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The Man Behind Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club

Bethesda’s new venue for music lovers and dancers opened its doors to sell-out crowds on March 1. The Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club is bringing first-rate music of all genres to the heart of Bethesda. Launched by Potomac resident Rick Brown in the historic Bethesda Theatre , the renovated art-deco Supper Club will feature not only blues and jazz — but music from country to Motown in a setting that provides a new opportunity for appreciating high-quality music , fine dining and dancing in the heart of Bethesda.

The Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club kicked-off with the lively sounds of Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. More than 400 people swayed to the New Orleans jazz orchestra while they dined on jambalaya, shrimp scampi, blackened grouper and jumbo lump crab cakes. Dessert included New Orleans favorites such as vanilla bean beignets and a flourless chocolate torte. Executive Chef Scott Mullen has crafted a menu “to reflect my fascination with the novel combinations of fresh sweet and savory ingredients.”

Proprietor Rick Brown‘s family history includes many nostalgic moments spent at the Bethesda Theater. His mother, Florence DeSando graduated from Bethesda Chevy Chase High School on the stage in 1947 before she moved to New York to work at the Copacabana. As a child, Brown, a 3rd generation Washingtonian, attended many movies in the theatre in the ‘50s.

The theater opened its doors in 1938 as the Boro Theatre, featuring the latest in audio/visual technology. Ticket prices were 35 cents for regular admission and 20 cents for matinees. After the first year, it was renamed the Bethesda Theatre and remained in business until the early 1980s when it was converted to a restaurant/movie theater and re-opened as the Bethesda Cinema & Drafthouse. The facility was opened in 2007 as an Off-Broadway theater, but closed after a year.

In January 2012, Brown bought the property with a group of Founding Club Members — area businessmen and women who were attracted to Brown’s vision to create a world-class Blues and Jazz Supper Club. Brown is the founder of BBB Realty Investments, LLC. He has been recognized as “Realtor of the Year” by the Maryland and DC Association of Realtors and honored by the National Council on the Aging as its “Community Leader of the Year.”

Even though he is one of the few in his family who is not a professional musician, he is thrilled with entering the world of music. “I saw this beautiful building with a 400-car parking garage attached, and I just knew that this would be the place to bring jazz and blues to Bethesda, my home town. Very few places in Bethesda can hold 500 people.” Brown’s father, John W. Brown made his living as a jazz drummer — and still performs in the D.C. area. His brother, jazz pianist Larry Brown leads the Wammie Award-winning Larry Brown Quintet — a jazz group which has performed at The Kennedy Center, Blues Alley, The Meyerhof and other jazz venues in the area. Larry Brown is the director of Entertainment for the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Club and performs with the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Orchestra.

Rick Brown explains just a few of the upcoming events: “We have a wood dance floor — and we installed cork underneath to make it even better. We have already scheduled Latin Dancing Night, Motown Dance Night, Swing Dance Night and more. Big Bands led by Eric Felton and Tom Cunningham will be playing — and we will also feature Gospel Brunches and Guest Speaker lunches. I plan to invite Wounded Warriors and their families to enjoy the venue.”

Ralph Camilli is the director of operations. In his 35 years in the music business, Camilli explains that he has managed the two “smallest rooms with the biggest names” in Washington history — The Cellar Door and Blues Alley. Just a few of the hundreds of famous musicians he has attracted to his clubs are Eartha Kitt, Wynton Marsalis, B.B. King, Earl Scruggs, Carly Simon and Buddy Rich. He has already scheduled an a line-up of musicians for the first month of the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club. These include Potomac’s Maggie Rose [see related story], The Nighthawks, The DC Blues Society Band, Thad Wilson and New Light, Cathy Ponton King and the Grandsons, and jazz pianist Keiko Matsui.

In May, the club will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Bethesda Theatre’s founding.