Catalina Popescu has been running the club named for her for 25 years this month. In 1986, she’d been in Los Angeles for 10 years, after arriving in town from a repressive, jazz-averse Romania, and she had tried to open a restaurant that hadn’t worked out. A chance meeting with horn player Buddy Collette led to Popescu and husband Bob opening the jazz supper club that has survived numerous waves of openings and closings in a city that has not always been friendly to jazz.
Catalina Bar & Grill will celebrate that quarter century with a party Monday night that will be guest-hosted by KABC’s Doug McIntyre and KJAZZ’s Bubba Jackson and that will include a tribute to Jack Sheldon and performances by artists including David Benoit, Hubert Laws and the Yellowjackets. (The evening, dedicated to the memory of Popescu's husband, will benefit the California Jazz Foundation.)
“I can say it’s quite stressful and consuming,” Popescu says of running a club. "But when you have the passion, things happen.”
The Influences column usually focuses on performers and not proprietors. We wanted to ask Popescu: Which artists inspired you to open a jazz club and –- through all the ups and down of the economy and jazz’s popularity –- keep it going for 25 years?
Buddy Collette: We met him through a family friend, and were thinking of maybe presenting music. After he spoke to us about how great jazz was, we decided we would open the next weekend -- with his band. He was a charming man with a beautiful smile. The way he spoke about music was a total winner for us.
Dizzy Gillespie: He was the first big musician who came to our club. I’d always liked his style, and he was the only jazz musician who had been allowed into my country. When we thought of opening a club, he was the one who came to mind. When he came to perform, I had to pinch myself –- that was my biggest thrill, when he picked up his trumpet.
Ahmad Jamal: He played about 1990, and he came many times over the years. When he performs, he becomes a totally different person. You can watch and realize there’s something you can love in this world. When he touches the piano, I feel like he is leaving us, becoming an angel.
Chick Corea: He performed here and would say, “Welcome to my living room.” His music is so variable. He can play an electric concert, or a solo performance, or Spanish music. He’s so versatile. He affects the very youngest to the very oldest.
Steve Tyrell: He has such charisma and such beautiful music, so romantic. We’ve had him for Valentine’s Day concerts. He can make people fall in love. He was a record label person; he did his first show in our club, and decided, “This is something I love.”
Influences: Bass player Charlie Haden
Influences: Patti LuPone
Influences: Trumpet player, bandleader, composer Terence Blanchard
-- Scott Timberg
"Jazz 25: An Unforgettable Night," Catalina Bar & Grill, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd., (323) 466-2210, Monday night. www.catalinajazzclub.com
Photo: Catalina Popescu at Catalina Bar & Grill. Credit: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times