In the middle of recording his debut album, jazz vocalist Joon Lee received a phone call out of nowhere that made him stop, quite literally, in his tracks. A dark, run-down karaoke bar in the corner of a Little Tokyo strip mall was on the market — would he like to have a look?
It was the fall of 2009, and Lee was still a relative unknown in the Los Angeles jazz community. A Korean immigrant, he had been studying architecture in New York City when he heard a recording of pianist Chick Corea and vocalist Bobby McFerrin. He promptly quit school and moved across the country to study jazz singing.
Lee had also fantasized about opening a small performance venue, though initially he didn’t find the karaoke bar particularly captivating. “The only really attractive thing about it was that the elevator was really close,” he recalled. “That way, the musicians can bring their gear.” The timing couldn’t have been worse, either — it was, after all, the middle of a major economic recession.
But the appeal proved too powerful. He gave himself only two months to redesign the room. “I had so little time and so little money,” he said. “The only stuff that I bought was the ice machine, toilet bowls, stuff like that.” Even the elevator proved unreliable. Continue reading