The Velvet Note plays a sweet song for jazz musicians and devotees
Written by Carl Danbury
“Jazz is all about imagination. We’re going to the same forest, but not to the same trees,” renowned tenor saxophonist Benny Golson said recently.
It was imagination, combined with a strong business acumen and a keen sense for spotting an underserved market that enabled Tamara Fuller to launch The Velvet Note. And, while she chose a venue that doesn’t scream jazz, music or composition, some forms of jazz feature syncopation, and in that regard, the strip shopping plaza off Old Milton Parkway in Alpharetta is perhaps the only reason the venue isn’t more highly regarded than it already is. For musicians, particularly jazz musicians, The Velvet Note is a godsend. Often, those who perform jazz are relegated to playing at annual festivals, private parties or in noisy environs where the music itself is secondary to the club’s vibe. Essentially, jazz was always intended to create a mood, not to suffer from it, and this comfortable acoustic living room accentuates the chill mode for its guests, which is particularly contrary to the typical rush of the busy thoroughfare outside its doors.
On a recent Saturday evening, a dozen of us ascended on The Velvet Note to listen to Linda Cole, cousin to Nat King Cole, and a trio of exceptional musicians, Joshua Bowles (piano), Billy Thornton (bass) and Justin Varnes (drums). Intimacy is the featured act at The Note, which seats about 40 people, and the acoustics were meticulously crafted by design engineer George Seldon to provide the purest vocal and instrumental reception available to a live audience. We were seated in the center of the room no more than 15 to 20 feet from the stage, and from this vantage point we not only witnessed the intricate exploits of Thornton’s fingers but also felt his zeal for delighting the audience. Not to be outdone, Bowles mastery of the keyboard left us awestruck, while Varnes supplied the perfect beat on the drums and cymbals. Ms. Cole lent a certain nuance to the performance, with what is billed as “conversational intimacy.” She engaged the audience — tempting us to eavesdrop on the trio — as if we were listening to “party line” telephone conversation. Her versions of “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face,” “Pennies from Heaven,” and “I Thought about You” truly showcased the talents of the musicians, rather than her own immense vocal abilities.
Fuller capitalized upon her extraordinary skills to elevate the live music scene in Alpharetta. She attended Duke University and graduated from the masters program at Fielding Graduate University. More recently, she left behind a corporate career in human development and weaved her passion for jazz, a knack for creating comfortable environs for her patrons, and her zeal for fine food, craft wines, beers and spirits into an alluring business. However, it is Fuller’s ability to book great performers to appear at The Velvet Note is unsurpassed. The club has hosted such jazz dignitaries as Dianne Schuur, Grammy award-winner Yonrico Scott and Lew Soloff to name just a few. Future performers include guitarist Earl Klugh and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon.
The cuisine and libations at The Note are as much in concert as the music. Crab cakes, flatbread, sea bass and other tasty dishes are served on the “finest plastic plates” available, so the clinking and clattering of silverware on plates doesn’t distract from the music. You see, Fuller simply hasn’t missed a beat, down to the smallest detail, so that the musicians and the patrons both benefit from the experience. With more innovations on tap in the coming months, The Velvet Note is destined for more sweet sounds, both on stage and from the adulation of its devotees.
Most weekend performances (Friday through Sunday) feature two shows ticketed by performance, one beginning at 7 or 7:30 p.m., and another at 9 or 9:30 p.m. Open Mic Jams are held most Thursday evenings for local performers to showcase their talents. A list of upcoming performances can be found at thevelvetnote.com/schedule-ticketing.
The Velvet Note
4075 Old Milton Parkway
Alpharetta, GA 30005