Jazz:The Soul of the City - New York City Article

Jazz:The Soul of the City

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Jazz:The Soul of the City

        Follow @nyccitiview
Jazz:The Soul of the City

        Follow @nyccitiview
Jazz:The Soul of the City

        Follow @nyccitiview

Jazz:The Soul of the City

Published Mar 12, 2015
Updated Dec 6, 2017

Many cities are associated with various forms of music. Chicago and the Blues, New Orleans and Ragtime, but New York is undeniably the home of jazz. From the early 1920’s, New York Jazz quickly developed into a very sophisticated form of music with ties to both pop and classical music.

Throughout the 1920’s, Harlem was known for its outstanding and expanding nightclub scene and every jazz musician aspired to play there. The scene became so well known that it drew the attention of residents citywide that were eager to experience all of the excitement surrounding the new music and the fabulous theaters.

Club owners were aggressive in luring clientele. One of the biggest draws was the Cotton Club. Its large stage was designed to resemble the veranda of a plantation house, including tall white columns, a painted backdrop featuring slave cabins and live oak trees complete with moss. The Cotton Club was home to lavish floorshows of songs, dances and scantily clad showgirls. The music, choreography, costumes and stage was a match for any Broadway show.

Duke Ellington first came to prominence as the bandleader at the Cotton Club from 1927 to 1931. Many of these shows were broadcast live via radio, which helped elevate Duke to national and international fame. His tenure here helped him to solidify his skills as a performer and just as importantly a composer. As Duke moved on in 1931, Cab Calloway became the new bandleader.

While the Cotton Club was Harlem’s most glamorous club, the biggest was the Savoy. The Savoy occupied an entire block of Lenox Avenue between 140th and 141st St. Two bands had to be playing once so that the music never stopped.

Performers at the Savoy were very serious minded. Drummer Chick Webb had a great eye for new talent and he uncovered the likes of Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter and their first star, Ella Fitzgerald.

Bebop Jazz was developed in 1941 as Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Hinton, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke were playing informally together at a small club on W. 118th St. called Minton’s Playhouse. Minton’s was another jazz nerve center frequented by jazz musicians and enthusiasts. By the mid 1940’s, race riots and an economic decline shuttered most of these Harlem clubs.

Beginning in the 1930’s a cluster of jazz clubs sprang up along W. 52nd St. between Fifth and Seventh Avenues and jazz began moving to Midtown.

At least seven clubs flourished in this area into the early 40’s. The Spotlite, Yacht Club and Three Deuces were located along the south side of the block between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. The Onyx, Jimmy Ryan’ s and Tondelayo’s were on the other side of the street. One block further west was the Hickory House and Kelly’s Stable.

While many jazz greats such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Count Basie, Pee Wee Russell and Eddie Condon played in these clubs, Billie Holiday was the Queen.

After World War II, the neighborhood surrounding 52nd St began to decline. As the 1940’s drew to a close, two clubs took over prominence in the New York Jazz world. The Royal Roost, located a few block southwest at 47th & Broadway played host to many live broadcasts by Symphony Sid and proclaimed itself “The House That Bop Built.” It was host to Miles Davis many times and he debuted his nine-piece nonet project there in 1948. This breakthrough became known as the “Birth of the Cool” The club was moved in the early 1950’s and subsequently closed.

Birdland opened in late 1949, on Broadway just north of 52nd St., with a bill that included its namesake and inspiration, Charlie Parker. Many jazz legends including Parker called Birdland home and their booking history reads like as who’s who of jazz: Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bud Powell, Stan Getz, Lester Young, Count Basie and a long list of others.

Many celebrities of the time were regulars at Birdland including Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Marlene Dietrich and Ava Gardner.

Several classic live recordings have been made at Birdland including Coltrane’s “Live at Birdland." and George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland.” Symphony Sid moved his popular live broadcasts from the Royal Roost here in 1950.

The club was closed for some time after 1965 but is now operating near the corner of W. 44th St. and Eighth Avenue. The new venue has been haled for its great sightlines and acoustics. Since the reemergence of the club, midtown has seen some of the best jazz in the world. Oscar Peterson, John Pizzarelli, Pat Metheny, Ron Carter, Diana Krall, Michael Feinstein and a very long list of contemporary artists have played memorable sets here. The club also hosts the annual Django Reinhardt NY Festival and the Umbria Jazz Festival.

During the 1960’s, jazz clubs tended to be located downtown near Greenwich Village. The Village Gate, Five Spot and, of course, the Village Vanguard were favorites of fans and musicians.

In 1994, The Iridium opened on the Upper West Side and after great success it is now located at 1650 Broadway near the corner of 51st St.

The Iridium books seven nights a week and continues to honor Les Paul every Monday night with performances by the Les Paul Trio accompanied by guest guitarists such as Jeff Beck and Steve Miller. Many jazz legends play here regularly including the likes of McCoy Tyner, Max Roach and Lionel Hampton.

The Iridium has also been host to several live recordings by artists such as: Kenny Garret, Charlie Haden, Clark Terry and the Jazz Messengers. The club is well known for the city’s only “audiophile space,” with amazing sound, sightlines and design. Shows are webcast in high definition sound and The Iridium features a state of the art recording studio.

There are great jazz clubs throughout the city. The Jazz Standard in the Flatiron District; the Fat Cat, Zinc Bar, Village Vanguard and Blue Note in the West Village; Jazz at Lincoln Center and Smoke Jazz and Supper Club on the Upper West Side; Ginny’s Supper Club and Minton's in Harlem are all currently popular and showcase the best in the world of Jazz.

Several NYC hotels also offer Live Jazz such as Jazz at Kitano and Café Carlyle at the Carlyle Hotel.

For a more complete list of Live Jazz venues and schedules please visit: Live Jazz

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