Something about Mary

“We used to say that we’d bring jazz to Sacramento one club at a time. Now it’s one house at a time.” So sayeth Vivian Lee, jazz songstress and booster of jazz music about town. Lee is largely responsible for the ongoing Sunday Evening Jazz at Savannah’s Lounge, a series that brings mostly traditional jazz acts from around the country to Sacramento.

Of course, when you’re Vivian Lee, one success is not enough. Sunday Evening Jazz leaves Monday through Saturday wide open. And so it is that Lee has teamed up with KXJZ DJ George Esposito to bring jazz to another venue on Wednesday nights. Which venue? Esposito’s house.

Truthfully, Esposito’s house (or, more accurately, his back porch) practically demands to become a venue. It’s intimate to be sure, holding 45 to 50 people max, but that makes the performances all the more special. An overarching tree acts as a natural frame for the “stage” (the corner of the porch), and flanking vines and greenery make the scene look more like a fancy restaurant than a private residence.

Lee’s tastes in jazz run toward the traditional, so it’s no great surprise that last Wednesday night’s porch performance by Whirled Jazz made me think of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Tom Bergeron’s jazz flute is what put me over; every time the instrument went to his lips, I could see Moore flouncing her way across the street. Pick any 1970s television show; the concert was like the incidental music that played between the commercials and the next scene. Lou Grant says something funny, cut to a commercial, cut back, enter Whirled Jazz, bring on Mary Tyler Moore.

Quoted out of context, that sounds like a negative review. To the contrary, Whirled Jazz was so good at its smooth 1970s jazz sound that it was almost breathtaking—particularly under the canopy of trees on a warm summer evening. After all, when’s the last time you heard Mary Tyler Moore jazz live? For me, the answer would be never. Every member of the band knew exactly the kind of mood to evoke, and they did so by way of tone: smooth, clear, even and exciting (in a quiet, mellow way). In the end, even Esposito’s dogs could see Moore in their doggie imaginations, and they periodically barked to let us all know.

As for Lee herself, the calendar at shows three upcoming dates for her in August—something that has grown increasingly rare. One begins to forget that Lee is a performer first and a jazz booker, booster and promoter second. No doubt, she’ll remind us of that fact with these new performances. It’s about time.

For more news on the Wednesday-night series, or to make reservations, contact Lee directly at (916) 723-5517 (press 4) or via e-mail at

In other news, the locally made movie Her Minor Thing, starring Estella Warren and Rachel Dratch, is about to premiere at this month’s Sacramento Film and Music Festival. The good news for local music fans is that singer-songwriter Dre contributed music to the film, at the direct request of the film’s producer. Locals can check the movie out at the Crest Theatre on August 17. The rumor is that Dre and her mad posse of folksters may perform live at the opening, but that is yet to be confirmed. More on Dre at