music morsels fiorenza July 2007

INDUSTRY PROFILE - Rob Coltun, Owner of Washington, DC Music Venue & Eatery Bossa Bistro & Lounge
by Mark E. Waterbury

Rob Colton

No snide Al Gore jokes please, but Rob Coltun was one of the people who helped build the internet. The Brooklyn native studied computer science and was a routing expert who was on the cutting edge of the burgeoning networking technologies. There was something else in Rob’s blood, however. “I played music all my life,” he notes. “At first I played ‘Proud Mary’ a bit too many times at weddings in the early days and I couldn’t deal with it. So I was happier to do more original music and help others who create original music.”

Rob’s parents always were listening to music. His mother was from Detroit so he was exposed to the Motown R&B sound, and also listened to many college and independent New York stations who played various types of international, classical, and jazz music. Music had its hooks in him and when the computer business became too “big and painful and political,” Rob made the obvious career path change. “I had a back log of songs so we went into a studio and recorded them. I got to work with some great musicians. I met Adam Levy who has become Norah Jones’ guitarist while on one of my computer programming trips. He had the kind of ears that I wanted and I asked him to produce the CD. He brought in some of the musicians that fleshed out the sound and it was really a great experience.” Calling the band Touch Acoustra, they began to play in the local Washington, DC area, as Rob moved to the Nation’s Capital several years earlier. Joined in the band by drummer Byron McWilliams and bassist Paul Phillip, Rob and Touch Acoustra soon decided some trips to one of the country's jazz meccas would be of great help to their careers. “We spent about a year and a half going to New Orleans every three months. That was a fantastic experience because people have such incredible ears there. That was a great learning experience because we could push the envelope a bit more, and that town appreciated what we were trying to do.”

Back in DC, Rob was finding the scene to be a bit different. They were having a tougher time finding their niche in the market. Rob, who already had music business experience by handling the bookings, marketing and ancillary business aspects of Touch Acoustra, decided they had to take a serious step, not just to help his own band, but other bands seeking more exposure for their music. “ I am actually pretty good at the business thing, I just have to balance the other side of my brain to do the music. I had this vision that DC needed a place where people have their original sound and original music presented the way it should be. Very few places in DC allow that.” The obvious remedy for this as far as Rob was concerned was to open his own club, In 2002, Bossa Bistro opened its doors on 18th Street, which is generally considered the music strip of DC. The club featured performances from a local spectrum of jazz musicians, including of course Touch Acoustra.  “There are just some fantastic musicians in DC, and I really wanted to create a place to showcase them. We’re also getting so many writers and artists coming in here to check things out, and a very diverse international crowd. We are almost like a united nations of music. It started out very well.” Also featuring a menu with European and Far Eastern cuisine, Bossa Bistro made an immediate splash on the local music scene. Although he learned a few hard lessons in the early years of the club, he has seen a progression and growth in the five years it has been open. “I get bands from out of the country that hear of the place and ask me if they can play here the next time they come through. I think it is because of our diversity. We are trying to become like some of these clubs in New York and New Orleans who allow a lot of diversity in their styles. That is how music has grown throughout history. We have such a cultural blend in our area that the goal of Bossa is to have people with great ears come in and hear how different styles can be blended into music.”

After parting ways with his original partner in Bossa Bistro, Rob brought in a new partner Wagner Deephino to help with various business aspects. They are planning on setting up a tour of the local colleges involving Touch Acoustra and several of the club’s regular bands, which will offer the colleges the chance to donate proceeds to a charity of their choice while helping to promote the DC music scene. Rob also has a recording studio in his home's basement where he works with an engineer from the local NPR station. They have recorded five of the acts that perform at Bossa Bistro, and are toying with the idea of starting a small label. “I want to get that music and those bands out there more. I really want to create a scene and a community based at the club, while also blossoming out to envelop the other venues to ignite a more vibrant scene in DC.” Although he occasionally does a computer project to help out his former associates from his days in that business, it is obvious that Rob has found and cultivated his passion. Balancing the music and business sides can be a lot of work, but he has found it to be very rewarding and it helps him to look towards a bright future, both for Bossa Bistro and Touch Acoustra. “When I am playing my music at my club, and it is being appreciated by all these great sets of ears out there, that is just wonderful. To see this international crowd of folks really digging what is going on there is really satisfying. I wanted to create a place that people could come to and feel comfortable like it is their own living room, and being uplifted by what they experience. Accomplishing that is just a great feeling for me.”     


Rob Coltun’s advice for musicians: “Musicians really need to be focused on their responsibilities. Being early for gigs, showing up on time, knowing songs when you go in for a gig...just basic business things. Some people go in a bit too casual, especially with the music. You have to know your music and really study it, and realize the business side where you have to spend your time and resources to make it happen. It’s not easy, but nothing worthwhile is.”
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