Jazzed in Truckee
J.J. Morgan at Moody’s Bistro & Lounge
“For jazz, it’s crucial to stick to your guns,” says J.J. Morgan, co-owner of Moody’s Bistro & Lounge in Truckee, one of the lesser-known venues for live jazz in the greater Reno area.
“We made a commitment that we would have music and food … We will never cut the music,” he says, explaining Moody’s dedication to the seemingly simple but often elusive formula of good food plus good music.
Previously, Morgan co-owned the Up & Down Club in San Francisco. (One of his fellow co-owners was supermodel Christy Turlington.) The club opened in 1992 and offered a stage for numerous up-and-coming jazz musicians.
“There was the movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s—the rock movement,” Morgan says. “And this was another huge time in San Francisco music history … There were like 10 or 15 clubs that had live music. There were tons and tons of great, great young musicians.”
In 1993, the CD Up & Down Club Sessions: Vol. I was released. The disc, produced by Morgan, featured live performances by several of the artists who regularly performed at the club such as Alphabet Soup, Josh Jones Jazz Ensemble, Eddie Marshall Hip-Hop Jazz Band and Charlie Hunter, who played a regular Friday night show at the club. In 1994, the CD, a combination of straight-ahead and acid jazz, was nominated for a Bammie (Bay Area Music Award) in the Outstanding Jazz Album category.
“Ninety-two to ‘96 was awesome,” Morgan says of the then flourishing scene.
The jazz scene hit a speed bump during the late ‘90s dot-com boom and bust. The boom drove up rents and musicians moved away—many for New York, which was no longer any more expensive than San Francisco. The subsequent bust left many clubs reluctant to spend money on live music. The Up & Down Club even stopped having live music when Morgan departed in 1997.
“I don’t know if it was a situation where the kids with the dot-com money weren’t interested in that kind of music, or what happened, but it was a big, big part of San Francisco in the ‘90s, and that financial change nixed it,” Morgan says.
Five years after leaving the Up & Down Club, Morgan again opened a venue for jazz musicians, this time in a town not well known for its jazz scene. Morgan partnered with Chef Mark Estee and opened Moody’s on the ground floor of the Truckee Hotel.
Moody’s features fine food—Morgan describes Estee as “probably the best chef in this area"—and there is live music Wednesday through Saturday. There is never a cover charge, even when the performers are as illustrious as Charlie Hunter, Dred Scott or the Josh Roseman Unit, all of whom have performed at Moody’s.
The most famous performer to have graced the small stage at Moody’s, however, is not a jazz musician, nor was he even scheduled to perform. Paul McCartney, in town for a ski trip, dined at a secluded table in the restaurant and then gave a short impromptu performance. Having been born after Beatlemania, Morgan was astonished by the media attention given to McCartney’s visit.
“It was mind-blowing how much press came out of that … it was on CNN for 36 hours on World News. Like they kidnapped someone in Iraq, and then ‘Paul McCartney ski town surprise’ … We got calls from all over the country.” McCartney later made a second visit and gave a second impromptu performance.
Though there is no surplus of venues for live jazz in this area, Morgan claims there’s no shortage of excellent musicians.
“UNR has a great music program, and that’s been an anchor part of our line-up.”
Mentioning a few locals off the top of his head—Hans Halt, Caleb Dolister and Grant Levin—he says, “they’d be standing out in San Francisco; they’d be standing out in New York.”
George Souza, who regularly performs at Moody’s, used to play the Newport Jazz Festival.
“There are some pretty bad-ass people around."