Before Mike Caputi was a business professor and owner of North Buffalo's Daily Planet Coffee Company, he was an accomplished drummer, one who smashed snares and cymbals inside downtown clubs and out-of-state Holiday Inns.
It was a time before disco and DJs, back when every bar and tavern hosted live musicians with regularity. There always were stages, people to help you with your gear and someone to formally introduce you before a performance. There was significance to every performance and, in a time before iPhone-related distractions, a respect paid to trained artists who were not only entertaining, but also creating original compositions for crowds on a nightly basis.
"And as a musician, I just assumed it would always be that way," said Caputi, a veteran of such acts as Burnt Sugar and Revival. "People respected musicians and what they did. It was an important part of the mix.
"But gradually, that deteriorated to the point where you'd show up and owners would say, 'you're going to play over there, but you have to wait for those people to finish their fish fry.' You became an interruption, an afterthought."
The same cannot be said about Caputi's caffeine-powered locale at the east end of Hertel. Opened in November of 2014 at 1862 Hertel Ave. inside the former Parker's Pharmacy, Daily Planet is now complementary to nearby development.
Blocks away from Dash's Market and future locations of Deep South Taco and Lexington Co-op, it stands as a bastion for aspiring, established or visiting musicians, ones vying for performance time on its rustic coffeehouse stage or eager to teach Buffalo's next generation of multi-instrumentalists.
Can they do it all with a steaming cup of organic fair trade? Yes. But at Daily Planet, there's much more on the menu than coffee.
A destination for dark roast, music and musicians
When Caputi first drew up a business plan to pursue the idea of Daily Planet Coffee five years ago, the concept was centered on two simple things: coffee and music. The longtime java fanatic has spent his life sampling a wide variety of selections while touring with bands, walking through Manhattan or waiting in his car outside his children's piano lessons.
"I was always excited if their lesson was close to a coffee place so I could scoot over, grab [a cup] and come back," said Caputi, who grew up off Hertel on Crestwood Avenue. When he was alerted to the availability of the former Parker's Pharmacy - most recently segmented into separate spaces for a coffee shop, yoga classes and massage therapy - he found a room that would work.
First came Daily Planet's current array of in-house signature brews, specialty roasts and espresso drinks, all prepped with the well-traveled coffee lover in mind. Soon after came the music, delivered at a conversational tone that would awaken the communal experience of the clubs Caputi used to both play and frequent and reverent to the musicians who would take the stage.
"I felt like, if I'm going to do this, I'm going to respect musicians," said Caputi. "When they show up to play here, they're going to feel like I felt in the 1970s. It was important, like, 'hey, the band's here' and not 'ugh, the band's here. ' "
Folk and blues. Classical guitarists, sitar players and chamber musicians. Artists who have worked with Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles, and yes, singer/songwriters playing covers of early Bob Dylan. All have graced the Daily Planet stage, filling calendar spots throughout lunch shows or regular evening performances.
And every week, Caputi gets mailings and messages from more who would like to land a live date. Most of the time, acts play for a modest payout and tips, but it's not about the money. Local and visiting bands — ones passing through en route to a larger venues in Cleveland, Toronto or elsewhere — feel drawn to the unique coffeehouse's intimate confines.
"It's been very rewarding," Caputi said. "I love that we can give something back to the music community, both musicians and neighborhood residents have stopped by and said thanks for creating a place where people can play."
Caputi knows entertainment, but he also knows education, serving as a business professor at SUNY Buffalo State and private music instructor for aspiring percussionists. For years, he's given drum guidance to those with designs on becoming the next Buddy Rich or John Bonham, one snare hit at a time.
So along with his original plans for his ideal music- and coffee-infused Cavern Club, there was always the hope of adding a music school to the equation. Planet Music is the result of that hope.
Opened in September 2014 and now attached to the main Daily Planet Coffee operation, the instructional space is operated by accredited and accomplished music instructors, ones who teach Buffalo's youth between downtown gigs, national tours or sets inside the neighboring coffee shop.
Instructor Chris Jones plays fiddle for Sportsmen's Tavern favorite Skiffle Minstrels. Former teacher Zuri Appleby is now playing bass on tour with Nick Jonas. And though Planet Music manager and multigenre guitarist Drew Azzinaro has opened for Greg Allman, the Lockport native is now lending his talents to producing Buffalo's next generation of music talent between experimental sets on the Daily Planet stage.
"If I wasn't playing here right now, I wouldn't be playing much classical guitar," said Azzinaro. "This is a venue that I can play once a week, try new pieces out, and it makes me keep up my repertoire on that instrument."
Having accomplished instructors like Azzinaro has allowed the thriving school to set up workshops with visiting and local musicians; explore the possibility of providing need-based scholarships to students; and aided Planet Music's partnership with Music is Art (MiA). The Robby Takac-led organization is now collaborating with the school and Daily Planet, as well as using the locale as a drop-off site for used instruments eventually distributed by MIA to young players.
It all further enhances Caputi's coffee-accompanied commitment to the arts and education, and seeing that it continues.
"Less and less kids are learning an instrument as public schools have less and less money for music programs," said Caputi. "We have to find some other way to provide that, so we're hoping that, with our music school, we can get some kids playing. It's a good thing on so many levels."
The Daily Planet is more than a coffee shop, offering an array of entertainment including live music and an exhibit featuring the artist of the month. Music is usually performed Thursday through Sunday and includes acoustic lunch Thursdays and Fridays and evening jazz Thursdays.
Here’s a quick look at what’s coming; a full monthly schedule is posted at dailyplanetcoffee.com.
12:30 to 1:30 p.m.: acoustic lunch with MaryBeth King.
5 to 6:30 p.m.: jazz with Fred Caputi.
Noon to 1 p.m.: acoustic lunch with Drew Azzinaro
7 to 9 p.m.: original music by Grace Lougen.
7 to 9 p.m.: acoustic R&B with Ed Koban.
11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.: cellist Jonathan “Jono” Golove.
3 to 5 p.m.: Classical Music Sunday with Joe Goehle.
2 to 4 p.m.: Book signing with Melody L. Barksdale, author of “Till Death Do Us Part.”
Through Oct. 9: works of Enid Edelman.
Opening Oct. 10: works by Mary Ann Kammer.