Exhilaration builds as the taxi winds its way towards your hotel. Looking out the window, the flavor of the city rushes past you sidewalk soft-pretzel vendors, waiters changing the daily menu specials on the marquee, delivery trucks lined up by the curb, sneaker-clad people in business attire, Starbuck’s with a large American flag in the window, deli’s wafting the aroma of pastrami on rye, and a melting pot of residents bustling on the streets with cell phones, shopping bags and briefcases. It’s grand to be a part of it.
When Chicago's top musicians moved to New York in the 1920s, New York City became the leading influence in the world of jazz. Nearly every major jazz style of the past seventy years has been initiated in the Big Apple, so for the jazz enthusiast or artist, New York City has much to offer.
With the increasing success of Jazz at Lincoln Center, it is no wonder that jazz is experiencing a revival there. People are flocking to New York City to discover what thousands of others have long thrilled to experience, Jazz Big Apple Style! While many of the former clubs have fallen by the wayside over the years, many remain, echoing the testament of America’s cultural gift...All That Jazz!
JazzReview.com is delighted to present a critique of some of New York City’s jazz clubs and the performances they saw during their recent visit to New York City. Look for individual performance reviews from our staff in the days to follow.
THE VILLAGE VANGUARD
Max Gordon opened the infamous Village Vanguard in 1935. The club soon became a gathering spot for an avant-garde of poets, folk singers, and jazz musicians Acts were anything culturally in-vogue and intellectually entertaining at the time, drawing customers to this "Mecca of Hip" as it has sometimes been coined. Presently run by Max Gordon’s wife, Lorraine, the Village Vanguard has stood the test of time, hosting some of jazz’s most legendary artists, notably Bill Evans, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane. The first Live at the Village Vanguard recording was Sonny Rollins, "A Night at the Village Vanguard" in 1957. The tradition continues with recent Vanguard live recordings of Joe Lovano and Tommy Flanagan. The club is Located at 178 Seventh Avenue South, below West 11th Street in Greenwich Village.
New York’s Westside boasts the Iridium Jazz Club, hailed by New York Magazine as New York’s Best Jazz Club. Located in a historic jazz neighborhood, at 1650 Broadway, off Fifty-first Street, the Iridium has been host to international jazz fans since 1994. There have been many major releases recorded live at Iridium from artists such as Jacky Terrasson, Charlie Haden, Kenny Barron, Benny Carter, The Jazz Messengers, Sweets Edison, and Clark Terry. Legendary guitarist, Les Paul, plays every Monday and the club is affluently upscale, offering a hot bed of jazz, excellent cuisine and award-winning wine.
It was Charlie Parker’s nickname "Bird" that served as the inspiration for Birdland’s club name. Birdland opened in December1949 on Broadway, west of 52nd Street with Charlie Parker headlining. Their double and triple bills during the fifties and sixties commenced at 9 p.m. and lasted until dawn. Count Basie and his big band adopted Birdland as their New York headquarters, Coltrane’s quartet regularly appeared at the club and live broadcasts and recordings such as Coltrane’s Live at Birdland and George Shearing’s Lullaby of Birdland only added to the historic line up of some of the best jazz musicians on the planet. Since it’s opening, Birdland has moved, closed, reopened, moved, moved and finally rested on its laurels where it presently sits mid-town at 315 W. 44th Street between 8th & 9th Street in Midtown Manhattan. Birdland offers top-notched jazz performances, a world-class setting, good acoustics, and a menu with award winning Southern Cuisine.
THE BLUE NOTE
The Blue Note is located at 131 West 3rd Street, between 6th Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) and McDougal Street. It is located in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village, but also boasts locations in Las Vegas, Nevada, Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka, Japan, Jakarta, Indonesia and Seoul, Korea. Under the auspices of Blue Note International, Inc., Blue Note is the world’s only franchised jazz club network, negotiating openings of other clubs throughout Europe and the United States. New York City’s Blue Note opened its doors in 1981 and has been home to Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, Billy Eckstine, Carmen McRae, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Oscar Peterson, to name a few. It continues to feature the biggest names in jazz, but never limits itself, presenting Brazilian, Latin, Fusion, Blues, R&B, Soul, Contemporary and Big Band. The club is an intimate cabaret without a bad seat in the house and their monthly showcase provides some of the greatest names on the jazz scene today. The Blue Note offers a varied dining menu, a state-of-the-art sound system, and a gift shop on the second floor with a variety of gifts, mementos, posters, and live CDs. Reservations are recommended.
THE KNITTING FACTORY
Located on 74 Leonard Street between Broadway and Church, The Knitting Factory marches to the beat of its own drum. It has a long involved history since opening in 1987. The original club opened in the daytime as an art gallery and served coffee. In the evening, they provided art in motion, poetry and spoken-word performances, and a mixed bag including rock, performance art, and anything else that would fly. Today, you will find the improvisers, the freer jazz players, a new generation of funk/groove jazz musicians and the world-beat-influence. There are ruff edges to the club that hosts a very young crowd, several acts happening at the same time and no seating in the performance areas, but there is definitely something happening and a raw excitement to some of the musicians who perform there. There are even some stars in the making, flexing their proverbial notes while finding their groove.