Jazz finds a home at Palo Alto’s new Meyhouse club

Walking through the shuttered downtown Palo Alto brewery that once housed the original Gordon Biersch, chef Omer Artun experienced a eureka flash of inspiration.

Upon spotting a back room filled with huge storage tanks, “I thought this would be a great space for a jazz club, a la the Village Vanguard,” he said on a recent video call from his home in Los Gatos. “I wanted to build something that’s super intimate.”

Since opening last August, Artun’s Meyhouse has become Silicon Valley’s premiere jazz venue with a booking policy to match the rapturous reviews of the Turkish cuisine on the menu. With 30 seats and two shows nightly Thursday-Saturday, it’s a speakeasy-like space designed for close, convivial listening.

Veteran pianist Larry Vuckovich, a key player on the Bay Area jazz scene since the late 1950s, inaugurated the back room on November with a sold-out show featuring Palo Alto-reared drum great Akira Tana and bassist Ken Okada. He’s been making the trip down from his home in Calistoga for weekend engagements ever since, showcasing Bay Area stars like powerhouse vocalist Kim Nalley (May 25) and ebullient blues guitarist and vocalist Alvon Johnson (June 1).

“I just want to introduce audiences to different, great musicians,” said Vuckovich, 87, whose resume includes stints with jazz legends like tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, vocalist Jon Hendricks, and drummer Philly Joe Jones. “Omer is so respectful of the music. He lived in New York for years and his favorite club was the Village Vanguard. When I started, he said, ‘I want the real deal.’”

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Saxophonist Michael O’Neill, who has decades of experience booking venues, has been holding down Thursdays, bringing in top Bay Area talent like multi-Grammy Award winning soul crooner Tony Lindsay (May 23-24) and piano great Tammy Hall (May 30). He knows the music is happening when he catches Artun’s eye. “I look back and he’s got a big grin on his face,” O’Neill said.

Some of Artun’s most vivid childhood memories growing up in Istanbul come from concerts at the Açıkhava Tiyatrosu amphitheater, where he experienced a procession of jazz legends, including Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, Stephane Grappelli, and Sarah Vaughan.

“My whole life I loved jazz more than anything else,” Artun said, crediting his father with installing in him a deep passion for music.

Relocating to the United States in 1992 for graduate studies in theoretical physics at Brown University, Artun ended up working with physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Leon Cooper on machine learning and AI algorithms at the Institute for Brain and Neural Systems. At the same time, he became an artist in residence at Rhode Island Institute of Design focusing on ceramics (Artun made all the Meyhouse dishware in his studio, but says the demands of a high-paced restaurant environment mean he’s now also using commercial pieces).

He moved to the Bay Area in 2010 to grow his customer data platform company AgilOne. By the time he sold it to Acquia at the end of 2019, Artun had already parlayed a series of pop-up dinners into launching the first Meyhouse in Sunnyvale with Koray Altinsoy, the restaurant’s co-owner.

Looking to expand, they found the Gordon Biersch building (which was Don Gordon’s when it fell victim to the pandemic shutdown in April 2020) and that back room filled with hulking metallic tanks. Artun’s commitment to transforming the space is evident in his next series of steps. He contacted SFJAZZ CEO Greg Stern about his vision and ended up consulting with senior technical staff on his team to design and implement the room’s impeccable sound and lighting.

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“I wanted to have something small with amazing sound,” he said. “I thought we could be a remote location for SFJAZZ, and I could also book people on my own.”

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With SFJAZZ still settling into Terence Blanchard’s leadership as the new executive artistic director, Artun’s relationship with the organization hasn’t blossomed yet. But his ambition to present national touring jazz artists seems to be taking root. His daughter Ayse Artun, who studied architecture at the University of Southern California and is now helping run the jazz program, is part of his vision for the space’s future.

On June 15 Vuckovich is bringing in New York saxophone heavyweight Craig Handy, who’s back in the Bay to perform with The Cookers. And in September the pianist is working on an evening of Brazilian and Latin jazz with bass virtuoso Harvie S and Israeli guitarist Roni Ben-Hur.

Artun is also talking with Jon Krosnick to present a fall concert by the drummer and Stanford professor’s power trio Charged Particles playing the music of late tenor sax titan Michael Brecker with his older brother, trumpet great Randy Brecker as special guest. Very much a work in progress, Meyhouse is offering a unique jazz experience that flows from the creativity of a singular chef.

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“Food is a very sensory thing,” Artun said. “Add excellent music into the experience of smell, taste and visuals and it’s a full sensory journey.”

Contact Andrew Gilbert at jazzscribe@aol.com

MEYHOUSE

Where: 640 Emerson St., Palo Alto

Contact: www.meyhouserestaurant.com

Upcoming shows: Tony Lindsay with Michael O’Neil Quartet: 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. May 23-24 ($60); Kim Nalley with Larry Vuckovich Trio: 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. May 25 ($40).

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