Van Dyke Cafe Closes: Ten Classic Moments from Miami's Favorite Jazz Club
Sayōnara, Van Dyke.
Photo by Laurie Charles
The intoxicating blend of the percussion, the smooth brass sound of the trombone, the deep rhythm of the bass, and the bluesy, jazzy tunes of the harmonica resonated from the corner of 846 Lincoln Road.
It was the closing party for the Van Dyke Café and crowds of locals and tourists alike swarmed the street to watch Oriente pay homage to the place that became one of Miami's musical gems for 20 years.
"We've been playing here, upstairs, every second Sunday of every month for about five years," said the band's lead singer and guitarist Eddie Balzola. "It hasn't just been us; it's been every kind of good musician in South Florida."
The music has officially died for the Van Dyke. Soon, mannequins will stand in lieu of instruments. The ringing sound of cash registers and Top 40 hits on repeat will replace the jazz and blues that once filled the lounge. But as Balzola said right before he led Oriente to their last song, "Life without music, it can't go on."
Here are ten classic moments at the Van Dyke Café, according the club's booking manager Randy Singer and Balzola himself.
The Van Dyke's Musical Vision
"I saw it from the very beginning," recalled Singer. "I remember when Mark Soyka and Tony Goldman were gonna open the Van Dyke. It was all Soyka's vision who wanted a jazz club. He kept it alive all this time, and if it wasn't for him, this wouldn't have existed."
"I've never seen a club run this way," he admitted. "We've had the most amazing musicians from salsa, rock, reggae, blues, tango nights, songwriter nights, horn sections, tributes, CD releases, comedy ... It's been such an honor to be the custodian of the legacy."
Al Di Meola
The musical vision may have been what set the foundation for the Van Dyke, but crooning artists, like Al Di Meola, who performed upstairs were the ones who gave weight to the name.
"Al Di Meola. That was a great performance," Singer said about the legendary guitarist. "He did it as a favor for me. There was no way we would've been able to afford him."
"We just had so many great musicians, it's hard to remember them all," fessed Singer. "All performed here. We had Mark Murphy, the famous pianist."
"Toots Thielemans, the harmonica virtuoso," he blurted. "If you're a musician, you know him."
"Aside from my band [Oriente], the one of the best musical performances I've seen here was Felipe Lamoglia," added Balzola.
"He was playing upstairs and I remember I said, 'Wow, it's like I'm in New York City.'"
"Freddy Cole, Nat King Cole's brother. That was an amazing night," he recalled.
"There was like a $40 cover that night and the tickets were sold out. One of my friends had an extra ticket and asked me if I wanted to go and I said 'Of course.' That was great."
"Members of Miami's Royal Music of Family"
"Jesse Jones Jr. on the sax and Melton Mustafa Jr. and Sr., I like to call them the members of Miami's royal music of family," Balzola laughed.
"They're just so talented," he said of the the musicians, who occasionally performed as a father-son trio.
Big Brooklyn Red
"Big Brooklyn Red, he's the real thing," admitted Balzola. "He's a white soul singer. I could listen to him for hours."
Photo by Laurie Charles
Maybe the reason the Van Dyke attracted so many artists was the creative liberty they were given to do whatever the hell it is they wanted to do.
"It would always surprise musicians when I would tell them to make music," laughed Singer. "This room was all about art and music, and bands would say, 'You mean I could play these songs?' They were surprised."
"Some places have live music, but musicians need to adhere to the likes of certain crowds. Here, I would set them free and let them be who they wanted to be, like the Carnegie Hall of Miami."
"I play six nights a week, but here, I perform."
Photo by Laurie Charles
The musical freedom may be what lured artists and music lovers to the club, but the vibe that resulted from those notes is what made the Van Dyke, the Van Dyke.
"The thing I'll miss most about the Van Dyke is the people," said Holly Spillane, the dame who manages Oriente.
"Everyone who comes loves music, and that brings you closer to your audience," she explained. "Whether it's people who come to see the musicians performing for the night, tourists who hear the music from outside and walk in to check it out, or people who come just because it's the Van Dyke, [they] are just into the music."
While the club will be no more, Singer hopes to carry on its spirit.
"I'm going to continue the legacy of music started by Mark Soyka in a few different venues in Miami Beach. I'm not gonna let this disappear."
It's been real, Van Dyke. Thanks for two decades of great music.
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