- Frank Steans, during an Indy Guitar Summit at The Jazz Kitchen. Photo by Mark Sheldon.
Anyone entering Jazz Kitchen during dining and performance hours will be met by jazz journeyman Frank Steans, whose roles are many at the club. Steans greets you as the doorman, accepts your entry fee, acts as the maitre d', audio engineers performances, supervises table servers, handles reservations and emcees all stage acts. And, oh yeah, Steans is a jazz guitarist too, who occasionally plays and sings at the Kitchen.
I wanted to find out more about this soft-spoken, laid-back jack-of-all-trades. For 30 years, Steans has been in and out of the building at 54th Street and College Avenue currently occupied by The Jazz Kitchen.
"I was here when it was Crazy Al's, playing in a rock band," Steans says. "Now, with the Jazz Kitchen, I have been here 15 of its 17 years."
I asked him about his memories of being involved with the different clubs during those years.
"When it was Crazy Al's, you kind of had a free-for-all. They booked a lot of rock bands. I was playing in a rock band and had a beard and long hair then. I thought I was Jimi Hendrix.
"When Pete Pipkin was owner and it was The Place to Start, he booked regional and national jazz acts. I got to meet Indy's famous jazz players: Jimmy Coe, Pookie Johnson, Russell Webster. I had the opportunity to play with some of those guys. Actually, they taught me a great deal about playing jazz."
Steans is almost self-effacing when talking about the many roles he performs at the Jazz Kitchen.
"I do some of every thing here at the Jazz Kitchen," Steans explains. "I like greeting people; I like accommodating people. I have developed some wonderful relationships with people here. The reason why is David Allee has put together a site where you have a wonderful atmosphere to eat, a wonderful jazz atmosphere. It's also a mecca for people to meet new people and a melting pot of so many different cultures here."
He told me about some of the wonderful moments of jazz he enjoyed at the club.
"Trombonist J.J. Johnson packed the club for three nights with his quintet. People were wall to wall," he recounts. "We had the Yellowjackets here, the great Stanley Clarke and the legendary bass player Ray Brown — his final performance was here."
Jazz guitar is Steans's big passion. He is part of guitarist Bill Lancton's Guitar Summit, a group of four local jazz guitar players who bring in a guest guitarist every few months for a Jazz Kitchen show that always winds up in a cutting session.
I wanted to know how he felt playing in such heavy company. Steans: "Since I don't play as much, I study a lot, what I have fun doing is in playing and learning new ideas."
Will Steans ever make a live album at The Jazz Kitchen? "You know I have kind of pondered the idea, maybe somewhere in the near future."
With all the roles he performs at the Jazz Kitchen, I asked Steans if he has any interest in opening his own jazz club. His answer was firm: "No, I get my fill of it here. My greatest pleasure is playing the guitar, but I am happy with what I am doing now."