Larry Williams, 20, is a music synthesis student at Berklee College who studied under nationally recognized trumpeter and teacher Fernando Pullum in South Central Los Angeles. Williams is one of the many students who has taken advantage of the opportunities at Café 939 to make a little extra money. (Margarita Persico photo)
|Café 939 has three rooms: the café, the nightclub, and the Allan McLean room, pictured here, which is a sitting room in the back. Named in appreciation of McLean, a trustee of Berklee College of Music since 1977, the room features photos of important and famous personalities who visited Berklee such as jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, Quincy Jones, Lawrence Berk and Duke Ellington. (Margarita Persico photo)|
Three months after Café 939 threw open its doors to the city’s music-playing masses, it looks like the Berklee College of Music venture on Boylston Street is accomplishing its goal: giving students support, offering artists a place to play, and providing live entertainment to people of all ages.
It’s also home to a mean panini, a tasty latte and some rocking cakes.
But the food is secondary to the coffeehouse/nightclub’s status as a space for students, artists and the community at large. According to Jacqueline Indrisano, booking agents and performing artists tell her that Boston was “long overdue” for such a multipurpose venue — particularly one that is alcohol-free, allowing entry to performers and fans under the age of 21.
They say that “this city really needed this,” said Indrisano, the college’s assistant director of student activities.
Berklee has two commercial venues on campus: the Berklee Performance Center, a Theatre District staple that seats 1,220 people; and the 200-capacity Café 939, named for its street address at 939 Boylston, next to the Cactus Club. The coffeehouse opened last December; the venue officially opened on April 1. The club runs shows Wednesday through Saturday, though Indrisano says she could book every night, since there are plenty of performers available.
Since it opened, the club has featured a variety of acts across a number of musical genres, from folk to bluegrass, rock to R&B, jazz to world and more. The booking diversity extends to 939’s themed series like “Executive Sessions,” which features CEOs and other executives from local corporations getting on stage to perform. As Indrisano spoke to the Banner, she was preparing for a performance by The Rockhoppers, a band in which Giles McNamee, the managing director of an investment banking firm, and Billy Kleinfeld, the head of trading of a securities corporation, share guitar and vocal duties.
Those looking for live sounds during the daytime can check out “The New Brew Lunchtime Concert Series,” featuring Berklee talent playing midday. The series runs this month on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 2 p.m., and will become a daily occurrence in the fall.
Outside of local booking quirks and attracting more established local, regional and national headlining musicians, the café also acts as something of an extension of the classroom, giving students the opportunity to work out performance kinks on stage in front of a live audience — and, Indrisano noted, without the pressure of a larger room.
“We are not going to throw anybody under the bus,” she said.
The learning continues off the stage, too, as Indrisano helps students run the nightclub as a business. It’s a side she knows well: She has been in the show-running business since she was 17 years old, when she booked her first band, Destiny, to perform at her high school senior prom in Virginia.
“Part of the education of the performer is the business side,” she said. “So we have to make sure that they can bring people [to the club] and that they’ll show up on time.”
In addition to its educational mission, Indrisano said she sees a chance for Café 939 to fill a gap in the local music scene. With smaller venues fading, mainstays Avalon and Axis giving way to the in-development Lansdowne Street Music Hall, and remaining clubs looking to book larger acts, there are fewer and fewer places where developing artists can hone their sound. Indrisano said she thinks 939 can fill that void.
The club’s all-ages nature — a departure from most local live music clubs — is a key element in doing so, according to Indrisano, as it gives parents a place to enjoy a night out with their children, or college students a fun place to bring younger siblings visiting for a weekend.
And while some might gripe about the absence of cocktails, Indrisano said “the smiles on the faces of the people who come there, who bring their children as well,” make up for it.
As do the opportunities that could come later if you put in the effort now, said Larry Williams, a 20-year-old Berklee student who studied under nationally recognized trumpeter and teacher Fernando Pullum in South Central Los Angeles.
“This is like extra money, because musicians make no money being in college,” Williams said.
The venue's Web site offers links to the coffeehouse menu, the nightclub's event calendar, ticket availability and, for bands looking to land a gig, booking information. More »
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