It did not take long for a booking at Little Tokyo’s Blue Whale to become a stamp of approval among music fans with an ear for improvisatory sounds. If you could get your name on the chalkboard marquee, it was a validation from the owner and booker Joon Lee that you were doing something interesting. Probably not commercial. Maybe a little hip. But definitely new and worth pursuing.

That approval was enough to keep the club as the centerpiece of L.A.’s imaginative and expanding jazz scene for more than a decade. But amid an evaporated source of revenue and unforgiving lease obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic, Blue Whale has permanently closed.

 John Nelson on piano as the Lorca Hart Trio performs at the Blue Whale

John Nelson on piano as the Lorca Hart Trio performs at Blue Whale in 2010.

(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

“We used to have an annual fundraiser,” says Lee, 46, calling from Seoul where he has spent most of the pandemic caring for family. “Every year we had a target, whether it was to upgrade the sound system or fix the women’s toilet. When musicians offered
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