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Now Ear This

Whether you prefer traditional jazz or something more experimental and avant-garde, the doors are open at Duet for a bit of everything, including a vibrant menu and an arsenal of drink options.

G.K. Hizer
December 28, 2018

Tulsa music lovers, rejoice. Whether you’re a jazz aficionado, a fan of either traditional or experimental music, or merely looking for the latest hip place to enjoy your weekend, make your way to the Tulsa Arts District inside the historic Archer Building.

Duet is a “blink and you’ll miss it” stop as you cross the bridge into the Arts District.

The restaurant is a gem of its own for Tulsa foodies. It’s a modern and classy open floor plan, complete with a cozy bar in the southeast corner and a great wine list that sets the stage for Nico Albert’s latest culinary creations. Albert finds a way to meld her Native American heritage with passion for both Mexican and New Orleans culture and cuisine to throw a fresh and modern spin on some classic dishes.

Downstairs is where the magic happens for music lovers. Tucked away in the basement is a jazz club. You can take the elevator, stroll down the stairs from the restaurant, or follow the street-side mural down a flight of stairs to the speakeasy entrance.

Whatever you might picture a classic jazz club to look like, this checks all the boxes. Recessed lights, small cocktail tables throughout the room, an understated stage, and seating around the perimeter set the mood while the back of the room features a fully stocked bar featuring a choice selection of spirits — including some impressive whiskeys and vodkas to enjoy with some classy tunes. Strip away any clichés, however, and give it a modern spin. Oklahoma-sourced limestone lines the walls to give the room a classy, yet slightly rustic feel while the LED backlit onyx bar is pure, understated modern flash.

The man behind the music is programming director, Jeff Sloan. A Tulsa native who followed his muse to the West Coast, Sloan has a background in sound engineering and production, having worked with a number of artists including Tom Waits, with whom he garnered three Grammys and a gold record. His love of jazz had him working as production coordinator and chief audio engineer at the prestigious Kuumbwa Jazz Club in Santa Cruz, Calif., and with Monterey Jazz Festival for a solid tenure. When his name came up through a few series of well-synced events, however, he ended up meeting with Stanton Doyle about the position while back in town to visit his aging father. In the end, it led to an offer good enough to lead him back home to Tulsa to oversee Duet.

When discussing the room with Sloan, he explained that he provided a great amount of input and influence in developing the room, from the sound equipment and staging to helping select the lighting. His vision for the room may not have been as simple as it sounds, however.

“I really wanted people to step into something out of their time when they entered the room,” he says. “I wanted them to feel like they’re not in Tulsa, but in a jazz club in New York, or Paris, or Seattle, or San Francisco — to be teleported somewhere else.”

The vibe of the room captures exactly that, but that’s merely the starting point.

“We’re really geared to be a listening room,” Sloan says. “We want this to be a place where artists can be creative and music lovers can relax and enjoy it. This is not just a bar or a hangout. Our focus is on bringing high quality live jazz to Tulsa and we want to give people a place to get away. We hope our audience can become one with the artist and the space.”

Since opening in October 2018, Duet has hosted a bevy of top-flight artists, including The Bad Plus, Delfeayo Marsalis, Charlie Hunter, Gabriel Royal, and Allison Miller and Boom Tic Boom. The room has featured a great cross-section of local talent as well, including Combsy (Chris Combs’ current project), Olivia Duhon, Booker Gillespie, and Mike Cameron.

Duet features live music Wednesday through Saturday nights, generally featuring local talent Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights, but that can shift around touring artists’ availability.

“I came from a situation where you could bring in almost any artist six days of the week,” he says. “Here, the hurdle has really been educating the audience and getting people up to speed.”

The challenge has been getting nationally touring artists to stop in Tulsa, although Sloan has already done a great job of jump-starting that movement.

“Getting nationally or internationally touring acts is really about routing,” he says. “I’ve built a route from Chicago to Albuquerque that covers 11 states and 33 venues. That’s not to say that an artist will play all of them or all of the venues will want to book them, but when you’re part of a routing and a plan, that can be the difference between paying $2,000 or $3,000 for an act instead of $5,000 or maybe $8,000 for a fly-in date.

“It’s good for the artists when they’re playing new rooms and reaching new audiences, and Tulsa can be just that for them. We’re close enough to Kansas City and Denver, which is becoming a great jazz city, to be a part of that routing and start drawing those artists.”

The club even features two comedy nights each month, in conjunction with Blue Whale, introducing new audiences to the intimate venue.

“We’re trying to build something that people want to return to, so even if they don’t know who it is, they’ve come to expect a certain level of quality and know that it will be worth returning,” Sloan says. So far, he has accomplished just that and already started creating excitement for what’s to come.

108 N. Detroit Ave. | Tulsa
Monday-Sunday: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.