Tula's: A Haven for Seattle Jazzers
Earshot Jazz Magazine
Jason West, February 1999
On the east side of Second Avenue, between Blanchard and Bell St., there's something for everyone. For the rockers there's The Crocodile; for the mods there's The Lava Lounge; for margaritas there's Mama's Mexican Kitchen; and for the best local jazz, six nights a week, there's Tula's.
With blinds drawn and only a modest blue neon sign over the entrance, Tula's can be easily missed, yet once you open her tinted glass doors and step inside—away from the noisy, mingling crowds on the strip—you'll feel as if you've entered a hipper, classier world. Newcomers receive the pleasurable shock of intimate light illuminating a warm, wooden interior. Seated close to the bandstand, well-dressed patrons speak in hushed tones, respectful of the musicians on stage.
A few moments later and you're encouraged by Raymond, Tula's always ebullient host, to relax and make yourself comfortable. If you're hungry the entrees are tasty and reasonably priced (averaging around $10 a plate). If you're thirsty you have your choice of 12 beers on tap, fine wines, and liquors. And if it's great jazz you're after, then just listen.
It should be immediately noted that the austere rock-of-a-man behind the sprawling, green bar is one Elliot "Mack" Waldron, Tula's owner and chief bartender. A native Texan, Mack is a veteran jazzman with 26 years experience in Navy bands as a player and bandleader. In the service he was considered a players' bandleader. Today he's considered a players' club owner, so much so that he was, in January, awarded a special Golden Ear Award from Earshot Jazz in recognition of providing a key showcase for Seattle jazz musicians during the last four years.
The announcement of that honor was enthusiastically greeted by the many musicians gathered for the Golden Ear ceremony.
How do you become a millionaire running a jazz club? Start with two.
That humor isn't lost on Mack, who could have retired to "planting flowers or things of that nature" rather than take the gamble of opening Tula's.
Actually, there was little hesitation. After serving in the Navy, Mack resolved to continue his affair with jazz. "I love the music," he says.
"It's very exciting to participate and I feel like I'm contributing something to further young musicians in the Seattle area." Unlike most club owners, who aren't music savvy, Mack knows his jazz. He books the bands, treats musicians well, and thereby ensures that Seattle's fine crop of jazz talent keeps coming back to play.
The club's honor role of local jazz luminaries includes guitarist Milo Petersen, pianist John Hansen, reedman Don Lanphere, trumpeter and bandleader Jim Knapp, trumpeter/saxophonist Jay Thomas (whose most recent CD is entitled Live at Tula's), and vocalists Greta Matassa and Jay Clayton.
Quite often, up-and-coming jazz heavies—not quite big-name enough to play Jazz Alley—will gig a few nights at Tula's, accompanied by local players.
Last July, Bobby Porcelli and Ray Vega, both members of Tito Puente's band, performed with the New Stories Trio. In August, New York's Bob Moses and Charles Pillow shared the stage with Jim Knapp and Pax Wallace.
>One of the club's biggest advocates is bassist Chuck Bergeron, for years a New York musician, who now makes his home here. This year Chuck has made a point of bringing top talent to Seattle, with Mack providing the ideal venue. Tula's playlist so far includes Bergeron compatriots Dave Pietro, Charles Pillow, John Fedchock, and John Hart. Rick Margitza will he here in February, Bobby Shew visits in April.
Certainly, it is rare that a club owner is so well respected by the musicians he hires. In response Mack says: "We have a mutual admiration. I admire them for their musicianship, and I think they do appreciate me for providing a venue for them to perform."
Admiration's warm glow is contagious and can be easily found among Tula's clientele: ladies and gentlemen who enjoy being part of something special, refined and classy. From snuggling, romantic couples, to large-partied celebrants, to high-school musicians intent on listening to Seattle's best-jazz, Tula's attracts all kinds of discriminating, intelligent ears. And the word is starting to spread. Like Mack says: "Good people tend to invite other good people, and good players tend to invite other great jazz players."