Save for the thunder of trains that roll down the middle of Embarcadero West, the Jack London Square area is pretty quiet on a Tuesday night. A handful of drinkers sit along the bar at Bluesville on Broadway. Around the corner and up the block at Yoshi’s, several dozen patrons listen attentively to a 10 p.m. second set of straight-ahead jazz by world-renowned bassist Buster Williams’ group featuring pianist Patrice Rushen. But three blocks to the south on an otherwise deserted stretch of the Embarcadero, Mingles is just beginning to pop.
Young men and women line up at the door as a mountain of a security guard examines each from head to toe, turning away those in jeans, sweats, or tennis shoes. Inside, drummer Brian Collier moves between the stage, where he’s setting up his traps, and the sound booth, where he programs a sophisticated mix of groove-driven jazz and neo-soul on the CD deck.
The place is packed to 140 capacity by the time Collier’s quartet finally hits at 10:45 with a set of familiar jazz and pop tunes, including “Breezin’,” “Little Sunflower,” and “Summertime,” played to highly syncopated beats borrowed from contemporary hip-hop and R&B hits. Pianist Peter Horvath and guitarist Errol Cooney use the songs as springboards for extended post-bop improvisations, underneath which Collier locks into the funk patterns of Uriah Duffy (who’s filling in while regular bassist Eric Smith tours with Mary J. Blige). Some in the crowd of mostly African-American singles pat their feet or bob their heads as they listen and mingle, but dancing is forbidden at the “Soul Lounge,” which is what the 29-year-old percussionist calls the Tuesday night parties he’s been throwing since the club opened last June.
“I want an environment where my generation can come and enjoy live music,” says Collier, who has toured with Tony Toni Toné, Lucy Pearl, Kenny Lattimore, Con Funk Shun, and other top R&B artists. “If you listen to the radio and hear about all these concerts at the Paramount selling out, it shows that people like live music. All you have to do is present it to ’em in a nice way.”
Mingles, which on other nights offers comedy and poetry slams in addition to jazz, R&B, and salsa, is the latest venue run by John Ivey, an Oakland nightlife institution for nearly thirty years, since his days as a bartender and lunch cook at the Rusty Scupper. In 1976, with brothers Jay and Fred, he opened Ivey’s, a hugely successful club that presented such jazz heavies as Stan Getz and Jimmy Smith during its ten-year existence. John has managed Bluesville for the past three years and last year took over the former 1st Stop, tearing up the moldy carpets and setting traps for the rodents and transforming it into Mingles through extensive renovation that boasts a handsome burgundy-and-black decor.
“The concept was to have a semi-trendy San Francisco-style lounge in Jack London Square where you can come after work and mingle and have your martinis served in setups,” Ivey explains. “We wanted to be a happy hour place and then, after nine, evolve into a place to go for live music.
“A lot of people from Oakland are going to San Francisco and making it happen, instead of making the spots that we do have happen,” he adds. “I believe that in time Jack London Square will be the place to be. I feel this area. I believe it’s the area of the future. I’m waiting.”