It’s a Wednesday night at Boxley’s, and owners Danny and Robyn Kolke have got a small but growing crowd, about a dozen students ready to perform, and a musical hero on stage.
“Chris Clark is a legend in the jazz world,” Danny says, gesturing to the smiling man in the beret, warming up on a string bass. “He’s our bass player tonight.”
Yup, it’s a typical weeknight at Boxley’s Place in North Bend. The restaurant, open three-and-a-half years now, has live music every night, brings in famous names to perform and teach on a regular basis, and was just named one of the best venues for live jazz again this year by DownBeat Magazine. Most importantly though, it’s also exactly the place that the Kolkes wanted to create.
“We didn’t set out to make the best jazz venues list,” said Danny, echoing his comments from a recent speech, when he accepted North Bend’s Business Owner of the Year Award.
“We kind of set out to make it a place where we would like to be, which was family-friendly,” continued Robyn. “A place that we could feel comfortable with our kids (Leslie, James and Daniel).”
“There aren’t many jazz venues that you can take kids to,” finished Danny.
And for Danny, jazz and young people definitely do mix. A jazz pianist himself, Danny recorded his first album at age 19, not much older than one regular performers at his club, now.
He decided against a musical career, because he didn’t want to live on the road, and because of his father’s advice. “He said ‘Look down the road and if there are any musicians that have the lifestyle that you want, maybe it’s possible. But if they have lousy relationships with their kids and wives, maybe you’ll end up in the same place.’”
That made Danny’s decision clear, but not easy. He consoled himself with the idea of starting a jazz club some day — just the idea, he confesses. “I never thought it possible.”
Instead, he started a family, a company (Etelos), and a career in software development, moving to North Bend from Seattle in 1998. Not quite 10 years later, they started talking about a jazz club in earnest.
Robyn, a classical musician in college and now a full-time mom, was a little surprised by Danny’s jazz dreams.
“I remember sitting on the bench across the street,” Robyn told Danny, “and you said, ‘So what do you think about starting a jazz club there?’ And I said, ‘Tell me more.’.”
After many more conversations, the couple made the leap, and created Boxley’s Place (www.boxley’splace.com), home to live music seven days a week, and several programs to foster aspiring musicians. In addition to Danny’s volunteering to lead the Twin Falls Middle School Jazz Band II in the early mornings, he has brought them to his club to perform, and learn from other jazz legends in the Future JazzHeads and JazzHeads programs. The club added a vocal workshop for high school students to the schedule (Mondays), a student jazz trio accompanied by Danny on piano (later Mondays), the Aaron Tevis Project band, named for and led by a Mount Si High School senior (some Tuesdays), and has grown the JazzHeads programs (Wednesdays).
“We have people who come because they like to see young people performing,” says Robyn. “They like hearing the kids get involved.”
She adds that she’s seen students develop real confidence, and comfort here. “There’s no getting used to being on stage without a stage,” she laughs.
Tonight’s performers, some of them his students, are still warming up when a distracted Danny says, “I’ve got to go start them.”
He does, with a few instructions, and then the band is off and swinging. The start of their show highlights another winning feature of Boxley’s, the acoustics. Guests have a choice of the main dining room right in front of the stage, or the adjoining, but quieter bar with cozy seats and a huge stone fireplace.
“I think jazz is best served in this venue-type, a small restaurant, a stage off to one side… this is how, the best recordings in jazz history I think were made,” says Danny.
It goes without saying that they’re live recordings, since bringing live music into the community is at the heart of Boxley’s musical efforts. It’s why the couple created last September’s JazzWalk, and will coordinate the upcoming Blues Walk April 20. It’s also why, on Boxley’s first anniversary, they proposed creating the Boxley’s Music Fund, a non-profit fund to help pay for live music at community events like the Block Party (www.boxleymusicfund.com).
“It’s not just here,” Danny says, “Our goal with the music fund is to support the community.”
With about 100 families holding memberships in the fund, Danny says it’s “been a really big success story for us.” The fund also donates a portion of membership fees to music programs in the Snoqualmie Valley School district, helping to foster the next generation of musicians.
The restaurant does still have its ups and downs, but Danny, still working at his software company during the day and at the club with Robyn in the evenings, has basically fulfilled his dream.
North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing, after congratulating the Kolkes on the Business Owner of the Year honor, added. “I shouldn’t have congratulated them, because they earned it. They earned it by doing things that they didn’t expect recognition for, which is, I think, the whole meaning of the award.”