The Cameroonian bassist Richard Bona has just opened his own club on East 52nd Street. From the 1930s to the 1950s, the western end of that street was a vibrant hotbed for jazz clubs, including the Hickory House, the Famous Door, Jimmy Ryan’s and the Three Deuces.
Bona was well aware of this lineage when he was finalising plans to run his own venue. “Who knows, maybe it’s a revival!” he says as we sit at the club’s bar during Bona’s opening residency with his own band. “Maybe we’ll see somebody come here to open another club. That’s how the vibes of an area get to change.” Bona already has a history of stepping sideways into the investment world.
“I opened a lot of businesses,” he says. “It’s just that they’re not visible. I operate a lot of real estate in New York, I buy coffee farms in South America. This is more noticeable, it’s people coming into the club, it’s connected with the music.” Nowadays, Bona is principally active as a bandleader, but he made much of his early reputation playing with Weather Report keyboardist Joe Zawinul. Bona’s friend and business partner is restaurateur Laurent Dantonio, who saw that the space was available.
He suggested to Bona that they open a restaurant, with that initial thought soon mushrooming into the jazz club concept. Bona uses the example of eating modes, from chopsticks to silverware, to Cameroonian-style communal bowl finger-scooping, to illustrate musical diversity. “That’s how music is, embracing the difference actually makes you become more tolerant, more open to understanding other people. It’s not just music, it’s life.”