Cookie Wong Says Farewell to Quiet Storm
Jazz vocalist a mainstay despite club closure
By Julie D. Soo – Asian Week – July 2000
Jazz vocalist Cookie Wong flashes a come-hither smile as she pops out “Popsicle Toes,” making couples blush at thoughts of what might happen after a romantic evening of fine dining and entertainment at Quiet Storm Restaurant & Bar in the Cannery.
“Smoooooth ... like buttah,” her ardent followers and new fans say of Wong’s velvety voice and easy style. Wong makes seamless transitions from pop, jazz, the Latin beat, and romantic ballads.
It’s hard to imagine that the youthful Wong has already logged two decades entertaining enthusiastic crowds.
Wong, a native San Franciscan, is best known for her performances in Bay Area concert halls, music festivals, hotels, and clubs. Wong is one of a few Asian American musicians currently performing in jazz styles that have traditionally been associated with white or black vocalists. Although she names performers such as Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, June Christy, and Nancy Wilson as influences, Wong has perfected a highly regarded vocal style distinctly her own.
The late columnist and man-about-town Herb Caen called Wong “ineffable,” often punctuating his column with his raves about her. Caen would write about the original Pearl’s Jazz Joint in the basement of the Great Eastern Restaurant on Jackson Street in Chinatown, “jumping” at 4 a.m. with some of the best musicians in town plus “jazzinger” Cookie Wong. Pearl, Wong’s mother, has since sold the family restaurant, but jazz aficionados can still find Pearl and great jazz at Jazz at Pearl’s on Columbus, a couple of doors down from the famed North Beach Tosca bar.
Wong continues to draw audiences and critical acclaim. Entertainment News told its readers, “her delivery of songs embraces a graceful and immense vocalization...extraordinary listening delight.” The Press Club of San Francisco simply said of Wong, “delightful!” Hokubei News sums it all up, calling Wong “an engaging performer, exuding personality and, most of all, she is a marvelous jazz singer.”
Wong’s bubbly personality keeps fans at her feet even during breaks. Everyone gets a chance to catch up with her and find out about her next gig or project. She chats with friends and fans, moving effortlessly through a room. Few performers of her class have her genuine, “down home” quality that makes audiences feel special.
Wong works hard at cultivating her art, but always makes time for her community. With the non-profit organization Bread & Roses, Wong has performed, as well as recruited and trained other artists, bringing free, live entertainment to disenfranchised audiences in hospitals, hospices, prisons and homeless shelters. Wong is a familiar face at community fundraising events, street fairs and festivals, donating her time and talent.
The effervescent Wong is a bit melancholy this evening. It’s the first of a two-night performance for her that bids farewell to the decade-old Quiet Storm, a place frequented by many Asian Americans and an anchor for many Asian American artists that is slated to lose out to dot-com office space.
Wong has watched other popular venues for live music such as The Following Sea at Pier 39 and Kanzaki’s in Japantown disappear. She fears that soaring rents and the demand for San Francisco office space in the heat of the dot-com boom will force the remaining, independently run clubs out, too. The Jazz at Pearl’s lease has only two years left; beyond that, its future is unclear. But what is clear, is that Wong and her talent are here to stay.
Fans will be glad to know that Wong finally will be working on her own CD. A good fortune from our Cookie.