PICTURED: Ken Lange and dance partner Vicki dance to the Studio C Jazz Band during a Channel Cities Jazz Club event at Golden China Restaruant in Ventura. Photo by Michael Gordon
Traditional classic tunes once performed by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin — now revived by Lady Gaga, Michael Bublé and other current talent — can be enjoyed locally during live performances by the Channel Cities Jazz Club.
“There’s a group of people that love to hear this music because it’s still very relevant,” said Susan LaCroix, of Oxnard, the club’s vice president. “There are also people who love to dance to this music . . . we have been gearing the dances towards the swing era and we also have a little bit of everything in terms of ballroom — the cha-cha, fox trot and rumba.”
The club specializes in performing American jazz, big band and swing songs from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, “which is not as popular as it was in its day,” she said, “but there’s a growing demand for it now, because it’s not just the music, but the dance that goes along with it.” For these reasons, “there’s a younger generation that’s into this, too.”
The club, which has been in existence for at least 25 years, has performed at venues throughout Ventura County, including the Pacific Corinthian Yacht Club in Oxnard, the Pierpoint Inn in Ventura and, most recently, the Golden China Restaurant in Ventura (which recently closed after more than 30 years).
The club’s next performance on Jan. 19 will be at the House of Dance in Ventura owned by Patricia Monicio, which club organizers hope to make a permanent home.
The Golden China Restaurant “was not very popular and not conducive to what we’re doing,” LaCroix explained. “The dance floor was very small and the viewpoint was limited because you couldn’t watch the dancers.”
With that, “we went looking for another venue and we found Patricia’s House of Dance . . . and felt an instant connection,” LaCroix said. “It’s a very large room with a wooden floor and the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. Also, Patricia teaches everything — ballroom, swing and cha-cha; she covers the gamut so it felt like a really good marriage.”
Each performance begins with a jam session open to players of the piano, guitar, horns “and whoever shows up,” LaCroix said. “They get to come in for no cost and do their thing. We especially invite young people to the jam session because we want them to come and practice their art.”
The performances attract people of all ages, from those in their 20s to individuals in their 90s, including Ventura resident Hank Johnson, who’s been involved with the club since 1984.
“He’s the oldest one in the club and he’s really been active,” LaCroix said. “I call him the historian of the club.”
The Channel Cities Jazz Club started strictly as a gathering of musicians who wanted to keep traditional jazz alive. Initially they got together once a month, “then people wanted to dance along with the music,” LaCroix said.
The club has since evolved as a nonprofit organization, with proceeds donated to help local middle and high school students attend a summer jazz camp near Pollock Pines, California.
“And now we’ve introduced new elements to the club,” LaCroix noted. “We’re working toward helping high schools obtain the things they need, like piano tuning. We want the money to be as effective as possible to help as many students as possible. Just give us a call and we’ll do the best we can to help out.”
LaCroix first discovered the Channel Cities Jazz Club when she attended a performance as a guest. Now, in addition to serving as the club’s vice president, she also performs as a vocalist at shows along with her husband, who are the founders of the Lenny LaCroix Quintet featuring Susan LaCroix.
The club’s first performance at the House of Dance on Jan. 19 will feature The Phoenyx Big Band. Tickets are $10 for club members, $15 for nonmembers.
“Their music is a wonderful statement of the music and the dance of the swing era that our club is dedicated to fostering amongst our youth and throughout our community,” LaCroix said.
The Channel Cities Jazz Club performs on Sunday, Jan. 19, 1-4 p.m. at the House of Dance, 3007 Bunsen Ave., Suite E, in Ventura. For more information, visit www.channelcitiesjazzclub.com.