KETCHIKAN — After talking about it for 20 years, Karl Richey has opened his own jazz club.
Richey started playing jazz in the 1960s in San Francisco, where he grew up. He played in a variety of venues, even putting out his own self-titled album in 1969. He performed in “Hair,” a Broadway-style musical, in San Francisco and Los Angeles and continued to play his music.
But duty and family called, and he went to college, and then medical school. He works at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center, putting in 24-hour shifts in the emergency room, alongside working at Ketchikan Regional Youth Facility and the Ketchikan Correctional Center.
While making an income and tending to his family, Richey continued to play his jazz guitar.
“This is what I want to do. Not all the rest of it. I’d rather be playing music,” he said.
Richey lives and breathes jazz. His feet tap to his internal beat and he walks with a swagger that lets the observer know he’s a musician first, everything else second.
In 1996 he remarried and moved to Seattle to attend Cornish College with local jazz musician Kim Henrickson. Richey said that at the time, the school had one of two or three jazz programs in the country. After earning a bachelor’s degree in music, he and his wife, Marie, moved to Maui and he attempted to open a jazz club there. He didn’t find success.
“It was a really difficult business environment. I didn’t want to be there. So I got my job back here, and was commuting,” he said. “Working full time here, and commuting back every two weeks.”
But the dream of the club didn’t die. The family relocated to Ketchikan, and in 2009, Richey was able to purchase the former KRBD studio on Stedman Street.
With liquor license in hand, Richey made space in the main room for a stage and tables and the Creek Street Cabaret was born.
“What we’re doing now is a trial run,” he said. “Some days it’s been real busy, and others it’s very quiet. But that’s business.”
Richey and his friends play jazz every Friday and Saturday night. Comedians have performed at the cabaret and, as word spreads, more people come every weekend to enjoy a drink and listen to live music.
“It turned out to be a nice little spot,” he said. “It reminds me a lot of the little coffee houses where I used to go listen to music in the ‘60s and early ‘70s in San Francisco.”
And even though the club is running and making a name for itself, Richey’s ideas are bigger. He is planning to close the cabaret for the winter in order to remodel the space. Walls will be knocked down, windows along the creek will be revealed and the kitchen will be revitalized.
“I see it as three businesses really: entertainment, restaurant and a bar or brewpub,” he said. “Three separate functions, but they all tie in together under the heading of ‘cabaret.’”
Though the connotation of the word might remind of something scandalous — for a long time it denoted a certain type of burlesque entertainment in New York City — the word derives from a French word meaning something less salacious: a place of entertainment, with food and drink.
Richey’s plans for the establishment include copper vats placed in the front of the restaurant, near the windows. He intends for the copper vats to brew beer. And thus, the Creek Street Cabaret and Brew Pub will be born.
“I hope that, come next May, we stay open forever. I want to stay open all day and night, seven days a week. This has got to be a presence,” Richey said. “It’s gotta be a place I wanna go to, as well as play in.”
Richey said when he came to Ketchikan, there were many places to play, and hear live music. As time has worn on, and the town’s economy changed, some of the bars and clubs shut down, leaving those who love to play music without a stage.
“What I wanted to do when I went back to school, is get to the point where I could play just about anything with people that I loved,” he said. “I wanna play with and for my friends and the community.
“People say, in Alaska you can do anything you want. Whatever it is you want to do,” he said. “You may have to do it yourself. You gotta be involved, which makes it that much more vibrant and connected to everybody.”
The Creek Street Cabaret and Brew Pub is the realization of Richey’s dream to provide a place for live jazz, while bringing people together for food and drink.
“It’s not going as fast as I’d like, but it’s going,” Richey said. “It’s not going backwards, but it’s not stopping.”