Happy 80 Candles to the Village Vanguard!

village vanguard

Has it really been 30 years since I interviewed Max Gordon at the Village Vanguard for The Villager newspaper, for a story on the 50th anniversary celebration of the venerable Seventh Avenue South nightspot? Hard to believe. That summer, during my brief stint as a grad student in cinema studies at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, hardly seems so long ago. In addition to Gordon, I spoke with some of the many jazz greats who played the anniversary show, including trombonist Al Grey.

Gordon, the short, somewhat gruff, cigar-smoking, Lithuanian-born owner of the Vanguard, opened his place in 1935, and in its early years it became a home to poets, singing/acting revues, Caribbean artists (Harry Belafonte), folk and blues singers (Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie), and comedians (Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen).

Its most lasting legacy, though, is that rooted in its late-’50s rebirth as the city’s finest listening room for performances by great jazzers, of the bebop variety and beyond, many of whom are immortalized in the gorgeous photos still hanging in the basement club. John Coltrane and Miles Davis played there. So did Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Carmen McRae, The Modern Jazz Quartet, and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra (which became the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, which still plays there Monday nights).

Christian McBride quintet

The Vanguard is practically a temple to the high art of jazz, and I’m happy to have seen bassist Christian McBride’s Inside Straight quintet (above; see my review of his December show), guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and the late guitarist Tal Farlow at the Vanguard over the years.

Sunday, the Vanguard turned 80. Tuesday, it kicks off a week of concerts presented by pianist Jason Moran. Pianists Moran, Fred Hersch, and Kenny Barron, and saxophonist Charles Lloyd‘s quartet (with Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland) are among the artists slated to play March 10-15.

While other NYC jazz institutions have come (Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Smoke) and gone (Bradley’s, the Village Gate), and others have routinely upgraded and renovated and even changed music policies, the Vanguard has kept folks coming in part because it has stayed the same — a generally low-dough admission charge, a focus on music listening (loud talkers get shushed), and a decision to not introduce food to the mix.

“One thing that’s great is that, through all the years, they’ve had the wisdom not to mess with it,” as Hersch told The New York Observer. “I like the Vanguard for its purity.”

Lorraine Gordon, Gordon’s wife, took over the club in 1989, when he died; at 92, she and her daughter, Deborah, run the place, with the Vanguard’s longtime manager, Jed Eisenman.

For more information on the Vanguard’s 80th anniversary celebration, click here.

The Unstoppable Christian McBride — Remembering His Vanguard Show

Huge tone, impeccable technique, compositional acumen, big personality, ambition — just a few of the traits that have driven bassist Christian McBride’s success as a recording artist, bandleader and, lately, NPR show host.

In coming weeks and months, he’s leading his trio — with pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. — at venues all around the United States, and taking his big band to Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola for a weeklong stint at the end of March.

It’s unlikely that I’ll make any of those shows, but I’m still feeling the afterglow of the McBride performance I caught last month at the Village Vanguard in New York. I caught the late show on Tuesday, Dec. 2, a cold and rainy Manhattan night, and the first evening of McBride’s week there with his Inside Straight group, to be followed by another week with his trio.

Here’s what I wrote about the show, for Relix magazine (click here to go straight to the mag), along with the iPhone pic I shot that night:

“It’s been quite some time since we’ve played together,” Christian McBride said, on opening night of the bassist’s weeklong stint with his reunited Inside Straight band. “It’s like putting on your favorite shoes.” Whether walking his upright or leaning in the direction of funk or Latin grooves, McBride led saxophonist Steve Wilson, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Peter Martin and drummer Carl Allen through an engaging set that indeed sounded like they picked up right where they had left off before turning their attention to other projects.

The quintet, playing for a packed house of reverential listeners at the Village Vanguard, the holiest of the holiest of New York jazz venues, largely drew from the group’s sophomore CD, People Music, released in 2013. Alto saxophone and vibes sounded the melody of McBride-penned opener “Listen to the Heroes Cry,” with Wolf, during his solo, throwing in a reference to Nat Adderley’s “Work Song” and the bassist alternating short bluesy stabs with speedy runs; the tune closed with a long outro, group improv and fade out.

McBride and Allen excelled at crafting dynamic rhythmic sculptures that drove the band on two other pieces from the 2013 release — Wolf’s churning “Gang Gang,” featuring barn-burning vibes and drums turns, and Wilson’s delicate, soprano-led ballad “Ms. Angelou.”

