Blue Wisp Jazz Club: Final song played at famed Cincinnati music venue?

An internationally respected music venue suddenly closed its doors Saturday silencing, for now, the sounds of Queen City jazz.

Employees were told Thursday night that Blue Wisp Jazz Club in downtown Cincinnati was closing. But the reasons haven't been made public.

"A couple of us have been involved since the old location on Eight Street (and) I think we're definitely taking it a little bit harder than some of the other employees,” said Bryan Sykes. “But everybody has made connections with band members, with the music and we're all very, very sad that this is happening."

On Saturday, Sykes and other workers were at their now-former workplace boxing up fixtures, supplies and equipment they’d only moved into the club a little less than three years ago.

By Monday, the Blue Wisp's owner, Jack Brand said he was in talks to reopen the jazz club.

When it moved to the corner of Race and Seventh streets in 2012, the club began offering dinner, then lunch and most recently Sunday brunch. It even participated in last August's Restaurant Week in an effort to solidify its position among the robust dining scene in Cincinnati's urban core.

Workers told WCPO that the changing business model and social landscape of downtown has been difficult to handle, even for a (pop-)cultural institution.

Other beloved jazz joints in the region like Chez Nora, Mr. Pitiful's and Schwartz's Point have also fallen on hard times in recent years, leading each of them to rebrand to various degrees in recent years.

Chez Nora wasn't so lucky . It unexpectedly closed its doors for good back in January after nearly 20 years of providing multi-purpose entertainment in Covington's Mainstrasse Village district.

But to local jazz fans, Blue Wisp was supposed to be different – at least that's what they had hoped.

Since opening in O'Bryonville in 1973 under Paul Wisby, the performers and staff at Blue Wisp have worked to make their venue synonymous with jazz in music circles around the world.

“You ask any jazz musician probably anywhere… and they'll know this club and they'll know it's from Cincinnati and they'll know it's one stop of a series of clubs in the Midwest,” said Eddie Felson.

An attorney by day, Felson is a prominent bassist who's one of the numerous musicians who've taken the famed darkly lit stage at Blue Wisp over the past 40-plus years.

Some of the others include local saxophonist Jimmy McGarry, as well as pianist Steve Schmidt, guitarist Cal Collins, John Van Ohlen, Pat Kelly, Michael Scharff and Kenny Poole.

When her husband died in 1984, Marjean Wisby continued the venue's tradition and her husband's vision, which included the Blue Wisp Big Band, a Wednesday night staple since 1980.

Battling time, changing music preferences and financial limitations, Marjean moved the bohemian hangout to a basement space at 19 Garfield Place and then later to a stand-alone location on E. Eighth Street in 2002.

When she passed away from respiratory failure in 2006, Marjean left behind debts neither her son nor boyfriend could pay.

The Blue Wisp was subsequently sold and its future became far less certain.

"It's sad to see it go (because) we're not going to be able to replace it,” said Felson who was a co-owner of business. “You can't invent a jazz club with this kind of international reputation unless you've got another 30 years."

It's unclear if this is the end for Blue Wisp or if ownership plans to move into a new space. 

WCPO reached out to owner Jack Brandt but he wasn't available to comment.

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