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New Orleans-themed restaurant brings eclectic jazz to Downtown

By Shelby Hartman
Published: Wednesday, February 29, 2012, at 08:39AM
Nola Craig Johnson

Musicians come together every Monday at NOLA for freestyle jazz jam sessions.

NOLA’s, a New Orleans-themed bar and restaurant in the Downtown Arts District, has carved out a niche for itself with its Creole menu, neighborhood vibe and eclectic Monday night jazz jam sessions.

The restaurant’s broken up into three parts; diners sit in the back socializing and eating shrimp etouffee and gumbo whipped up by Cordon Bleu-trained chef Edric Ocampo. Those looking to sip cocktails and enjoy background music sit at the bar, and the jazz aficionados and musicians sit in the front -- clapping after every solo, tapping their feet, and occasionally letting out an expressive “yea” when the stage heats up.

For jazz musicians of every background and level of experience, NOLA’s Monday night jam sessions are a gem.

Musicians and regulars move from table to table, greeting one another like old friends. It’s an up-and-coming meeting place for new and old timers in the L.A. jazz scene, but for many, it’s already become a home away from home.

The man behind it all is Jacques Lesure a jazz guitarist from Detroit who’s played with legends like Les McCann and George Benson. He said what makes his jam sessions so unique is that he doesn’t place expectations on the people that want to come and play.

“I respect whoever might come through that door as a potential great musician and I don’t have any preconceived notions," he said. "I let people come in and do what they do.”

This mentality leads to an eclectic crowd of regulars that come to play and listen. At one point on stage this week, there was a Russian pianist, a Japanese guitarist, an Israeli drummer, and a young lady from Detroit who gets up weekly to sing a Billie Holiday-inspired ballad.

For Michael Dolphin, an Angeleno who’s been frequenting NOLA’s since the music started last July, the excitement of the unexpected is what keeps him coming back.

“The promoters for most of the other venues in town want to hear a certain kind of thing and there’s a certain kind of expectation," Dolphin said. "Here, your expectation is you don’t know what to expect -- you know it’s going to be good though. The musicians I’ve heard here are utterly fantastic and we may never know their names til Jacques (Lesure) introduces them.”

The owner of the venue, Jason Ha, has decided to make all the shows and jam sessions at NOLA’s free because he wants to encourage all types of musicians to participate. Many local students come down to the bar and restaurant on Mondays to mix and mingle with musicians that are touring all over Los Angeles and the world.

While all are certainly welcome, Jacques wants to make one thing clear: NOLA’s is a place for musicians who are committed to challenging themselves and their peers, to be better at what they do and to grow together on stage.

“We’re very serious down here and that’s the key," Lesure said. "It’s not about what school you went to or where you’re from, it’s about playing the music right now at this time.

NOLA's is located at 734 E. 3rd St. in the Arts District

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