The Grape Jazz Club and Derek Frank Band

By Joanne A Calitri   |   June 11, 2024
The Derek Frank Band (photo by Joanne A Calitri)

Your Society Invites reporter is giving some love to a cool and friendly live jazz club, The Grape in Ventura. I interviewed the owners and stayed for the Derek Frank Band performance on Saturday, May 25. 

This locals’ hang has the look of a throwback LA-NYC jazz club interior and the chops to showcase ear-candy players in all tangents of jazz six days a week, weekends with two shows. The club is renowned for A-List jazz musicians, both booked and many who have invited themselves to play; indeed, the club is booking through 2025.

If the walls of The Grape could talk you would hear the music of the many greats in jazz that play there, like pianist Mike Garson (David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins), drummer Danny Carey (Tool), saxophonist David Liebman (Miles Davis, Chick Corea), saxophonist Tom Scott, Montecito local saxophonist Charles Lloyd (The Doors, Canned Heat, Beach Boys), keyboardist Don Randi (Wrecking Crew, Beach Boys, Frank Zappa), the Barrelhouse Wailers, and also many local bands.

The club has two stages, one floor level in the bar area with a baby grand piano, Hammond organ, and drum kit, and the larger stage tricked out in the latest sound and lighting tech in the main room, with a professional sound booth. There are low and high cocktail tables, couches, and a small bar. The taps at the bar are old microphones. The walls on each side of the stage have art deco murals of jazz musicians. The club’s walls and the loos are painted in ‘70s Hendrix purple and filled with black framed 8×10” glossy photos of the musicians who have played there, many photos signed with a thank you to The Grape owners. And yes, there is dancing.

How such a great jazz venue arrived at its humble location on 2733 East Main Street speaks to the strength of the character and integrity of its owners, Josh McNutt and Adam Randall, their tech engineer Leon Parkhouse with wife Karen (vocalist for The Barrelhouse Wailers), and Randall’s wife, bartender Tiffanie. The story starts with its prior incarnation, a winery called Squashed Grapes on Main Street, circa 2006, that evolved to a live jazz club. In 2017, seeking expansion, the owners signed a lease for a vacant space at 2733 East Main. The Thomas Fire hit, so they pivoted, opened a winery in a Market Street building on November 2019, making wine from grapes from SB County, Paso Robles, Ventura, and northern L.A. counties. Lockdown hit, and due to reasons beyond the owners’ control, they did not qualify for any PPP or venue loans. The building was sold in 2020, subsequently closing McNutt and Randall’s Winery business. They still had their empty space at 2733 East Main Street, and decided to complete the renovations during lockdown themselves, giving birth to The Grape in October 2021. 

The Grape owners Josh McNutt and Adam Randall at the club (photo by Joanne A Calitri)

Talking with McNutt and Randall at the venue on Saturday, May 25, they shared: “We learned a lot over the past few years about how to ensure our live music venue can survive through anything. We added professional filming of every performance to create a video library for future streaming subscription services. We continue to cater to our guests, love our locals, reach out to our new customers, and maintain our standards of A-List music, food, curated wines, local brews on tap, and craft cocktails.”

As if to read their next act, I asked them about opening a second venue. They laughed and McNutt shared he’s been bugging Randall about it for a bit. Exploring that further, he said, “We are talking about opening a second club with live blues music, and we are considering locations like Carpinteria.” To which your Society Invites trusty reporter agreed, Carp is an ideal location as these cats understand the theme, “by locals for locals.” 

After meeting with the owners, it was time for the Derek FrankBand. The band is headed by Frank on bass (Gwen Stefani, Shakira), Will Brahm on guitar (Arturo Sandoval), Carey Frank playing thekeys (Orianthi, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Springsteen, Social Distortion), Matt Hankle on drums (Ringling Bros Circus, Broadway Theatre), Demian Arriaga playing percussion (Miley Cyrus, Jonas Bros), George Shelby onsax (Bono, Beyoncé, Elton John, Sting), and Dan Fornero ontrumpet (Phil Collins, Tom Jones).

The set list opened with songs from Frank’s third solo album, Origin Story (released March 2024) – “Demon On Wheels” and “Theme From Steel City.” The album is an homage to his childhood experiences growing up in Pittsburg. Other songs played were “Eleven Years Later” – a tribute to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, “George Likes the Bananas” – a nod to Seinfeld, “Irregardlessly,” “Roasted” – for the Allman Brothers, and “Give it What You Can.” 

Frank generously let his band trade solos, mostly to Brahm who captivated the audience with his fluidity and tone on his Fender Strat, and Carey wailing it on the Hammond B3 so bad to make Billy Preston blush. Arriaga laid it nicely over Hankle for the heartbeat of the band, while top notes from Shelby and Fornero gave it the solid ‘80s jazz feel. Frank’s bass, the blues-funk glue that held it down, was clean and soulfully there. The overall feel of the music is a funk-a-delic mix with hints of riffs from War, Steely Dan, and Average White Band, while Sun Ra was definitively channeled during the second set. Well-deserved standing ovation and calls to return to stage made for a great evening. 

Society Invites recommends The Grape, a riveting force in live jazz venues this side of the Mississippi.  

Instagram: @thegrapeventura


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