The set’s second half ventured in some different directions, starting with the Caribbean and New Orleans grooves of a piece with vibes and alto on the front line. McBride played a bowed solo on a relaxed, expansive version of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” and the five turned up the intensity on Freddie Hubbard’s “Theme for Kareem” (heard on the group’s 2009 Kind of Brown CD), with the leader shifting into full doghouse-bass mode at the song’s start. McBride, also leader of a trio and big band, and host of NPR’s “Jazz Night in America,” shines regardless of the setting.

 

 

 

Jimmy Cobb & Peter Erskine Talk Ride Cymbals

(originally published in JazzTimes)

Jimmy Cobb & Peter Erskine On Ride Cymbals

What to look for in jazz’s essential cymbal

It begins from the inside out, explains Peter Erskine, the Weather Report veteran and noted bandleader and educator also recognized for his work with Steely Dan, Diana Krall, John Abercrombie and others. “What you hear in your head is what you’ll draw out of any instrument. I expect the cymbal to do something and I can usually draw that out,” Erskine said recently from Brooklyn, his home base while playing—in the pit and onstage—for the New York City Opera’s production of Anna Nicole.

A 22-inch Zildjian K Constantinople medium ride is Erskine’s go-to ride cymbal, but two other 22-inch rides have called his name. “The [K Constantinople] Renaissance model that was developed by Zildjian with Adam Nussbaum is a tremendous ride cymbal, not quite as dark as the [regular K] Constantinople. It’s remarkably versatile. And the [forthcoming Zildjian Kerope] is the closest thing to 1950s Ks that were played by all the drummers in the ’60s. … I’m pretty flipped by it.” The most important quality? “I look for clarity,” says Erskine.

Twenty-seven years ago, Erskine joined Elvin Jones on a memorable outing to the Zildjian factory in Istanbul. “Instead of going tip-tap and that kind of thing, Elvin took both sticks and just started roaring on the cymbal, playing on the edges with the shaft of the sticks for a good minute or two,” Erskine remembers. “There was this wash of white noise. Elvin was smiling and playing this thing and he got it moving. He really opened the cymbal up, got it warmed up and loose.

“That’s one of the important things, ultimately, when you’re trying out a cymbal: See how quickly it recovers from a crash or that roaring sound back to stick articulation. Any good cymbal should function as both a ride and a crash. Any of your drumming heroes, you’ll spot pretty easily that they’ll play that way. Tony [Williams] and Elvin and Mel Lewis said that, too.”

NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Cobb, whose heartbeat ride playing and impeccable swing fueled Miles’ classic Kind of Blue album, is working with Sabian to find the right cymbals to replace a set stolen during an overseas gig. The latter cymbals, including 20-inch and 18-inch Zildjian rides, were loaned to him by Mel Lewis as a temporary replacement for another set that was stolen.

Cobb, recently heard leading his trio at the Village Vanguard and continuing to play with his “So What” Band, the 4 Generations of Miles group and Javon Jackson’s We Four: Celebrating John Coltrane project, concentrates on tonal aspects and decay rates: “One I had was between bright and dark—I could hear the beat on the cymbal, hear the wood on the cymbal and hear the quality of the cymbal. For me, I don’t want it to be overbearing. I want to be able to hear the beat and not have it resound too long. I want a quick, sharp beat to it.

“With Miles,” he continues, “one time I was using a Zildjian with a couple of tacks in it, a sizzle. My setup was a 20-inch ride [on the right] and an 18-inch ride on the left. So I would play the big one when I was playing with horns and trumpets and the little one when I was playing with the piano or the bass.”
The best ride cymbal, Cobb argues, is the most versatile. “I look for one that sounds good in all kinds of situations, a cymbal that can be substantial all the time—it fits most rooms you play in,” he says. “That’s hard to find. You have to go through a lot of cymbals.”

(A personal note: Some years ago I had the great privilege of playing bass in an entire concert with the great Jimmy Cobb, and a stage full of great players, including Larry Willis, Antonio Hart, Vincent Herring, Rob Bargad and Longineau Parsons. It was a memorial concert for Nat Adderley, at Branscomb Auditorium on the FSC campus in Lakeland, Fla. I had been asked to bring my bass for Walter Booker to play, as he had previously liked playing my bass at the Child of the Sun Jazz festivals in Lakeland. He was felled by asthma, and I was tapped to play at the last minute).

