Yoshi’s, the Paramount, the Great American Music Hall – these are some of the Bay Area’s best-known music venues. Then, there are the less widely known, but still popular spots, like the Mission’s Red Poppy Art House, or Oakland’s Cafe Van Kleef. And then there are the places no one knows about. The places you sometimes can’t find even if you know where to look.
You’ll find one such place if you walk down Shattuck Avenue toward Telegraph Avenue, around 45th Street in North Oakland. Cosmo’s Jazz Spot is in a big, gray, impersonal building. The signs are small. The street is dark.
Inside, the club is warm and inviting on a rainy Friday night. Groups of two or three people sit around a few small tables, drinking wine they’ve brought with them from red plastic cups.
“I normally wouldn’t come this way unless I’m dropping my dog off at the SPCA,” says musician Jua Howard, nodding his head and tapping his chest in time to the music. “I actually walked by it,” adds his performance partner, Andrea Claburn.
“It’s extremely intimate; almost invisible from the outside,” says Henry Holmes, happily tucked away in a corner of the club. “Luckily my buddy could hear the music from the street.”
These three all found their way in tonight because they know the band. The members of Four and More are arranged against a backdrop of heavy black curtains. There’s a drum set, a bass, a keyboard, a saxophone, and a singer. There’s no stage as such in the small room, just a subtle shift in lighting.
This is what club owner Rob Riggle calls “atmosphere.” “There’s some atmosphere here,” he says. “I don’t know where exactly it comes from, but as soon as people start playing, it’s alive.”
Cosmo’s has been open since late 2011. It’s named after Riggle’s late dog. “It’s kind of off the beaten track,” says Riggle. “You have to look, have to know about it.”
That’s true even if you live in this neighborhood. Just a few blocks in either direction are Temescal’s restaurants and bars, a major bus line, a lot of the neighborhood foot traffic. But before Riggle set up shop, this place had been vacant for months. That was one of the things that attracted him. He wanted to create a destination.
“I want to have it open all the time,” he says, watching people mill around between sets. “Have people in here playing music, just enjoying it. If people want to come here and talk and have a cup of coffee, I make a good cup of coffee.”
Riggle is in and out of the space most days. “I’m always in here doing something,” he says. That’s how a lot of people find Cosmo’s – just because they happen to run into him. That’s the way Riggle wants it to be.
“I love good conversation,” he says. “I want people to come see what it looks like in the daytime, and come at night and see how it transforms.”
After the show, members of the band compare the experience to an old-school New York City jazz club. “It sort of felt the first time like I was in kind of an underground, sorta Village atmosphere,” says Four and More lead singer Kathy Blackburn. “As I told some of my friends, it’s kind of divey, but in a good way.”
“Cosmo’s is not only a place to hang out, a place to rehearse,” Riggle tells the audience after the set. “The whole idea is to spread the joy in the neighborhood and make music happen.”
Riggle charges bands to use the space, but he’s not really making any money – he actually says he’s in the red. He wants more people to find out about the space, so it can stay open. But he says he’ll keep it open as long as he can no matter what.