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Landmarks of a Capital of Jazz

A sign of the times, present and past.   Photo by Dorkys Ramos for the NEA.

It’s been a heavy spring so far, with troubling news around the world, the nation, and in our city. But the colorful blooms of spring are finally opening – crocuses, daffodils, forsythia, hellebores – and besides, it’s JazzApril. Why not celebrate, if you can?

“If I were celebrating JazzApril in the Village I’d do a tour of the great clubs there,” jazz critic Howard Mandel told Off the Grid. “The Village Vanguard, Small’s, Fat Cat, Cornelia Street, 55 Bar, the new Mezzrow, (le) Poisson Rouge, Arthur’s Tavern, and in the East Village, Drom and The Stone.

“I don’t know of any other place on earth where there’s so much music presented in such concentration,” said Mandel, president of the Jazz Journalists Association, which along with the Smithsonian and others, is promoting Jazz Appreciation Month.

jazz logo
‘Cause this April can use some more sunshine.

Our East and West Village landmarks of jazz very much include the Vanguard, which has enriched the world of musicians and listeners from its home at 178 Seventh Avenue since 1935; it’s been having a ball observing its 80th birthday.  There are also officially designated city landmarks, like the Avenue B home of Charlie Parker.

While some landmarks are gone, only to live on in recordings – like Cafe Society, the Cinderella Club, or the Five Spot (which inspired this GVSHP panel, including Mandel) – plenty of special places are thriving, as the list above demonstrates.

My late grandfather, who attended NYU in the 1930s, once told me he saw Billie Holiday perform at Cafe Society. Amazing! What would have been Lady Day’s 100th birthday, April 7, was also honored by just about every jazz station and program in the world over the past week.

Lady Day died at age 44, but lives forever.

Go to a club tonight, though, and you might stumble across the next artist to shape contemporary music. One night at Small’s several years back, I happened to hear an unknown young singer and bassist named Esperanza Spalding, who went on to enchant the music world and win four Grammys.

“Greenwich Village is the capital of jazz because it has welcomed adventurous thinking, artistic expression and audiences eager to hear the best of what’s exciting and new,” said Mandel. “Some things never change!”

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