Have you ever checked into a hotel at night, walked past the bar on your way to the elevator and noticed a woman singing behind a piano or a man crooning with a guitar inside? They are there for ambiance. Maybe they bring in a few local friends, but generally they are part of the background, there to give a 4 or 5 star hotel another note of luxury. They are not there to put on a show or be the focus of attention.
The artists playing this luxury background music are often in residencies – they are there on certain days each week, and they are often relatively well-paid by live music standards. Plus it is regular money. A college friend of mine who plays piano in luxury hotel bars, pays for his lifestyle in a major city including ski trips to Colorado with residencies.
Over years I have been covering music in LA I have noticed the confluence of two forces – the proliferation of skillful independent promoters, and hotels putting in more dedicated spaces for music where they can host bands and artists who are there to put on a show, not just add to the luxury vibe. Last week I attended a high energy jazz, blues and R&B show (with dancing!) in such a space at the Sofitel Hotel in Beverly Hills.
Sofitel hotels are owned by AccorHotels of Paris, France, and many of the management are French (or at least speak with French accents). The Riviera31 Bar and Lounge, hidden inside the Sofitel Beverly Hillis is that hotel’s space dedicated to performance music,. It is owned by the hotel and was recently upgraded to accommodate a crowd there for music and dancing beyond their normal jazz Monday nights. Now they can and handle salsa celebrations and full on bands.
The full-on band last Friday night was Parlor Social, which most recently brought down the house at the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. Described as post-hip hop neo ragtime soul band that says of itself, ‘if Cab Calloway, Lauryn Hill and Outkast would have a love-child, it would sound like Parlor Social”. Parlor Social is made up of Madonna’s touring piano player Ric’key Pageot, and former Circ du Soliel singer and high flying dancer Dessy Di Lauro. The couple has won numerous awards among them two Hollywood Music in Media Awards, including Best R&B/Soul Song of the Year. Getting to see them up close at the Sofitel was a treat.
Credit for that treat belongs to Ryan Cross, jazz musician and indie promoter who specializes in bringing great jazz and R&B talent to offbeat venues like the Rivera31 and plays there himself. Ryan is part of a community of smaller independent producers in LA, many of whom are often musicians. They specialize in a particular genre or type of music. Luis Polanco is an example. His production team brings in rising and well-known Latino bands and artist is an example. He recently brought the Mexican star Flor Amargo to the cavernous Los Globos and filled it with very happy people.
Another example is Julieta Isela, whose platform, The Living Sessions, not only brings live music to small stages, but also interviews, reviews and features online, mostly with Latino or fusion bands. Isela has also produced all women rock nights. Another independent promoter is Lauri Reimer, who is also a dancer, fitness instructor, backup singer and promoter who works with Rob Morrow’s RMB band and books major charity shows with impressive list of rockers, and then sings background during their sets.
This community of indie producers are not so much competition for the big dogs like Live Nation, but fill small and medium-sized venues like The Mint, the El Ray, Los Globos, even the renowned Hotel Café. They work with young artists, rising artists, middle-of-their-career artists, or A-list artists on the backside of their careers, contributing to LA’s amazing variety of excellent live music every night. They are always looking for new opportunities, venues that are not controlled by a corporation or that don’t have their booker, like hotels.
Which means that dedicated hotel music spaces are being added to LA’s 350 or so venues, giving artists yet another outlet, music lovers a comfortable place to listen and/or dance, and given me a national level jazz group literally 5 feet from me while I relaxed in a soft couch with a delicious blue cocktail in my hand. Hep Hep!.