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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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The original Birdland opened in 1949, on Broadway, near 52nd Street featuring Bird himself as a headliner. Despite the club's principle owners capitalizing on Charlie Parker's trademark nickname, he didn't play there often but it was not due to Parker's well-known drug addiction. Owners Irving Levy, Morris Levy, and Oscar Goodstein simply didn't want to pay Parker the rate he was commanding at the height of his popularity. In addition to Parker, Gillespie, Monk, Miles, Coltrane, Bud Powell, Stan Getz, Lester Young, and many other familiar names were regularly booked. In its first five years, Birdland drew almost one and a half million paying customers. The club declared bankruptcy in 1964 and closed, reopening with a new owner more than twenty years later in Harlem. Ten years later, in 1986, the club again relocated, this time to its present location at 315 West 44th Street. Among those who have performed at the current site are Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny, Diana Krall and Dave Holland. The club also features a house band -The Birdland Big Band.

Clubs with the type of forward-thinking agenda practiced by The Half Note, sixty years before, exist in greater abundance today. One New York example is The Jazz Gallery which views itself as a pivotal player in global jazz. Founded in 1995 by a small group that includes Roy Hargrove, the international flavor was evident on a night in April, 2015 when I had the opportunity to see Rob Mazurek's Sao Paulo Underground and Black Cube SP perform. That collective encompassed artists from the U.S., Switzerland and Brazil, speaking not only to an international scope but also to the club's mission of bringing innovative musicians to the forefront.

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.


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