Justin’s Without Jazz?


Say it ain’t so…

Is the venerable Justin’s taking jazz off of the menu?


Justin’s without jazz is like, well, it’s like…

Laurel without Hardy
Simon without Schuster
peanut butter without jelly
day without night
oh, you get the idea…

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Recently, we received the unfortunate news that in February Justin’s on Lark Street in Albany will discontinue its policy of booking live jazz music. We couldn’t believe it.

There have been other jazz venues in Albany, of course, from the Gemini Jazz Cafe to the Yorkstone Pub, but there was always Justin’s. Over the years, we’ve seen countless fabulous performances at Justin’s – national acts like Tom Harrell, Danillo Perez and Eugene Freisen, as well as such Nippertown jazz titans as Nick Brignola, Lee Shaw and Brian Patneaude.

Of course, times are tough. And it was obvious that jazz at Justin’s was taking its share of the economic hit back in October when the club ended the eight-and-a-half-year Sunday night residency of Patneaude and his band.

But now it appears that was only the tip of the iceberg, and Justin’s plans to eliminate all live jazz bookings by February.

So please stop by Justin’s. Have a bite to eat. Have a drink. And tell someone how much the music means to you and how important it is to your Justin’s experience.

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21 Responses to “Justin’s Without Jazz?”

  1. Eric says:

    Wow, with the declining food quality, increasingly condescending attitude of management and staff and just generally overall unfriendly vibe in there, music was the only reason I had to ever step foot in that place anymore. Oh well, jazz and local music will live on… Justin’s probably won’t.

  2. Justin’s without Jazz is like Justin’s without customers.

  3. Great… Let’s rename the joint, DeJohn’s 2.

    Variety is a dying bird on Lark Street.

  4. Jack Track says:

    The region is truly in dire straits when it comes to live music, and the lack of perfomance venues. A shame.

  5. Chris says:

    The food has really gone downhill. It’s sad to see such a great place fall apart.

  6. Matthew says:


    If someone were to open a “Listening Room” in Center Square/Lark/AnywhereInAlbany, would people go to it?

    Would people pay a premium to attend quality shows in a great listening environment on a regular basis?

    Along those thoughts, what is your wishlist for a venue in town? What specific things would you like to see happen in Albany in terms of places to witness music?

    Seeking positive feedback, please.

  7. Rosemary Brennan says:

    What a shame!!! Why would I go there?

  8. Sara says:


    I don’t think you can be all things to all people, but its possible to gain a critical mass within a given genre. Albany Sonic Arts has been having some success with ambient/experimental/freeform shows.

    Some thoughts off the top of my head? I think a short list of the requirements would be:

    consistently high quality shows – affiliate your name with a certainty of quality.
    good press/communications skills to get the word out
    a good sound system

    The most ineffable requirement: creating a feeling of community so people want to seek you out and hang out with you because it’s a cool thing.

    The most overlooked requirement: comfortable seating – remember that not everybody is tall or happy to stand up for 2 hours.

  9. Rudy says:

    Sara has some good points. I would like to add off street parking to the list. It is such a hassle to find parking in the Center Square area, I have generally avoided it except when I really want to see an act. I am glad there are venues in Schenectady and Saratoga that do have that available. Now only if people would visit these venues just to listen to jazz rather than talk and have it as a backdrop (Apertivo) we could start scenes in other areas if Albany venues decide to choose different routes,

  10. Sara says:

    I would say that parking in the evenings in Center Square is easy-peasy compared to parking during the day, but still, if you have to walk two blocks on those tree-lined streets, blocking out a lot of the street lights, yeah, that’s pretty daunting to someone who’s used to shopping-mall type illumination. (I’m not advocating cutting down trees.)

    I do think we’re living in interesting times, when rules that were previously set in stone are now swimming in a liquid that no one can yet identify. If ever there was a time to leap, it would be now.

  11. J Hunter says:

    I have to say the signs have been there for a while now: The weekly bill has been shrinking over the last few months. It used to be 5 nights of jazz, then it was 3. I can’t speak to whether the cuisine has gone downhill, since I’ve only gone in there twice in 2 years. But while I’ll always have great musical memories of Justin’s (My then-girlfriend introduced me to the place — and Nick Brignola — nearly 30 years ago), I won’t miss the rudeness that seems to go with any concert space that serves food: The place sounds like a cafeteria, and the patrons think they’re allowed to have loud conversations because the musicians are “making too much noise.” It’s why I’m glad the menu at the VanDyck’s upstairs concert space is limited. It’s a nice subliminal message: “If you want dinner, go downstairs. If you want to listen to music, order a drink and shut up!”

