As a non-profit organization, Jazz St. Louis relies heavily on financial support from generous donors and sponsorships, grants, ticket and subscription purchases and more. But one of their most valuable donations is… time. Jazz St. Louis and Jazz at the Bistro are fortunate to receive the generous time of numerous volunteers that serve at almost every performance at the Bistro.
Box Office manager, Adam Steffo, works tirelessly to oversee all box office operations and staff, who service the needs associated with guests at the Bistro, as well as all emails and phone calls to the box office. He also oversees a staff of nearly 40 volunteers.
Steffo is no stranger to live music. With a voice performance degree from Milliken University, Adam went on to study opera performance at the Boston Conservatory of Music. After finishing his work there, Adam returned to St. Louis for another local ticket company and literally watched the renovation of Jazz St. Louis happening across the street.
Joining the Jazz St. Louis staff in October of 2014, Adam has emerged to become the “guy who solves problems” and does everything in his power to make the Bistro guests feel welcome and ensure they have a good time. Every week brings new challenges. For instance, Adam recalls a time when a patron showed up with an important guest who he wanted to impress. Unfortunately, the patron mistakenly thought he had purchased tickets when in fact he had not. Adam got them a ringside table.
On another occasion, a family visiting from New York City noticed the Bistro as they were leaving a different event nearby. Shoshana Bean happened to be here, and the family (with high school aged kids) knew of her. With the box office closed and unable to sell tickets, Adam made sure they had a great spot inside to watch the performance and helped make their visit to St. Louis truly memorable. On an almost nightly basis, Adam will move guests from the balcony to the floor, should they want to make the move. He prides himself on his first name-basis with most of the season subscription holders.
To help ensure a wonderful experience for guests at the Bistro, Adam counts on the volunteer staff who often are the first faces guests see when arriving at the Bistro for a performance. Among their many responsibilities, the volunteers greet guests, seat them at their tables, or invite them to enjoy a drink in Nancy’s Lounge if the venue isn’t ready to be seated. All volunteers are well-trained by Adam to answer questions as they arise and make the guests feel welcome and comfortable for their evening at the Bistro.
What do volunteers get out of it, we asked? “Seeing artists they may never have had a chance to see,” Steffo points out. “Our volunteers get to experience amazing shows for free, and since it’s a smaller venue, it’s a little easier to take care of guests and still enjoy the show. And one thing all of the volunteers share is that they want to serve the community, which is one of the most important things we do here at Jazz St. Louis,” Adam says.
Some of the volunteers have been here for nearly the entire existence of Jazz St. Louis. One of the “lifers” is Michael Lowenstein, who joined Jazz St. Louis 15 years ago. He saw an ad in the West End Word publication about Jazz St. Louis needing volunteers. He interviewed with Jazz St. Louis president, Gene Dobbs-Bradford, and the rest is history.
Mr. Lowenstein was a natural fit for Jazz St. Louis. A lifelong lover of jazz music, he grew up in a “jazz family,” that also played and listened to jazz music. As a young man, Lowenstein started a high school jazz club, playing saxophone and flute. Some 50 years later, he still plays with friends and with a couple of local ensembles.
When asked about his influences, Lowenstein mentions Jackie McLean, and how he developed a love for a more hard edge sound like Horace Silver and John Coltrane in the 60’s and 70’s. Now he’s always listening for new people and new sounds, and speaks of the rise of female sax players like Tia Fuller and Grace Kelly. Some Jazz St. Louis regulars like Joshua Redmond and Jazzmeia Horn are two of his favorites. “I love Jazzmeia. She has an unusual scat style that reminds me of Eric Dolphy, a saxophonist who played with Charlie Mingus.”
“What I find most rewarding,” Lowenstein continues, “is that the performances at the Bistro enrich me and others at the same time. I get to listen, learn and grow and be of service to the community.” In fact, Lowenstein has spent much of his life in service to others, as a professor at Harris Stowe University. A self-professed city person, he grew up in Clayton and has lived his entire life in St. Louis city, residing now in the Central West End.
What are some of his experiences as a Bistro volunteer? “Sometimes people come in who don’t have tickets. So we encourage them to go to Nancy’s Jazz Lounge, which is the best jazz sampling room in the city. You don’t have to pay for the ticket, but you still get to witness some of the best live jazz music anywhere,” Lowenstein tells us.
In his years here, he’s seen it all and developed a true love for the venue and the musicians who perform here. He recalls watching Grace Kelly stroll through the audience with her horn, much to everyone’s delight. On another occasion, they had to turn off the outside speakers because of a performer’s “colorful” language.
Sometimes guests are surprised when he seats them at a table with strangers (the Bistro is “family style” seating). Almost always, these strangers quickly become friends, or “Bistro Buddies” as he calls them, in the shared enjoyment of the music. In fact, this type of seating is one of the things that surprises and delights new guests as much as anything.
We asked Adam what he enjoys most about working with the volunteers. “I learn more about jazz from the volunteers than anyone. They are “jazz fanatics. They also come from all walks of life. I learn about painting, photography, business… everyone comes with cool stories.”
Adam is joined in the box office by JerMarco, Jamal, and Angelique. Part time staffers, Megan and Carmen function as floor managers on show nights, supervising volunteers and handling any customer service issues.
What kind of commitment are volunteers expected to make? “We have 4 volunteers at every show – one person in the lobby, one upstairs, and two downstairs. They stay for both shows but can leave after the second show seating is complete,” Adam informs us. “we also have the same volunteer staff for Coffee Concerts at 10am on Thursdays.” Some volunteers are here twice a week, while some prefer to help out just once a month.”
Volunteers range from college students to retirees to young professionals and anyone with an interest in jazz or just enjoys live music. Being a “people person,” having a friendly smile, and a genuine enjoyment of meeting new people is a definite plus. When asked what he would like more of out of his volunteers, Adam simply says, “more of them!”
Think you might be interested in volunteering with Jazz at the Bistro? Opportunities to volunteer are available just about any evening that suits your schedule. If you have the time, Adam can fit you in! Finally, Adam smiles, “you get your own name tag!”
Applications are available online here. Join Jazz St. Louis and be a part of the transformation of our community!