Restaurant Review: Vonn Jazz and Blues

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The seductive aura at Vonn Jazz & Blues extends beyond the music.

Red velvet curtains, candlelit tables and glittering chandeliers provide a vibrant, eye-catching backdrop to the soulful performers who take center stage at the supperclub. Nearly early every inch of the lavish space was decorated by owner Yavonne Sarber, whose first career was in interior design.

She stumbled into the music scene while running a combination design studio, boutique and caf in a Worthington strip mall. Sarber was looking for someone to entertain her design clients at a Christmas party several years ago when she met Adria Shahid, a local jazz vocalist, at the hair salon.

"She was sitting in one chair and I was sitting in another chair and we started talking," Sarber said. The two shared a deep love for jazz, and after Sarber heard Shahid sing she quickly booked her to perform at several private holiday parties and events.

When Sarber later decided to transform her coffee shop into a 70-seat cocktail lounge, Shahid was the first person she called.

The singer introduced Sarber to a collective of jazz musicians in the community.

"I had no idea that Columbus was so rich in music," Sarber said. She also discovered that the musicians were hungry for a sophisticated spot to perform.

"You had some other places, but they were just typical bars," said A.C. Collins, a saxophonist and regular performer at Vonn Jazz. "Before she did this, there was nothing in Columbus to compare."

The city's jazz fans embraced Sarber's vision, too.

As Von Jazz-originally in a small plaza on Rt. 161 in Worthington-grew in popularity, so did the crowds. On many nights, a line of customers snaked outside in the parking lot.

In April 2009-14 months after the lounge's initial opening-Vonn Jazz moved to its current and much roomier home on Columbus' Far North Side. Sarber chose the new site at 245 E. Campus View Blvd. near Worthington with a broad audience in mind.

"I feel that being in the suburbs the way we are is what has made us work, because we pull from everybody," Sarber said. "You can go to the East Side to hear a lot of these musicians, but a lot of people won't go to the East Side. It's out of their comfort zone."

The supperclub offers live music every night of the week and is open year round, including holidays. Performers range from local jazz and blues bands to national artists.

"The most important thing is (Sarber) set a precedent that the vocalists would always be spotlighted," Shahid said. "She gave the vocalists a voice, literally."

Although music is the main attraction at Vonn Jazz, dinner and drinks are another big draw. The main dining room offers a front-and-center view of the stage, but there are several connecting lounge-like spaces that can be reserved for larger parties.

Sarber used her decorating talents to create a cozy, intimate feel.

Music can easily be heard from any seat in the house, including at the main bar which offers a close-up view of the performers and easy access to the dance floor.

Chef Mike Black brought a Southern-Creole twist to the menu when he began work at Vonn Jazz earlier this year. Popular favorites include chicken and waffles; shrimp and grits; and crabcakes, he said. "I'm doing a little spin on classic dishes," Black said.

Whether it's the food-or the music-that lures them in, Sarber wants her customers to walk away feeling wowed.

"This typically is a big night out," she said, "and they're coming to have an experience."

Vonn Jazz & Blues Supperclub

245 E. Campus View Blvd.,

Crosswoods; 614-431-5299

VonnJazz.com

TAKING THE STAGE

Vonn Jazz owner Yavonne Sarber has a love for large voices and grew up admiring powerful female vocalists such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin. So it wasn't by mistake that some performers who sing on her stage are women who command the audience's attention. Here, meet three of them.

Adria Shahid

The songs that Adria Shahid composes and sings aren't just for her own pleasure.

She views music as a way to help others.

"As human beings, we basically go through the same events in our lives over and over again," she said. "In my music, I try to inspire and make people feel good about life itself and always to accept the down times as a challenge. Don't be scared of it."

Shahid grew up in a family of musicians-her mother and father both inspired her to sing-and used to perform with Conspiracy, a local R&B band. Now, she sings with a motivational band and also performs at summer music festivals and private events.

The Columbus native, who is in her 50s, works as a program assistant in the College of Dentistry at Ohio State University.

She loves her work, but pursuing her musical talents has opened new doors and boosted her self confidence.

"Music is a very powerful tool," Shahid said. "And I respect it."

Talisha Holmes

As a little girl, Talisha Holmes was known to give impromptu singing and dancing performances while out shopping with her mother.

"I remember I used to get in trouble," Holmes said with a laugh. "My mom would tell me to stop."

She later channeled her musical energy into singing in choirs and playing instruments.

That love of music stuck with her when she went to college at Capital University, where she majored in music education.

"Vocals were always the thing I was most comfortable with," said Holmes, 30, of Columbus. "It seemed like the way that I could be heard and I could really express myself."

The classically-trained musician now makes a living doing what she loves-teaching vocal lessons and performing with the band Liquid Crystal Project (and sometimes on her own).

When she steps on stage to perform, any worries or stress melt away.

"I can be myself," she said. "I can laugh and I can joke and I can smile."

Shaun Booker

For years, Shaun Booker juggled her career as an accountant with her passion to sing.

"Blue skirt during the day and miniskirt at night," she joked. "It let me have the best of both worlds."

When her company restructured in 2003, Booker pursued music full time. "It was like being set free."

Booker moved to Columbus from Youngstown years ago to work at L.A. Recording studio, where she met artists such as Natalie Cole and Babyface. She aspired to be like them, and realized that she had her own voice to share.

Apparently, others were eager to hear it. Along with her two bands, the 47-year-old was booked to perform 275 days this year.

Some of those nights were spent at Vonn Jazz, and Booker feels so at home there that it's the site she chose for her wedding to John Semel this spring.

"Since I'm an entertainer, I wasn't the traditional white-wedding type," she said. "It was actually my husband's suggestion, so I have to give him credit for that idea."