Romancing The Tone At Caesar's Club

Caesar's Restaurant and Lounge, 20109 Aurora Ave. N., live music Tuesday-Sunday 6:30-midnight; dancing from 8 p.m.; 546-4820.

Tired of flirting with low frequencies and high decibels? Bored with beat-mixing, rap lyrics and lip-synching? Convinced that Milli Vanilli belongs in a crispy waffle cone? (Two scoops, please, and who cares if they can sing?)

If your answers are yes, there's a chance you might enjoy Caesar's, a dinner club with a live band and a laser-free dance floor at 202nd and Aurora (across from Aurora Village). It is open for dining, dancing and listening Tuesdays through Sundays until midnight. It is informal, intimate, inexpensive and undiscovered.

The resident band (The Front Page) is a versatile and relaxing trio that can switch instruments and musical eras at the drop of an octave. Mostly at the piano is Derek Page, an entertaining Londoner with a repertoire of unplumbed depths; and the superb bass player is Tamara Burdett, whose career as a jazz musician began in the '60s with a band that included jazz guitarist Larry Coryell.

The vocalist and unofficial leader is Faith Starchman, whose rich alto voice seems to slip into a different costume for every song - torch, jazz blues, clarinet, Spanish, Italian and French. Her version of Edith Piaf's ``Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien'' and ``Mi lor'' are showstopping. (Starchman did a show last year at the Crepe de Paris Cabaret in Rainier Square; French owner Annie Agostini said, ``She sound a beet like Piaf, non? The meaning of ze words, you know, she can feel zem.'')

Caesar's features Starchman on Tuesdays, Page on Wednesdays, both on Thursdays, and Burdett joins them for the rest of the week. Each Sunday night is a mainly jazz jam session. (Interested musicians can contact Ben Laigo at the restaurant.)

The owner of Caesar's, Ben Laigo, is no newcomer to music or the food business. He was manager of the Harbor Club downtown for 28 years, and in 1958 he had a coffeehouse just off Seventh and Olive that served espresso and live jazz for four years. ``We were at the back of the Music Hall Theater, and I used to wander through there at night and dream about how I would make it into a dinner theater if it was mine.'' About 25 years later, Laigo opened Caesar's.

Caesar's has survived the first rocky year as a throwback white-cloth dinner club, a family-owned oasis in a Denny's desert. And if one can judge by the turnout for last week's jam session, Seattle's musicians are getting the message.

Freelance woodwind player Jock Budelman said he had only just discovered Caesar's the week before, and this was already his third night sitting in. He brought his clarinet, flute and saxophone. ``This place just has to take off. I don't know of anything else like it,'' said Budelman, before he excused himself and his flute to join a singer with Liz Taylor eyes at the microphone for a haunting duet of ``Misty.''

The eyes belonged to Tonette Berger, a newcomer to the jam sessions, along with professional jazz vocalist Hilary Harris. ``He told me about Caesar's,'' said Harris, pointing to a tweed cap bobbing behind the piano - jazz pianist Zyah Ahmoneul, as it turned out, who was accompanying the smooth blues of singer Ralph Stroy.

You'll find Caesar's to be a safe distance from the Top 40 - and the Surgeon General would agree that the mid-'40s are better for you, anyway.

Mea Hassell is a freelance writer who lives in Lake Forest Park