“We’re history, that’s who we are,” declares Nina Buck, the owner of the Palm Court Jazz Café, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this month. When Nina’s husband, the late George Buck, bought the Decatur Street building to house his multi-faceted GHB Jazz Foundation, Nina simply envisioned a coffee shop at street level. That idea grew and the happy result is the Palm Court, a jazz club, bar and restaurant that’s become a destination for jazz lovers from around the world.
In 30 years, you’ve undoubtedly enjoyed many special moments at the Palm Court. Can you share a few?
Actually, when it opened in 1989, one of the special things was that it took us two years to architecturally make this place, which was an old warehouse, so it was important that we got it right. Having the music that George loved and I loved had to be a part of what the Palm Court did. [Trumpeter] Lionel Ferbos’ 100th birthday [in 2011] was a very special day. He played [and sang] that night.
Who was the leader of the first band that performed at the Palm Court?
[Trombonist] Louis Nelson and the Palm Court Jazz Band in January 1989. When I opened I didn’t dance around—I was shy. I was cooking every morning. I made all the soups and red beans, curry—all the pot cooking. It was a little way along that I realized I could be front of house. I came to be the host and I just started dancing.
Was it always a dream of yours to have a club?
I never thought about having a club but I loved music. When I was in London I was going out all the time and I went to jazz clubs because that’s the music I loved.
What is it about the music that entices you?
The thing is when you have a six- or seven-piece band with a good drummer, good pianist, a good front line and a good bass player it just sings. Important was having the music and having the food too, because there aren’t many places in New Orleans where people can sit, hear music, eat and bring their kids.
Did you ever imagine that the Palm Court would be celebrating its 30th anniversary?
Yes, because I never thought I would give up. Because of George I won’t give up. I have a lot of people who depend on me. It is a family. Bobby [Davis] is now the chef, he started here at 14. He went to college and came back. He’s 45 now. Bobby is a great dancer but he’s getting shy—I drag him out [to dance]. Bobby, Kathy Edegran and I run the place.