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Culture Clubs: A History of the U.S. Jazz Clubs, Part II: New York

Karl Ackermann By

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In New York, the number of dedicated jazz clubs is more than twice that of the next largest market, Chicago. There are a host of current "high-end" clubs in Manhattan and most have been well-documented by virtue of booking big names and offering more upscale ambience. The Blue Note, a franchise with a presence on four continents is likely the best known of this group. Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (Jazz at Lincoln Center) benefits from the star power of Gillespie's name and Wynton Marsalis, as the Artistic Director of JALC. Dizzy's is just one component of a broad array of musical and educational programs and features that reside under the JALC umbrella. The Jazz Standard is one of the more recent—and more posh—clubs in Manhattan. The Mingus Orchestra is the unofficial house band and the club is noted for both top name extended engagements and on-site, live recordings. Most notable in both categories is the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra with additional "Live at the Jazz Standard" releases coming from the Dave Douglas Quintet, David Gilmore, Fred Hersch and others.

A Dichotomy of Settings

From many of the higher elevations in Tarrytown, New York, the skyline of Manhattan—a thirty minute drive away—is a clearly visible picture postcard from where the Hudson River spans more than three miles. The Tarrytown Music Hall is one of the oldest theaters in U.S. and continues to be a solidly booked venue. The village of eleven thousand people is something of a U.S. miniature. There are two bona fide castles, Gothic Revival mansions like Lyndhurst, and Sunnyside, estates such as those that once belonged to John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould and Washington Irving—and old Victorian mansions, all sharing a land mass of less than three square miles with the middle class and a smaller portion of the population, living under the poverty line. The old-world character that defines some parts of the town, carries over to the narrow roadway leading to 1 Dixon Lane. The atmosphere shifts again, on arriving at the Jazz Forum Club.

I first met Mark Morganelli, the Executive Director of the Jazz Forum Arts, in 2014 at one of his outdoor, summer Sunset Jazz at Lyndhurst shows. It's one of several venues in the NYC suburbs where he hosts these events. Because this location overlooks a wide expanse of the river, it is a prominent seasonal destination for jazz and music fans in general. I met with Morganelli at his new club, days after its opening in mid-2017. His history of involvement in jazz reflects his life's work. While still in college he directed the Bucknell Jazz Ensemble, booking their concerts and tours and taking them to the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976. As a twenty year old he produced coffeehouse shows featuring contemporary music, avant-garde, a bit of classical folk jazz, and photography exhibits. He has produced about forty recordings.

Morganelli started playing the trumpet at nine and remains active. He trades off with the rounder sound of flugelhorn, especially when playing the Brazilian music he favors. Morganelli has recorded four albums as a leader, the most recent, My Romance (Jazz Forum Records, 2004), a quintet that includes tenor saxophonist Houston Person. The standards collection displays Morganelli's hard bop, swing and lyrical styles in one setting. A skilled improviser and soloist, he can now be heard playing at his home base from time to time.

The connection between the Jazz Forum Club and the Jazz Forum Arts organization is inextricable. The club is run through the auspices of the forum—a non-profit started by Morganelli and his wife, Ellen Prior, in 1985—and is further sponsored by Montefiore Hospital. Board members have included well-known jazz personalities such as Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie and Gary Giddins. Their mission is to bring top quality arts programs to the public, including thirty-four free concerts this past summer sponsored by New York Presbyterian Hospital. These are intended to be welcoming community events for people who are experiencing jazz music for the first time, and Morganelli hopes to convert some of those attendees into paying customers of the club. Morganelli makes an important distinction in what qualifies as a genuine jazz club venue, saying "There are restaurants with jazz music and then there are jazz clubs that offer food. We are a jazz club." In fact, Morganelli is proud of the fine wine selection that he and his wife have extensively researched for the club, but food choices are limited to hors d'oeuvre.

Jazz Forum Club reserves Fridays and Saturdays for headline jazz artists, while Sundays are billed as "Brazilian Music Sundays." The upcoming season will include performances from Mark Egan, Danny Gottlieb, the previously mentioned Houston Person, and Jason Marsalis. Other special events on the calendar include birthday celebrations with Lee Konitz and David Amram.

About thirty minutes south, a different club could be in an alternate universe when compared to the Jazz Forum Club. Late in 2015, between Christmas and the New Year, we stopped into Paris Blues at 2021 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Blvd. (7th Ave.) in Harlem. In the narrow entrance there is a bar to the right and Samuel Hargress, Jr., to the left. Less than a year from his eightieth birthday, age didn't keep him from bouncing off the bench, shaking hands and offering the fried chicken, black beans and rice, warming on a hot plate. In one of his distinctive three-piece suits and a wide-brim fedora, Hargress is as much a landmark as his club. Paris Blues is considered a "jazz dive," the oldest, and only remaining venue of that type in New York. The club's name is hand painted in one-foot blue letters on a white sheet, hung across the back of the stage and a visitor is as likely to see a jazz legend such as Frank Lacey taking in a show as they are to see him on stage.

