In the 12 months since he’s opened Arturo’s Jazz Theatre & Restaurant, Arthur Blackwell II notes that “some days seem longer, some days seem like they’re shorter, some days are real great, some days are a lot of hard work.”
But, as the vernacular goes, it’s all good.
And “good” is certainly the word to describe Arturo’s first year in business, which it’s celebrating this weekend with performances by pianist Alex Bugnon, who played its opening in May of 2007. Blackwell has turned Detroit’s first-ever jazz supper club/restaurant/theater — a 22,000-square-foot, multi-room enterprise in the Southfield AMC Star Theatre — into a new stop on the national jazz landscape. Arturo’s has hosted performances by some 25 international traditional and Smooth Jazz acts, including Spyro Gyra, Al Di Meola, Hiroshima, Pieces of a Dream, David Benoit, Ravi Coltrane, Larry Coryell, Stanley Jordan and others.
Roy Ayers recorded a live album at Arturo’s during his February stop there (it’s due out this summer), and the Motown Historical Museum held a private reception and jam session that was attended by label founder Berry Gordy, Jr. Corporate events have included a charity screening of Ken Burns’ “World War II” documentary for PBS.
“I think it’s one of the most promising venues that has graced the Metropolitan Detroit area in quite some time,” says Detroit-born saxophonist James Carter, who performed at Arturo’s in late February and early March. “I’d put the main room on par with certain venues I’ve played over in Europe and the best rooms in the U.S.”
And Blackwell says his goal in opening Arturo’s was nothing less than “bringing the finest jazz restaurant/ theater to America.” That the location he chose has been something of a black hole for previous businesses — remember the Detroit Pistons’ Hoop City Grille — did not deter him, either.
“I think most people don’t understand the size,” notes Blackwell, a one-time Wayne County commissioner, Detroit police commissioner and a former Detroit mayoral candidate. He’s also Highland Park’s financial manager, the chairman of the Wayne County Port Authority, a founding partner of the Greektown Casino and hosts a nightly talk show on WGPR-FM (107.5).
“Everybody tried to create one item. We have several different things so ... if you come in here and have enough of one thing, you can do something else. It gives us flexibility.”
Blackwell’s concept of “one-stop shopping for jazz entertainment” includes six different areas within Arturo’s. The main theater seats up to 200 patrons who can dine while listening to the headliners. There’s also a 350-street, wood-floored main dining room that serves up a variety of American meat and seafood dishes and features more relaxed “music to dine by,” mostly by local artists, as well as a Sunday jazz brunch that drew 800 people on Mother’s Day.
Arturo’s also has a martini bar at its entrance and a cigar bar in the rear northwest corner of the facility, as well as two private dining rooms. Photos of jazz artists and paintings by Detroit artist Marcus Glenn line the walls.
“I feel so comfortable in there,” says Farmington Hills-based musician Charles Anthony, who frequently leads a trio in Arturo’s main dining room. A 46-year veteran who performed around the country, Anthony says that Arturo’s “is unique. There’s a lot of room to enjoy yourself without bumping into each other. The food is great.
“I play a lot of different places, but there’s something special and unique about Arturo’s that’s just captivating to me.”
Blackwell says his goal now is to build on a successful first year. He’s been developing strategic partnerships with Smooth Jazz radio station WVMV-FM (98.7) as well as with organizers of the annual Detroit International Jazz Festival. Mostly, however, he’s happy that his vision for a different kind of jazz venue in the metro area has found an audience.
“The first year we’ve had a real star-studded, really exciting time,” Blackwell says. “One of the things that’s really reassuring is so many people who come have such a positive experience when it comes to music, environment, food and service — and they really let us know about it.
“Those are the things we want to continue to be good at — and improve as we move forward.”
Arturo’s Jazz Theatre & Restaurant, 25333 W. 12 Mile Road in Southfield, continues its one-year anniversary celebration with performances by Alex Bugnon at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday (May 16-17). Tickets are $42.50 for the early shows, $37.50 for the late shows. Call (248) 357-6009 or visit www.arturosjazz.com.
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