Jimmy Mak founder passes away after final show
The Pearl District club was supposed to reopen nearby on Everett Street in February, closed because of Jimmy Makarounis' health problems.
Jimmy Mak founder Jimmy Makarounis died early Monday, one day after the club held its final show on New Year's Eve.
The news was announced on the club's Facebook page "Our beloved friend and mentor, Jimmy Makarounis, passed away early this morning after a prolonged battle with cancer. He will be remembered by those who loved and knew him for his kindness, tenacity and unending generosity. We will carry on with his spirit in our hearts," it says.
Bob Hui speaks for more than a few folks when he describes Jimmy Mak's, 221 N.W. 10th Ave. The club regular has lost count of the number of shows he's enjoyed in the classy joint over the past two decades.
"Jimmy Mak's is the ultimate jazz club," says Hui, a Dave Brubeck fan who owns Woodstock Liquor in Southeast Portland. "Jimmy Mak's is the pinnacle of jazz in Portland and has been since it opened."
Sadly, however, the pinnacle of the club's life has apparently been reached — for now. Jimmy Mak's marked its 20th year in 2016, but New Year's Eve marked its last night as a music mecca. Funky party group Soul Vaccination performed to a large crowd for the club's final act.
The Pearl District club was supposed to leave its current location and reopen in a new one nearby on Everett Street in February. However, last month, owner Jimmy Makarounis decided to put off those plans indefinitely for health reasons.
"It is with a heavy heart I write this today," he wrote the club's fans, in a statement posted online. "I am currently undergoing immunotherapy treatments for cancer of the larynx, which has intensified in the past five weeks. My doctors insist that I step away from Jimmy Mak's business to focus solely on healing."
Even tougher to swallow is the fact "the new club's buildout was fully funded and moving ahead," Makarounis wrote, noting the new location was bigger, better engineered for sound and lights and would feature a courtyard eventually. Hui was among the thousands of area jazz fans saddened by the news.
"It's my 'Cheers,'" he says with a slight chuckle, referring to the 1980s TV show about the bar where everybody knows your name. "I've heard better music at Jimmy Mak's than I've heard in San Francisco or Los Angeles or anywhere."
John-David "JD" Stubenberg co-manages Jimmy Mak's along with Lisa Boyle, the two having worked there since 1997. While he's as sad as anyone over the club's closing, he's not completely giving up on its future.
"Lisa and I have received a number of inquiries regarding buying the club and moving it," Stubenberg says. "We are waiting until after the New Year to fully investigate all of the potentials."
If anyone takes over the club, Stubenberg says it will have to be a labor of love, not lucre.
"The club makes money, but nobody is going to get rich doing this," he says. "Any money they put in will likely not come back to them for a great deal of time, if at all."
The vicissitudes of the music and real estate worlds have forced a number of rock and pop oriented clubs, from Slabtown and Backspace to Alhambra and The Know, to close in the past few years in Portland. So the fact Jimmy Mak's has survived until now is a testament to the club's versatility, he says.
"The majority of our programming is still jazz, but we've ventured into quite a bit of soul, funk, blues and mainstream rock and pop music as well," he says. "Basically, if it's good music and it fills the room we want it."
In particular, Stubenberg credits the veteran Motown session drummer Mel Brown, who plays weekly at Jimmy Mak's, as well as guitarist Dan Balmer, for keeping regulars coming back again and again with their shows.
"Mel's presence has led us into so many good relationships and opportunities that it's impossible to imagine this place without him," Stubenberg says. "His residencies here have made jazz work for us. That also goes for our Monday night residency with Dan Balmer. The consistency of those weeknights has made for great stability for us over the years."
Stubenberg notes he will miss the community Jimmy Mak's fostered and told the story of a benefit the club hosted to illustrate his point. Gospel and soul singer Linda Hornbuckle was the event's beneficiary because she was fighting the cancer that ultimately took her life in October 2014.
"She was here and was not feeling the effects of her treatments at that point, so when LaRhonda Steele started to sing Aretha Franklin's 'Natural Woman,' she grabbed a mic, and walked through the audience to the stage singing in duet with LaRhonda," Stubenberg says. "Bernard Purdue, who played drums with Aretha for years, was here for the benefit and was sitting in on drums. The duet brought the house down, not a dry eye anywhere. Bernard walked up to the bar after the tune, wiping tears from his eyes. He looked at me and said, 'JD, I've played that song a thousand times with Aretha, but I've never heard it sung like that!'"
If the club reopens, Stubenberg says there is a fan base waiting, noting the Facebook announcement of Jimmy Mak's demise reached almost 100,000 people. He adds that musicians like Brown and the club's chef, Antoine Golden, have all indicated they'd love to work at a new Jimmy Mak's, which Hui makes clear he'd like to frequent.
"I told JD I'd be their first customer," he says.