Pete Douglas died. What a great guy…a true gentleman. I can’t fathom walking into the Beach House and not see him sitting at his desk. Appropriately that is where he died last week.
I lived in Half Moon Bay in the late ‘90s. In the summer of 2000 I was long-distance dating my wife to be, Amy. I told her about this club I belonged to, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. I think the only thing about that weird name she liked was Bach. And the fact that it was 108 degrees in Bakersfield and barely 60 degrees in Half Moon Bay. She drove the four plus hours for a Sunday afternoon date.
The ocean was roaring and splashing up on the walkway, just a few yards away. We walked out on the patio, with our wine, quietly watching the incoming tide, listening to the seagulls squawking at the skate-boarders, bicyclists, and dog-walkers along the narrow coastal trail. Amy met Pete Douglas, sitting at his desk and we chatted about the long drive she made for our date. The venue is intimate, about 150 seats, no seat further than 35 feet from the stage.The acoustics are as perfect as any musician could dream of.
We then took our seats and listened to the incredible St. Lawrence String Quartet. (Yes, I scored some major points with my pretty little fiddle player.)
We have returned as often as possible over these past 13 years for great intimate jazz and classical concerts.
It won’t be the same without Pete.
In the ‘60s, Pete bought an old beat-up beer joint on the beach and moved in. He loved jazz, chamber music and partying. (Now you see why I loved the guy). In 1963 he was having a big party and his stereo was blasting the Brandenburg Concertos. One of his friends stated that the Bach was in 4/4, why not dance? A few couples started swing-dancing. A few crazier friends had brought some dynamite to liven up the party and proceeded to light it and toss it out in the ocean. One other person yelled…”Hey, we’re the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.”
In 1964, Pete Douglas remodeled the old place, and started a non-profit private club to bring live music, jazz and chamber music, to appreciative audiences. And it’s been happening ever since. Ticket prices were usually $35(for club members) and Pete always insisted the bands play two complete sets…not a one hour plus show. He knew small audiences would talk among themselves and relax along the ocean front. They did. We did. Every great musician in the area wanted to experience playing there and most did.
Dizzy Gillespie to Stan Getz spread the word about this perfect small venue with warm appreciative audiences and most musicians considered it a privilege to book this gig.
Pete never tried to sell booze or food. He had a catering company that prepared a buffet and sold wine and beer. For Pete, it was just the music he cared about.
One other great feature was the downstairs club, The Ebb Tide Room. It was free and open seven days a week to members to bring in friends and family (limit of four) anytime to enjoy the ambiance. You could bring food and drink and have the ocean beachfront club to enjoy.
We will return again this year, but something very important will be missing. Hopefully the great music will continue. Rest in Peace, my man, Pete Douglas.
Some of the best comments about the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society were made from the musicians who played there.
*Pete’s place is hands down the best music venue anywhere in the world! – Bob Sheppard (sax), 8-9-09
- I can’t imagine a more ideal environment for making beautiful music – great food, awesome ocean, and warm-hearted and attentive listeners. Thanks. – Bayla Keyes, classical violin (Triple Helix), 4-5-09
- You play better here because of the history. This place is a legendary club – the level that you aspire to get to – the dream! I mean, all my heroes played here. – Rachel Z, 3-18-07
- This is the best jazz place in California – confirmed every time I come here. – Bryan Gould (Swing Fever), 3-9-08
- Best place I played in the United States. – Phil Markowitz (piano), 11-2-08
- My favorite place in the world to play jazz (#2 is Ronnie Scott’s in London). Great audience, great food, great vibe. – Victor Jones (drums), 2-15-09