  12. J Hunter says:

    I think Matthew makes some good points, both about music and atmosphere. I’ll admit I’m one of those people who does look for comfortable seating and good sightlines in a venue. If I could sum up some of the comments I’ve read here, it seems Justin’s had been getting really lazy on an overall basis. You can’t expect your core audience to keep coming back no matter what you offer — good food or bad food, good service or lousy service. What’s more, one of the biggest problems Justin’s has had is an over-reliance on the local scene. While I think the Capital Region jazz community is stronger than it’s ever been (Sorry, Nick fans, but life goes on…), the VanDyck’s proven you can bring well-known national acts into a club setting here and do well, and still make space for groups like Big Soul Ensemble.

  13. I’ve never been inside the recently vacated Planned Parenthood building, so I’ve no idea if the space could accommodate a listening room crowd, but it does come with off-street parking. There’s also the old Larkin building, but I’ve heard that the current owner simply wants too much for the space and the building requires work – possibly structural. Does anyone have insight into what DiNapoli’s plans are for the Lark Tavern building?

    @Matthew – I know these are vague and and intangible qualities, but I think that the characteristics of a good listening room emanate from the manager/owner: open mind (and ears), willing to take risks, and a friendly, yet sharp demeanor. Keen sense of style a plus…

  14. Jeff says:

    I guess I’m in the minority on this one- I’m glad Justin’s is changing formats. It’s a venue in a prime spot that could host a wider variety of music, and draw more people in. Anytime that I went in I felt like I was surrounded by a bunch of arrogant hipsters who seemed to only be there so that they could look or feel ‘cool’. You can’t build a business around that vibe and I think the club knows it. Hopefully, the change will generate buzz and keep the club in operation.

  15. Mike says:

    I’m in complete agreement with J Hunter about the noise and the crowd. At the old Van Dyck, Marvin Friedman (rest his soul) used to go up to patrons who were making too much noise and say something to the effect of “would you please lower your voice’ so that the other patrons can hear the artist.” I think to the point that if they refused he would ask them to leave or so that’s the story. Managers are more afraid of losing the customer at the expense of the musicians and the listening crowd. There’s a big cultural divide nowadays with so many genres and sub-cultures competing. Gone are the days when the pop/dance/listening music of the era was jazz for everyone in America. I have a friend who is a jazz organist who left Philly because he was only working at a VFW hall on Sundays for 50. / Now he’s making a great living gigging all the time. The reason: he now lives in Tokyo! / Go figure.

  16. Matthew says:

    Hey thanks for all the great replies!

    Please chime in if you have more ideas.

    Where I’m coming from: I haven’t lived in Albany in over ten years now, but have fond, fond memories as a Center Square resident (and St. Rose student) spending countless hours at the various weekly jazz nights that were held back then (96-01).

    First, I was introduced to the Tuesday nights at the Lionheart (currently Bombers Upstairs), spearheaded by George Muscatello. That night was simply killer and was full of great listeners and enthusiastic ears. This eventually petered out as they started charging a cover along with a few other buzz-killing situations.

    Then the night moved to Café Hollywood for a brief period, then to Savannah’s for a few years in the Monday night slot.

    And while Justin’s has had jazz throughout that entire time, it seems to be conclusive that everything will eventually burn out for whatever reason and a new situation will sprout up in its place.

    What I see is that there is a HUGE, general gaping hole in the Capital Region for a serious listening room that will hopefully be filled by someone with much more motivation, capital and wherewithal than I.

    Or even a room that can coddle, handle and draw mid-high level touring acts on a regular basis.

    I imagine a place where Brian Blade Fellowship can set up shop for two nights, followed by a night of LOW. Then maybe the week after, Phosphorescent can come clear the wind out of everyone’s sails while mopping up Mountain Man’s mess from the night before. All the while making time for Que Caro’s second LP release party, or Railbird’s triumphant return from their world tour.

    A man can dream, no?

    Thanks again, everyone… let’s keep this good energy going!

  17. There’s a lid to every jar.

  18. B says:

    Matthew, I think you’re basically talking about a slightly less divey version of Valentines, on Lark.

    People manage to attend events like First Friday and pack the bars without off street parking. Should at least be enough foot traffic to make an impression.

    Some sort of events on weekday evenings could bring state workers up from Pearl/State/Washington, a kind of sonic happy hour.

    If a location is found, could be a viable Kickstarter project. Offer a comp for those who give above a small threshold. VIP status for special events or a blowout invite-only opening for those who contribute substantially more.

    The area seems ready.

  19. Memories of once was does not build an audience, or a successful venue.
    So are we talking about a JB Scott’s for the new generation? One built for comfort of patrons, of course. There’s been a few tries at a smallish-midsize room, but it seems the attempts were short funded or withered for a variety of reasons.

  20. Jack Track says:


    all efforts should be put into re-opening Rev Hall. Maybe even scaled down fron its previous scope

    I’ve hear rumors to the effect that there is some sort of co-op effort to do just that.

    I think Phan Art Pete might be involved. Hit him up for some info

    Let’s try, as a community, to make something like this happen

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