Art Burn: Breakfast and Bob Dylan at Coffee Buzz

The Coffee Buzz, a friendly neighborhood joint on Chandler Blvd. in Ahwatukee/Phoenix, definitely caters to the average Joe or Jane. In fact, everything about the place -- from the bland white walls to the standard breakfast sandwiches and ok coffee -- is perfectly average. Surprising, considering the shop was voted "Best Breakfast in Ahwatukee" by a local newspaper in 2008. Then again, how many non-chain restaurants actually serve breakfast in Ahwatukee?

Coffee Buzz also bills itself as Ahwatukee's only art gallery. This month's show featured a collection of photographs by the late Joe Alper, whose son George lives in Tempe. Alper quit his newspaper job at 35 to become a freelance photojournalist specializing in candid shots of musicians. He captured the likes of Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and, as seen at Coffee Buzz, a young Bob Dylan.

Apparently, Dylan stayed with the Alpert family in New York during his early twenties while performing at several local coffee shops. In the 4-year period from 1961-64, Alpert took over 600 photographs of Dylan, some of which were compiled into a photo essay book available at Coffee Buzz.

Large format prints of selected photos hang on the shop's walls, backed by black felt boards with faux Dylan records that look a bit more like Sweet 16 party decorations than the sophisticated gallery frames the images deserve.

Dylan might not be a huge draw to today's bubblegum pop-loving youth, but let's face it: the teenagers and twenty-somethings are all over at Starbucks anyway. Coffee Buzz caters to suburbia, and that means soccer moms and former hippies that either remember Dylan or listened to him during their "classic" rock phase.

As for whether a bunch of candid photos of a rock musician equals art, well, that's up for debate. Personally, I'd categorize this one as more of a historical exhibit. What's striking about the photos isn't their composition, or the lighting -- though Alper was clearly proficient in his craft. The draw is the subject, and Alper's ability to capture the essence of Dylan through unexpected shots. If you're too young to recognize Dylan, or don't care for his music, this exhibit won't hold your interest.

Sadly, the same could be said for the breakfast sandwich and panini-type wrap we had on our last visit to Coffee Buzz. While the coffee was a rich, dark roast with nutty undertones, the food was standard morning fare, the kind of egg, meat and cheese sammies you can get at any breakfast joint.

We're not sure what all the Buzz is about this place having the best breakfast in town, but we'll likely return to see if next month's art is farther reaching -- and because it's the kind of place where we can eat our morning bagels in sweats without having to endure the stares of teenage hipsters drinking $5 lattes.

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