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Local couple keeps jazz alive on Eastside
Lionel and Cooksie Kramer don’t operate the Eastside Jazz Club to make money. If that were the case, it would have ceased to exist long ago.
Started as a passion project in 2002, the goal of the club is simple: keep the jazz community alive - and thriving - on the Eastside. Nine years and a change of location later, the Kramers are looking to grow the club.
But they need help from the community to make their dream a reality.
“We would like to host that jazz club more than once a month, but we need to find the audience first,” Cooksie said. “Right now we’re playing it safe.”
Originally from South Africa, the Kramers moved to the Eastside 18 years ago, in an attempt to be closer to their children. Cooksie had been a teacher of piano, accordion and organ in Johannesburg, where she established the largest music studio in the city; Lionel worked previously in pharmaceuticals, but retired before moving to the states.
Upon moving to Kirkland, the Kramers became involved with the Northwest Jazz community; the couple helped reboot the Bellevue Jazz Festival, and Cooksie started producing children’s recitals at Sherman Clay in Bellevue, as well as started teaching music lessons - which she still does seven days a week. With more free time on his hands, Lionel’s percussion habit has became more of a full-time gig.
The Kramers decided to start the Eastside Jazz Club when they realized their wasn’t much offered in the jazz realm on the Eastside.
“People were saying there was no place to go to hear jazz,” Cooksie says.
Held on the second Tuesday of each month, the club originally met at the Steinway Recital room at Sherman Clay in Bellevue, where the pair presented a series of great jazz evenings, creating an informal, “in home” feel with time to meet the musicians and enjoy refreshments. The first concert featured Brain Kent on Saxophone, Hans Brehmer on Piano, Ev Stern on Bass and Lionel on Drums.
Throughout the years, the Kramers, along with 50-70 appreciators of jazz have continued to meet.
“Jazz is a hard sell,” Cooksie said. “But we’ve got our regulars that come out and support us.”
When Sherman Clay closed in 2011, the group relocated to the Courtyard Marriott Hotel.
“The hotel treats us like we’re doing them a favor,” Cooksie said. “We’re so blessed.”
In regard to booking acts, the Kramers generally pull from the local talent pool, though they have been known to bring in artists from out of state. The Kramers said they frequently receive emails from artists who’ve heard of the club and want to participate.
“You get to know people, you get involved with the musicians and the people,” Cooksie said. “I think coming from South Africa, we have a very warm connection - we’re people-people.”
As such, several artists have asked to perform again.
In addition to hosting the monthly gathering, the Kramers present the annual Eastside Jazz Club Extravaganza, a special Sunday event featuring a variety of jazz acts. For this year’s event, which took place Oct. 21, Cooksie wanted to try something different. With help from volunteers, Cooksie produced a fashion show featuring a live jazz accompaniment. They also recently released an original album on their Eastside Jazz Recordings Label, with plans to release a follow-up in coming months.
“We just want people to be happy. That’s what it is to us.” said Cooksie. “It’s not about what we can get out of it. It’s about what we can give to it.”
We do it for the love of jazz,” Lionel said.
“And the love of people - the love of community,” Cooksie adds.
The next Eastside Jazz Club meeting, featuring the Janette West Quartet, will take place Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel, 11010 NE 8th Street, Bellevue. The cost is $13/adults, $8/18 and under.
For more information, or to learn about how you can help sponsor the Eastside Jazz Club, go HERE.