Hungry jazz heads owe a debt of gratitude to Perry Bennett, who rocks straight-ahead jazz while serving hot-fudge sundaes at his Pasadena coffee, ice cream and sandwich shop, Perry’s Joint, a cultural oasis that happens to sell really big sour pickles. The sandwiches have jazz-inspired names like “Birth of the Corned Beef” and “Tuna by Starlight,” and the place has a sense of taste and cool, with Josephine Baker posters, Bal Nègre prints, and album covers from Cab Calloway to Thelonious Monk. Most impressive is a life-size portrait of the king of cool jazz, Miles Davis, watching over the teenagers from John Muir High clamoring to be served after school.
Musical education has fallen off in recent years so I don’t expect the kids or most anyone else these days to know the standards playing at Perry’s, classics like “Sidewinder,” “Song for My Father” and “A Love Supreme.” Where, other than Perry’s Joint, would they even hear this music, which can nourish spirits and expand minds?
Bennett, who was slinging dogs and sodas even as a kid in Philly in the ’70s, relocated with his family to Oakland. His dad opened the Fat Lady in the Fillmore district, back before Frisco gentrified all at once. The Fat Lady was popular with the neighborhood and also those young, problematic knuckleheads who could make life difficult for shop owners. Bennett was usually the one to handle the problem: “Take it down the street,” he’d tell them. Hip-hop and rap were the background in Bennett’s young life, but after taking courses in jazz theory and history, he suddenly had the passion of a convert. He wanted to share with the world the music he loved — along with a scoop of Rocky Road ice cream.
“Young brothers come in here and at first they might not hear the music, but they feel it. It’ll get them,” he says. “The photos of these jazz giants will make them think about where they come from and what their people have accomplished.”
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Photo by Kevin Scanlon