Big Jazz on SmallsLIVE

Bob Kenselaar By

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While Smalls doesn't have the wild and loose feel it had in the '90s, it's open seven days a week until 4 a.m., with three or four bands playing every night, and the club still hosts late-night jam sessions on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wilner finds booking bands at the club to be a challenge. "It's hard because I have a lot of friends. I love these musicians so much, dearly, but I can't just give the people who are my friends the gigs, because it doesn't quite work like that. If there's a senior artist who deserves a gig and needs it, we provide for them. If there are guys who are just clearly at the forefront of the scene and there's no question that they should be performing, then that's obvious. And then there are young guys who are up-and-coming, and we really want to promote the ideas coming through the ranks. And we have to think about who are the artists who really bring something to the club.

Spike Wilner Solo Piano Live at Smalls"I always tell people the scene dictates the booking policy for me. We just try to keenly observe it and be as fair as possible. I try to be very compassionate and attentive—but at the same time, I can't give everybody everything that they want. We've now gone to an invitation-only booking policy, actually.

"The club is so small. Our budget is tiny. The artists who play here get paid less than what they should be making and less than what they might make somewhere else, but they're glad to play here because of our environment and who we are. They know that we have the best interest in mind in terms of the music. The integrity level here is very high. And the playing field is very high. If you're playing a gig at Smalls, maybe Dave Kikoski is going to be in the audience, or Greg Hutchinson or Harold Mabern. You're not going to be playing for a bunch of tourists who don't know anything about jazz. This is a very sophisticated audience, and it's not just the musicians who come here—we attract people who are serious jazz fans who really know music. The bar is set high for anyone who plays here, even at jam sessions, and that's something that we want to maintain."

Selected Discography

Harold Mabern Trio, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2013)
Joe Magnarelli, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2013)
Alex Sipiagin, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2013)
Will Vincent, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2013)
David Schnitter, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2013)
Tyler Mitchell, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2013)
Grant Stewart, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2013)
Dezron Douglas, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2013)
Joel Frahm Quartet, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2011)
Bernstein/Goldings/Stewart, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2011)
Bruce Barth Trio, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2011)
Cyrille Aimee + Friends, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2011)
Spike Wilner, Solo Piano Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2011)
Ben Wolfe Quintet, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2011)
Planet Jazz , Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2010)
Ethan Iverson/Albert "Tootie" Heath/ Ben Street, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2010)
Seamus Blake Quintet, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2010)
Steve Davis Quintet, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2010)
Peter Bernstein Quartet, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2010)
Kevin Hays Trio, Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE, 2010)

Photo Credit

Pages 1, 4: Herb Scher


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