The Next Hot New Orleans Trumpeter? The Search Is On

New Orleans, not surprisingly, has produced a long line of great jazz trumpeters, from Buddy Bolden, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong to Christian Scott and Shamarr Allen. Louis Prima is the subject of this year’s poster for Jazz Fest.

And, of course, there are also Terence Blanchard (probably my favorite living trumpeter; looking forward to his Jazz Fest appearance), Wynton Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, Irvin Mayfield (ditto for his Jazz Fest show with the NOJO), Leroy Jones, Kermit Ruffins, Al Hirt and several other notables whose names will come to mind the second this post is published.

(Payton, right, plays tonight at the Village Vanguard in NYC; listen live here)

Young jazz trumpeters in New Orleans will get a chance to raise their game — and their profile — via “Seeking Satch,” a contest co-sponsored by the French Market and the Mayfield-directed New Orleans Jazz Institute at the University of New Orleans.

Three high-school trumpet players will get four-year scholarships to UNO’s jazz studies program, and a chance to perform this August at Satchmo Summerfest.

Trumpeters from two other age groups — 6th to 8th grade, and 9th to 11th grade — will gain admission to the year-round Saturday Music School organized by the New Orleans Jazz Institute.

That’s all according to a piece published today in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Official details are below:

SEEKING SATCH

WHAT: A trumpet competition that rewards high school seniors with University of New Orleans Jazz Studies scholarships, and sixth to 11th grade students with spots in the New Orleans Jazz Institute’s Saturday Music School. Outgoing seniors must submit a UNO college application and e-mail a link to a YouTube video of them performing their favorite Louis Armstrong song, plus a jazz tune of their choice, to Robin Williams at rmwilli6@uno.edu. Younger student applicants must send an e-mail expressing their interest to Amy Kirk at akirk@frenchmarket.org.

WHEN: The deadline for high school senior applications is March 18. Six finalists will be chosen to compete at French Quarter Festival April 10. The three winners will go on to perform at Satchmo Summer Fest in August. Deadline for the younger students to apply is May 3; their competition will be held May 22 at McDonogh 15.

The Village Vanguard at 75

Belated happy 75th birthday wishes to the Village Vanguard, the basement jazz temple on Seventh Avenue South opened by Max Gordon, who launched the nightclub as a home for folk music, poetry, and comedy.

I’ve been privileged to visit the Vanguard — intimate, acoustically pristine, its staff eminently respectful of the music and devoted to the arts of jazz playing and listening — quite a few times over the years, for shows by the likes of guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and an all-star group gathered to celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary.

For that 1985 occasion, I met and interviewed Gordon, who passed away in 1991; his widow, Lorraine, subsequently operated the club. If/when I track down the piece I wrote for The Villager, during my brief stint as a grad student at NYU, I’ll pull some quotes/observations and include them here.

How and why has the 123-seat Vanguard survived, while other famed Greenwich Village jazz clubs, including Seventh Avenue South, Sweet Basil, and Bradley’s, have not?

“It’s not fancy,” as Lorraine Gordon told Lara Pellegrinelli for a story published at NPR.org. “It’s not pretentious. It doesn’t serve food. It doesn’t take credit cards. It doesn’t allow cell phones or cameras. It doesn’t do a lot of things, but it does give good music.”

The Vanguard celebrated its 75th last week with a residency by saxophonist Joe Lovano’s Us Five, with pianist James Weidman, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and drummer Otis Brown and Francisco Mela. Sad to say that I couldn’t be on hand for any of those performances, but happy to report that I’ll get the chance to see the group in late April at Jazz Fest in New Orleans.

More than 100 jazz albums have been recorded at the club, starting with a 1957 classic capturing performances by saxophonist Sonny Rollins‘ pianoless trios.

Gordon’s “Live at the Village Vanguard,” published in 1982, remains the essential biography of the Vanguard’s first half-century. Lorraine Gordon’s bio, which I’ve yet to read, “Alive at the Village Vanguard: My Life In and Out of Jazz Time,” co-written by Barry Singer, was published in 2006 to great acclaim.

And the music isn’t slowing down: The Vanguard’s schedule includes upcoming performances by drummer Al Foster‘s quartet (March 2-7), and trumpeter Payton’s quintet (March 9-14).

And a March 16-21 appearance by drummer Paul Motian‘s trio with pianist Jason Moran and saxophonist Greg Osby looks to be one of the highlights of New York’s spring jazz season. Motian doesn’t tour, but he’s playing the Vanguard show to support a new CD with Moran and saxophonist Chris Potter, Lost in a Dream (ECM), due for release March 9.