Dizzy’s Sparks Downtown

By Randy Hoffman

It is spare, inexpensive and comfortable. Instead of talking, patrons listen. And if it’s running on the idealistic fumes of his youth, Chuck Perrin doesn’t care. Dizzy’s, the performance space he has operated since April of 2000, has refocused San Diego’s sputtering jazz scene and is fast becoming a destination for original performance of all kinds.

Dizzy’s restful ambiance counters the hustle of the Gaslamp that rages a few blocks away. Perrin has factored out video screens, neon, and other distractions common to local music venues, creating an atmosphere as friendly to the audience as it is to the performer. “People come into Dizzy’s because it’s not like anyplace else,” he says.

To Perrin, the concept of Dizzy’s is not a new one. His Midwestern college education was funded by three different coffeehouses he established in the 1960’s. “They were basically what Dizzy’s is now, a collective for artists, musicians, film and theater people, as well as gathering places for people who had opinions about things,” he says. “The feeling of empowerment that ran through that is what I’ve tried to recapture.”

With the systematic closure of clubs in the San Diego area that support a jazz policy, Perrin found his own performing career, as well as those of several of his friends in the jazz community, in a stiffening downward spiral.

“I’m a guitar player and songwriter, and it’s always been my vision to have the spontaneity and improvisation of jazz thrust in with folk music, “Perrin says, “but there was no longer a place to do that kind of stuff. The only way was to find a place and set it up so people could perform.”

Originally, Perrin struck a deal for a dusty storage room in an old 1911 warehouse across the street from where the ballpark was to be built. “I started looking at it like it was a club, and man it just hit me over the head! I saw what it could be right away.”

For the next several weeks, Perrin worked by himself, cleaning and shaping the room until it could serve his vision. “A lot of people offered their help,” he laughs, “but nobody showed up.”

But, once the doors opened, it didn’t take long for an audience to discover the charms of a space “where the music matters most.” And anxious to take the stage in a club advertised as having “no limits”, local jazzers like Peter Sprague, Gilbert Castellanos, and Charles McPherson quickly found spots on the calendar. When Perrin mixed in the back porch blues of Nathan James and Ben Hernandez, and the bluegrass improvisations of Sean and Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek) with the adventurous efforts of songwriters like Cindy Lee Berryhill, Berkley/Hart and Dave Howard, the cultural stew began to boil. Over the years he’s added 17 piece big bands, boogie woogie, mambo orchestras, even klezmer and gypsy ensembles. Though the performances are diverse in style, Perrin insists that it is all “jazz”.

“Jazz is a state of mind, rather than a specific type of music. A jazz musician is someone who lives and creates in the moment. Dizzy’s is my way of expressing that in a more ostentatious way.”

Perrin runs the entire operation singlehandedly, and his concept of an artist-driven collective allows most of the admission fee to go directly to the performers each night. “These things are not done for financial reasons,” the 56 year old Perrin says, adding that he finds ways to meet personal expenses through various side ventures. Though he admits “heaving a sigh of relief each month when every bill gets paid”, he says that life as a musician has taught him to “live on that marginal fringe”.

“For me the sense of community among people, especially musicians and other artists, is really important,” Perrin says. “All musicians really want is someone to say ’ I respect you’. When the musicians can be free, then the experience of the audience can be heightened enormously. It’s a magical situation.”

In 2007, the city mandated that the old warehouse undergo a massive retrofit to bring it up to 21st century code compliance. Unfortunately, after the retrofit, the space no longer had the required intimacy to properly present live music.


Here’s what Chuck Perrin has to say about dizzy’s current location in Pacific Beach:

“Since I started dizzy’s 15 years ago – my quest has been to bring you the magic of live jazz performance in its most accessible and purest form.  When the original warehouse down by the ballpark closed, I began searching for a space that

  • had a unique vibe
  • sounded exceptional
  • could accommodate all ages
  • and provide free accessible parking for everyone.

Thanks to Brian Booth at San Diego Jet Ski Rentals –  4275 Mission Bay Drive, on the South edge of Pacific Beach right next to the 5 freeway – I think I have finally found that elusive space.  He has agreed to let me hold shows in his showroom. After his business day closes @ 6PM, his staff moves out the jet ski’s, and I come in and set the room up for music.  It’s a unique space, much like the original warehouse, and I love the sound in there.  It’s unpretentious, comfortable and casual, and makes for a very satisfying listening experience.  Plus, anyone of any age can come to the shows.

None of this would be possible without YOU – the audiences who have supported and continue to support San Diego’s vibrant and creative  jazz community.”