Rick Brown grew up not far from Bethesda, the son of a jazz drummer and a graduate of Blair High School who on Tuesday unveiled the multi-million dollar Bethesda Blues and Jazz Club in the revamped Bethesda Theater.
Brown’s mother graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School on the same stage in 1947. Brown went to movies in the Theater in the 1950’s. On Monday, Brown’s father (87 and still playing drums) saw the inside of his son’s club before its public grand opening on Friday.
Brown said he originally hoped to lease the property to an outside operator when he bought it two years ago. Soon, the idea of putting together the Club, along with veteran Washington music manager Ralph Camilli, turned into a special undertaking because of his family and his ties to the area. His brother, jazz pianist Larry Brown, will be the director of entertainment.
“I’m very proud of it. We were raised by a dad who was a drummer. And it wasn’t always easy,” Rick Brown said. “We had a small house with a big band coming home late at night. It’s really a blessing for me to be able to do this in this marketplace. It’s beautiful.”
A $6 million renovation in 2007 from developer Bozzuto, which built The Whitney apartments above the historic theater, helped make the transition to jazz dinner club easier, Camilli said. Still, Brown has put a major personal investment in making the Club (7719 Wisconsin Ave.) come to life.
“We feel that it’s not really a gamble,” said Brown, a Bethesda-based realtor. “We think we have the pieces in place to make this work. We think we have a quality property, great location, tremendous staff. We think that it’s a need ready to be filled.”
The Club’s schedule so far includes local and national jazz acts and a country music singer with local roots. Brown said a number of private events will help form the base from which he and Camilli, longtime manager at D.C.’s Blues Alley, hope to attract high profile performers of all types.
The group replaced 300 of the 500 theater seats with two tiered levels of table seating. Together with the 200 remaining theater seats, the venue will hold 500.
Camilli said the dinner club concept, which includes a New Orleans-inspired menu from chef Scott Mullen, will work in Montgomery County.
“I heard somebody say this to me and it kind of made sense. They said Montgomery County got the Strathmore as their Kennedy Center. They got Live Nation [The Fillmore in Silver Spring] as their 9:30 Club and now they have a version you can call of it of Blues Alley or The Birchmere” Camilli said. “I know from my years of being at Blues Alley, that a good chunk of that audience came from this county and from this area. I find that people follow their artists. It’s a very lively touring audience.”