eyes," Easy to Remember" an d"goodbye Porkpie Hat." Pianist Andrew Adair and Bob Butta are on the recording, with Gavin Fallow on bass.
Once a month Johnson films The George V Johnson Jr Show "JAZZ IZ COOKIN" for cable. Each guess is featured with their favorite recipe. Not only are they cookin on stage, but they're cookin in the kitchen. The show begins airing early October with a master piece featuring special guest, Washington DC's Antonio Parker and the legendary "BUCK HILL"....The wailing mailman! Buck Hill was captured in rare form, accompanined by some very notable world class musicians: Bob Butta, Steve Novosel, Lenny Robinson and George V Johnson singing his Mobley repetoire. This set is becoming one of the hottest in the area. Robinson was featured in the kitchen surrounded by a live audience with his "Salmon and Mambo Sauce", while Janelle Gill gave us raw Kale Greens with special additives. Last week Chef Muhammad from Morroco demonstrated Kelly's special "Crab Cake" dinner. Jazzically Delicious!
For great food, dinning and swinging jazz, come on out to Kelly's Ellis Island. The hippest spot in DC.
Comming attractions: September 9th - Michael Thomas, trumpet, September 16th - Fred Foss, saxophone & flute, September 23rd - Paul Carr - tenor sax, September 30 - Zulf, saxophone from Baku, Azerbaijan. See you there!