For years, it seemed that every story about live jazz in Cincinnati revolved around the erratic state of affairs at the vaunted Blue Wisp Jazz Club. Business was up. Then business was down. The club was looking for a new home. On and on it went.

But, almost unnoticed in all that drama, live jazz had crept into another well-known downtown location: the Washington Platform Saloon & Restaurant.

It wasn’t a splashy set-up. Veteran bass player Mike Sharfe had already been playing a cocktail hour gig in the Platform’s bar area on Fridays. It was perfectly good arrangement.

But owner Jon Diebold longed for more music. The time never seemed quite right, though. Business was flat in the mid-1990s. Then came 2001 with its double whammy of the riots and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Just when things started looking up again, there was the great recession of 2007-2009.

“I began to think it might never happen,” says Diebold.

But then, the rebirth of Over-the-Rhine that people had talked about for decades started to happen. Washington Park. Vine Street. Restaurants. Condos. Things were unfolding at an amazing pace.

Diebold had been patient. He’s owned Washington Platform for 28 years. But he was unwilling to wait any longer.

“There seemed to be a wave of culinary entertainment in downtown Cincinnati and I wanted to be a part of that,” he says.

So in September 2012, Mike Sharfe’s early evening performances expanded to include a 9 p.m. to midnight gig.

And with that, he launched a jazz series that has grown into a veritable “who’s who” of Cincinnati jazz.

It wasn’t an overnight hit. Indeed, it took nearly eight months before the word spread sufficiently that audiences were consistently making their way to shows, which had now been moved to Washington Platform’s 72-seat main dining room.

“It takes a perfect combination to make something like that successful,” says Amy Culbertson, long-time entertainment editor at The Cincinnati Post who was married to the late Ron McCurdy, a mainstay of the Cincinnati jazz scene for many years. “First, you had a restaurateur who believed in what he was doing and had the faith and the patience to wait for audiences. And in Mike, he had a respected and experienced musician who understands the music business and the local audience.”

Interestingly, it has also worked because Washington Platform is so serious about the food on its menu. Because of the restaurant’s longevity, it has well-established and faithful clientele.

“That’s why the jazz works so well,” says Culbertson. “It’s music for grown-ups. It doesn’t hurt, either, that Washington Platform is a physical link between everything that is going on in Over-the-Rhine and the development in the middle of downtown.”

Audiences were continuing to grow when, in September 2013, Sharfe and photographer Joe Simon set up a photo shoot of 58 of Cincinnati’s most active jazz musicians. The occasion was the first anniversary of the Washington Platform shows.

For longtime jazz aficionados, it was a clear homage to “A Great Day in Harlem,” the legendary photo of a gathering of jazz icons taken by Art Kane in 1958.

But more than that, it was a statement of just how rich the pool of jazz talent is in Greater Cincinnati. It was as inspiring as it was inspired.

That’s when Diebold upped the intensity by nudging Sharfe to add Saturday nights, as well.

Sharfe was still wary.

“Let’s not get too big for our britches,” was always Sharfe’s response. “Let’s really get it on the map and then we can think seriously about it.”

But in Diebold’s eyes, they were already on the map. In March, Jazz at Washington Platform expanded to Saturdays.

Sharfe is loathe to suggest that there might be a do-gooder element about the series. He bristles at the idea that he might have created the series to save jazz in Cincinnati. In fact, he is quite upfront about why he wanted to start this.

“This isn’t to save the world,” he insists. “It’s for me to be able to play on Friday night. It’s for me to be able to play with the kinds of musicians I want to play with.”

No one really believes it is quite that self-centered.

Besides, this has not been the Mike Sharfe show. He plays most Friday nights. But the personnel with him changes with great regularity. And on Saturdays, anything goes.

“I believe in jazz,” says Sharfe. “Not just my jazz. I believe in variety inside the genre.”

So as you look through the online calendar of shows (, you’ll find a list filled with familiar names: Steve Snyder, Wayne Yeager, Billy Larkin, Rick Van Matre, Carmon DeLeone, Joe Jahnigen, Mike Wade, Sandy Suskind and more.

“It’s not about whether it’s music that I like,” says Sharfe, though he says he is a fan of the vast majority of musicians that he books. “It’s about letting the people who come down here experience all kinds of jazz.”

And that’s where the formula has been most rewarding. If it were just an outreach program to promote jazz in Cincinnati, it probably would be unsustainable as a business proposition.

“First and foremost, I’m a restaurateur,” says Diebold. “People do love the jazz. But what has made this work is that you can still enjoy our great menu and have a conversation and hear great music.”

Underneath it all, though, Diebold admits that he adores this music. It’s what his father played on the phonograph when he was growing up.

“I don’t know much about the jazz industry,” he says. “But I’m humbled by the way Mike runs this. You know, generally I’m back in the kitchen. But every so often, there’s a night when I can get out and just listen to the music for a minute. I stand there and think to myself ‘I can’t believe I’m involved with something this good.’ ”