End May Be Near For Hartford Cabaret Series

Apr 20, 2014

Often operating on a shoestring budget, Blow fashioned a strong line of high-quality concerts that have enlivened and enriched the city scene.

Dan Blow, the noted Hartford-based fashion designer who creatively refashioned himself into one of the city’s most industrious and illustrious concert producers, plans to pull up stakes in Hartford to live in the Bahamas; shutter his clothing business, sell his elegant Woodland Street condo, and in a severe blow to the local music scene, perhaps end his enormously popular Music@Japanalia series held primarily in his West End boutique.

Blow set up shop in Hartford in 1981 with his then-wife, the Japanese designer Eiko Sakai. For many years, he spent much of his down time in the Bahamas, on the island of Eleuthera, an idyllic retreat that he has come to love passionately, and to regard as a personal paradise where he has already become involved in presenting music events.

Dan Blow outside the Japanalia Eiko storefront on Hartford's Whitney Street.
Credit David Borawski

Among friends, Blow has frequently spoken of his deep desire to live full-time in what has, over the years, become his vacation home on the island. Noted for its Bahamas charm, and magnificent soft pink sand beaches, Blow's ideal Island in the Sun is often described as "a slice of heaven."

The city’s cabaret czar over the past several years, Blow has not officially announced his move to the Bahamas, or the possible end of his classy cabaret series. He promoted his high-powered,  “final” spring/summer series in an email:

“Dear Folks, I think this will be our FINAL installment, and final concerts at Japanalia. Thanks so much for your continued support cheering us on and letting others know about the music. If there are any changes or I end up with more concerts but in a new location, I will let you know....no announcements to the public yet, but it has been a fabulous run! Best, Dan”

As part of that “fabulous run”—a merry marathon marked with packed houses  over recent  years—Blow has brought a dazzling array of singers and instrumentalists to town performing jazz, cabaret, Broadway, American Songbook material, blues, folk, funk, and other sometimes indefinable genres. With an eye on variety, he seasoned his fare with such established performers as the Manhattan cabaret mainstay Baby Jane Dexter, bebop scatmeister Giacomo Gates, and the great jazz and blues vocalist Catherine Russell. He's also featured rising young talent, ranging from saxophonist Noah Preminger and bassist Dezron Douglas, to vocalist Sara Gazarek and Harlem blues guitar wizard King Solomon Hicks.

Part of Blow’s secret to success is that he has dared  to offer something a bit different for Hartford: live performances in an intimate cabaret setting, refreshingly and imaginatively off the city’s well-worn path of cultural and entertainment offerings.

Boosted by the big success of his in-house Japanalia series, Blow -- an adventurer with dreams of expanding his mini-empire -- also helped launch the tasteful Jazz Brunch Series at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. He presented a musical brunch series that ran for some time at the Mark Twain House and Museum’s Murasaki Café, and he even experimented with various festive events at The Dirt Salon in the city’s Parkville neighborhood. During the recession years, the flamboyant, showbiz ringmaster’s expansive presentations became a job stimulus program of sorts for both seasoned and emerging musicians alike.

The Japanalia Eiko storefront in Hartford.
Credit David Borawski

Often operating on a shoestring budget, and with a spontaneous mix of invention, intelligence and just plain intuition, Blow, a resourceful impresario, raconteur, and showman, somehow fashioned a strong line of high-quality concerts that have enlivened and enriched the city scene.

In the meantime, Blow stressed that his 2014 spring/summer series is robustly alive and well. His Music@Japanalia series hits the ground running with the striking vocal duo of  Marcus Simeone and Tanya Holt (with rhythm accompaniment) on May 3, concluding  June 21 with a season finale featuring a longtime Japanalia favorite, vocalist Dianne Mower presenting her new, ambitious program, “Bacharach to Brubeck… One Singer’s Journey to Jazz.” (See full schedule at japanalia.com at "Happenings.")

Unless Blow reconsiders his plans for embracing a new life in the Bahamas or, as he says, decides to present more concerts in new locations, his creative and catalytic energies will be sorely missed in Hartford and beyond. In some ways, observers say that losing Blow and his well-crafted designer brand of music would be reminiscent of the sad demise of such legendary, now long gone but not forgotten Hartford music venues as The 880 Club, Lloyds and Shenanigans.