The four-count from the clack of Ethel Ennis’ beige open-toe flats resonated off the stone tiles inside Marianne Matheny-Katz’s house, where Ennis enraptured the room with a rendition of Bessie Smith’s “Empty Bed Blues.” Her performance was an impromptu offering after being called from the audience at the close of the evening’s program. Ennis, a sage performer who has traded riffs with Ellington, Basie and Goodman, presented each line like a bawdy storyteller brimming with a good yarn: “Oh, he boiled my cabbage, and he made it awful hot/He boiled it, I got to tell you that he made it, made it awful hot/But when he slipped the bacon in, he overflowed the pot.”
For sure, Ennis’ performance would have drawn praise and applause in any club, anywhere, but what made it significant on this June night is that her signature voice marked the 34th concert given in three years at a performance space created in Matheny-Katz’s suburban Baltimore home. Together with her husband, Howard, the couple has been hosting, on average, a show a month since 2007 at their residence, dubbed Jazzway 6004. The Katz’s work is representative of a growing culture populated by promoters who’ve abandoned the traditional club setting in favor of presenting artists in living rooms, restaurants, coffee shops, uniquely designed spaces or any place that fits a well-tuned piano.