May 6, 2014
12:09 PM
Arts & Entertainment

Old Lyme's SideDoor Jazz Club Thrives Despite Doomsday Predictions

Old Lyme's SideDoor Jazz Club Thrives Despite Doomsday Predictions

All photos by Ken Kitchings unless otherwise noted

As soon as Ken Kitchings told people he was opening a jazz club they began foretelling its demise.

"People would look at me and say, 'Are you out of your head,'" he recalls.

But Kitchings (pictured below with his club's Artistic Manager Jan Mullen) didn’t listen to these prophets of doom, and on Saturday, May 10, at 8:30 p.m. his jazz club, The SideDoor, will celebrate its one-year anniversary with an all-star performance by Javon Jackson, Larry Coryell, Buster Williams and Lenny White.  The club is located in a side door space of the Old Lyme Inn, a historic building Kitchings and his wife, Christine, purchased in 2011.

Sleek and modern with a shaken-not-stirred classiness, the venue features jazz greats on Friday and Saturday nights, and Thursdays in the summer. To date, more than 150 performances have taken place at the SideDoor including appearances by Jimmy Cobb (the drummer who performed on Miles Davis’ iconic album “Kind of Blue"), Nat Reeves (a bassist and faculty member at University of Hartford) and Duke Robillard (an acclaimed blues guitarist). The club is quickly becoming known as a hot spot in jazz circles and a wonderful musical way station located midway between New York City and Boston.

Kitchings had long dreamed of opening his own jazz club. When he and his wife purchased the Old Lyme Inn he had the chance to make that dream come true. The Inn had a side space that had once been a restaurant. In the small but roomy space Kitchings saw the potential for making his dream a reality. To that end he recruited Jan Mullen as a manager and artistic director. In the ‘80s and ‘90s Mullen worked in New York City managing top pop acts.

(Above Jimmy Greene, of Newtown, performs at The SideDoor with his group.)

“I had no plans to return to the industry after retiring over 10 years ago,” Mullen says. “But Ken’s passion for jazz and the opportunity to be involved in a project that put the music and artist first was very unique in this business.”

 Together, Kitchings and Mullen set about building a jazz club where music lovers could congregate and the classic American musical tradition could thrive.

“The goal was to make this a jazz stop,” Kitchings says.

So far that goal has been met. The club is booked months in advance and talented musicians are approaching Kitchings and Mullen to play because they’ve heard about the venue through word of mouth.

The acoustics of the room were naturally good, but in order to enhance the room as a listening space, Kitchings enlisted the help of sound technicians from the microphone manufacturing giant Sennheiser, which has its U.S. headquarters in Old Lyme. The result is a room with an intimate sound that draws you in no matter where you are.

“Wherever you sit in this place the band is right there,” he says.

(The bar at The SideDoor. Photo by Bruce Byers) 

In addition to seeing a show, guests can also stay in the Old Lyme Inn, a historic inn originally built in 1856 that Kitchings and his wife painstakingly restored when they purchased it. The inn boasts an elegant restaurant, as well as full spa services.

“It’s one stop shopping,” Kitchings says.

The SideDoor opened last May with a performance by George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival.

Going into the show both Kitchings and Mullen were nervous; the club was a new untested space and conventional wisdom said their venture would not be successful.

“Everybody [else] expected that we would crash and burn,” Mullen says.

But as soon as Wein and his band, the Newport All-Stars, began playing Mullen and Kitchings’ worries were driven away.

“It couldn’t have been more perfect,” Mullen says. Kitchings adds, “It was magical.”

A year later, despite the naysayers the club is alive and well. It’s also full of music, but one song that won't be heard anytime soon is the club’s swan song.

The SideDoor jazz club is located at the Old Lyme Inn at 85 Lyme Street, Old Lyme. Saturday, May 10, at 8:30 p.m. the venue will celebrate its one-year anniversary with an all-star performance by Javon Jackson, Larry Coryell, Buster Williams and Lenny White. For more information and a complete listing of upcoming performers visit thesidedoorjazz.com

Contact me by email eofgang@connecticutmag.com and follow me on Twitter, and connect with Connecticut Magazine on Twitter, on Facebook and Google +

Old Lyme's SideDoor Jazz Club Thrives Despite Doomsday Predictions

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