Dimmed lighting. Relaxing atmosphere. Signature cocktails. Quality live jazz music. None of these important things were first on Tony Troppe’s mind when he started planning BLU Jazz+, Akron’s newest music venue and the city’s only jazz club.
It was art.
Troppe is not only a lover of jazz but art. He incorporated these two passions into the club’s design and function, which is why BLU is home to several photographs showcasing jazz music history, in addition to hosting some of the best jazz musicians in the modern era.
He gives Josh Rzepka, a noted local jazz trumpeter and Oberlin College alumni, credit.
“(Rzepka) set the stage for the display of art and the selection of pieces that would be relevant. He took an instrumental and vital role in helping us with the selection.”
Through Rzepka, Troppe and the BLU Jazz team established a working relationship with Oberlin’s curator and secured exclusive rights to use parts of their collection, some of which hadn’t been displayed previously.
[su_pullquote align=”right”]“As you start to understand the history, you start thinking in ways that make the future more interesting.” – Tony Troppe[/su_pullquote]
These pieces came from the James and Susan Nueman Collection and the Frank Kuchirchuk Collection at Oberlin.
A prominent Chicago businessman, James Neuman was an Oberlin alumnus who collected a large number of jazz posters, ephemera and iconography over his lifetime, which he then donated to his alma mater.
Kuchirchuk was a photographer who shot live jazz performances at Lindsay’s Sky Bar, a popular Cleveland nightclub, between 1952 and 1953. Kuchirchuk donated his entire collection of Jazz images to Oberlin’s Conservatory of Music. The collection includes photographs of Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Anita O’Day at the heights of their career.
Troppe and his team took the front and back covers of some of the albums in Oberlin’s collection and converted them into art, which now lines the walls of BLU.
“We’re proud that our collection hasn’t been mostly seen before by the public, and we’ve enlarged them by three-foot by four-foot large shots that adorn the walls,” Troppe says.
The album covers “tell a story about the jazz age in an evolutionary form—all the way back to the 20s through the bebop era to modern jazz. The idea behind the art was to tell a story that was evolutionary,” Troppe explains.
Walking through BLU, you can see that narrative unfolding through the photographs.
“Our room reads like a jazz history art gallery. I think that really helps our audience connect to the evolution of jazz and makes it more relevant,” Troppe says.
BLU currently has 15 pieces on display, but with access to over 300 pieces, Troppe plans to switch them out in the future.
“The goal has been to create an arts-inspired experience, to lead one’s imagination on the possibilities. As you start to understand the history, you start thinking in ways that make the future more interesting. It becomes a roadmap to understand the milestones of the past, to connect the dots and to see how you can bring your own artistic endeavors, to parlay and correlate to an exciting time in musical enhancement, that’s really been our mission.”
[su_box title=”Katelyn Y. Gainer”]
Katelyn Y. Gainer is the arts columnist for The Devil Strip. She is an art history graduate student at Kent State and a gallery assistant for a small arts nonprofit. She loves to help promote Northeast Ohio’s thriving arts community. You can find her on Twitter at @katelyngainer [/su_box]