Hargress had served in the U.S. Army as part of their military police unit in various European locations, including Paris. The club's name was derived from Hargress' experiences with the personal respect shown to black people in Paris, in comparison to the discrimination in his birthplace, Demopolis, Alabama. From those experiences, he derived the name of the club that he first opened in 1969. The failing economy, drugs and crime made the odds of success, at that time and place in New York City history, slim at best. But Hargress was determined, helping to set up a civilian neighborhood patrol to keep the club, and nearby streets, safe.

On this late night, almost forty-five years later, the crowd is small -not that Paris Blues could hold a large crowd. The stage is compact and sits flush with the seating area, much of which is occupied by the bar. We are listening to the Antoine Dowdell Group, regular performers at the club, and like much of the entertainment here, pianist Dowdell and his drummer Dameyum Henry are products of Harlem. But in the quirky world of Paris Blues, the group skews toward Japan, with bassist Kenji Tokunaga, guitarist Yoshiki Miura and saxophonist Ryoju Fukushiro all being natives of that country. Another group, Melvin Vines & The Harlem Jazz Machine, have also occupied numerous dates on the club's calendar for a number of years. Paris Blues has an unforced way of feeling like home; it is welcoming and fun and the music is outstanding.

Duke Ellington at The Cotton Club (RCA Camden, 1959)

Duke Ellington's orchestra was hired as the house band for the Cotton Club in 1927, and though Cab Calloway and his orchestra assumed that role in 1931, Ellington continued to perform at the venue. The performances on ...at The Cotton Club were culled from shows in 1937 and 1938. Ellington's formats varied from solo piano through orchestra and many of the pieces on the album were those that were commercially popular at the time.

"In a Sentimental Mood," "Mood Indigo," "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo," "If Dreams Come True," "You Went to My Head" and "Solitude" are among the classic compositions represented here. Lesser known pieces such as "Harmony in Harlem," "Scrontch," "Downtown Uproar," "Carnival in Caroline" and "Riding on a Blue Note" occupy equal space. Ellington's orchestra including many of the top name artists of the time including Johnny Hodges, Cootie Williams, Harry Carney and Ivie Anderson, who took on many of the vocals.

Keith Jarrett at the Blue Note (ECM, 1995)

With his Standards Trio of bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, Keith Jarrett released this six-CD box set documenting one set per disc from a three-night engagement at the Blue Note in the spring of 1994. It was Jarrett's return to New York following a ten-plus year absence. The tenth release from a group that eventually compiled twenty recordings, the Blue Note sessions were also offered commercially as a single CD release featuring the first of the sets.

Primarily performing a collection of standards, both well-known and obscure, Jarrett's trio may have been justifiably linked with the Bill Evans model but their buoyant melodies and bare suggestions of the same are enhanced with Jarrett's extended improvisations. He leaves notes hanging in the ether and when they evaporate, he seems to savor the silence for just long enough. For all Jarrett's demands of his live audiences, he rewards them with unequalled showmanship.

Live at the Jazz Standard—Days of Wine and Roses (ArtistShare, 2000)

Maria Schneider's always expressive orchestra takes on more power and swing in a live setting. With a group largely intact from her Coming About (Enja, 1996) release, there is an easiness in the working relationship between Schneider and the group. The quintessentially proficient ensemble takes their cue from Schneider's tightly punctuated conducting style while strategically placed solos leave plenty of space for restrained improvisations.

A multiple "Best Composer" winner in annual polls, Schneider's live recording reaches back to older sources for much of Live at the Jazz Standard—Days of Wine and Roses. A mix of standards and original music, Schneider culls material from as far back as twenty years for her own compositions. Her "Lately" was written more than a decade before the recording; it had been earmarked for Mel Lewis but remained on the back burner. Schneider's "Bird Count," "Last Season" and "My Ideal" are dispersed among standards such as "That Old Black Magic," "Over the Rainbow" and the title track. Saxophonists Tim Ries (tenor and soprano), Rich Perry (tenor) and Scott Robinson (baritone) have excellent solos throughout as does pianist Frank Kimbrough.

New Orleans, Chicago and New York were the hubs in the development of jazz in the U.S. but there were many spokes that sped the dissemination of the genre. In Part III of Culture Clubs we look at Kansas City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Boston.

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Jazz Near New York City
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