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Fusion Closes, Continues Trend of Jazz Club Blues

Upper East Side Lounge, a North Side jazz club, closed four months ago citing similar problems: sometimes-fickle audiences with a general reluctance to pay cover charges, and the high costs of operating a food, drink and live-music establishment.

Fusion's co-owner, drummer Jared Stone, admits to "probably making a million and one mistakes" in hoping to create a popular venue for local and national touring acts. "I don't think people here are ready to pay a cover charge," he says. "With as many great musicians as we have in this town, they're still just background music to some people." Stone says the city's meals taxes — they're higher than surrounding localities — along with parking and concerns about safety made matters worse.

Stone says he and partners Chris Bak and Harold McClenic hope to sell the business to undisclosed buyers.

Samson Trinh, who opened and closed Upper East Side Lounge while pursuing a music degree, says it was easier for his family to operate a Chinese food business at their Brook Road site than to attract a steady audience for jazz. "We learned the hard way," he says. "Cover charges are hard for some people to accept here. Richmond is just a funny town when it comes to jazz. But I don't at all think the jazz scene's dying here. VCU and [University of Richmond's] Modlin Center are getting the best of the best" in terms of world-class jazz performances.

Still, the closing of Fusion leaves some local players and promoters railing against club audience inertia: Wally Thulin of Courthouse Records tells his e-mail list, "Music is a tough business. The food service/bar business is just as tough. Combine the two, and only the strongest survive, especially in Richmond. Bottom line: If you like it and want to keep it, support it."

Some of Fusion's already-booked shows are moving to Hyperlink Café.

Other musicians will find work at some of the area's remaining jazz venues, including Bogart's, Cabo's, Emilio's, and Petersburg's new listening room, Wabi-Sabi. S

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