A short history of New York’s iconic jazz clubs

June 24th, 2014

bandbox

Where would jazz be without New York’s “joints’ of the 1920’s – 1950’s?  If Ellington hadn’t been hired to play the Cotton Club, what direction would his orchestra have taken?  Without the Royal Roost, would Parker play with Miles and Max Roach, and would Miles have had a venue to perform “Birth of the Cool” in?  And, where would Monk and Coltrane have played if not at the Five Spot?  

I came upon this terrific history today, “Jazz Joints Through the Ages.”  Written by noted jazz historian Ashley Kahn and originally published in Jazz Times in 2006, the feature provides short biographies of many of the most important clubs in jazz music’s past.  It is an incredibly entertaining read…

____________________________________

After Hours:  New York’s Jazz Joints Through the Ages

by Ashley Kahn

Jazz joints come and jazz joints go—especially in New York City. From tightly packed bars downtown to spacious dinner clubs uptown, it’s a historic lineage. Much has changed over the years (Birdland’s smoky elegance in the ’50s would be impossible with Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on indoor smoking) and much has not, like set lengths, drink minimums and the apparent majority view that jazz sounds best in New York City one floor below street level (Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola notwithstanding).

One jazz rule seems immutable: Before musicians can reach those grand uptown theaters or the big festival stages, they must first make it in the clubs of New York City. They are still the proving ground. It’s been that way since the ’20s. The nightclubs that follow are celebrated less for being the most popular in their day—many were not—and more for accurately representing the music and spirit of the time. Often they predicted sounds and societal shifts just around the corner.

It was a challenging process selecting one from each decade. Some eras, like the ’40s when 52nd Street was in full swing, offered far too many choices: Every club on “The Street” (Three Deuces, Onyx Club) and, of course, Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem held the seeds of modern jazz. Also, to which decade does the Village Vanguard belong? It has consistently presented visionary music during its 71-year history. And what about all those great neighborhood bars in Brooklyn?

The list was limited to venues with a Manhattan address. Save for one, none remain standing in their original form.

1920S

The Cotton Club

644 Lenox Avenue (at 142nd Street)

Peak years: 1920 (as Club DeLuxe) to 1936

The 1920s were labeled the Jazz Age but the music was only a part of it: Social rules were being rewritten, and in Manhattan, downtown was going up as white society and dollars poured into Harlem every night. Nightclubs and dancehalls began presenting entertainment that delivered a romanticized (and often quite derogatory) view of black culture: floor shows, revues with skits and musical numbers and music for dancing. The Cotton Club seated up to 400, and was one of Harlem’s classiest, located on the second floor of a long, modern apartment building.

continue reading

_

________

ashleykahn

I have  interviewed Ashley Kahn on three occasions…Click on the links to be directed to the interviews.

On his book Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece

On His book A Love Supreme:  The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album

On his book The House That Trane Built:  The Story of Impulse Records

Share this:

2 comments on “A short history of New York’s iconic jazz clubs”

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

This issue features a roundtable discussion about how the world of religion may have impacted the creative lives of Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison. Also, previous winners of the Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest reflect on their winning story; three new podcasts from Bob Hecht; new collection of poetry; recommendations of recently released jazz recordings, and lots more.

Short Fiction

"The Wailing Wall" -- a short story by Justin Short

Interviews

Three prominent religious scholars -- Wallace Best, Tracy Fessenden and M. Cooper Harriss -- join us in a conversation about how the world of religion during the life and times of Langston Hughes (pictured), Billie Holiday and Ralph Ellison helps us better comprehend the meaning of their work.

Poetry

Nine poets contribute ten poems celebrating jazz in poems as unique as the music itself

Short Fiction

In celebration of our upcoming 50th Short Fiction Contest, previous contest winners (dating to 2002) reflect on their own winning story, and how their lives have since unfolded.

The Joys of Jazz

In this edition, award winning radio producer Bob Hecht tells three stories; 1) on Charlie Christian, the first superstar of jazz guitar; 2) the poet Langston Hughes’ love of jazz music, and 3) a profile of the song “Strange Fruit”

On the Turntable

25 recently released jazz tunes that are worth listening to…including Bobo Stenson; Medeski, Martin and Wood; Muriel Grossman and Rudy Royston

Features

Chick Corea, Rickie Lee Jones, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Randy Brecker and Tom Piazza are among those responding to our question, "What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940's?"

Poetry

"Billie Holiday" -- a poem (with collage) by Steve Dalachinsky

Coming Soon

Thomas Brothers, Duke University professor of music and author of two essential biographies of Louis Armstrong, is interviewed about his new book, HELP! The Beatles, Duke Ellington, and the Magic of Collaboration; also, Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell, author of An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden, in a conversation about the brilliant 20th Century artist

In the previous issue

This issue features an interview with Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins; a collection of poetry devoted to the World War II era; and a new edition of “Reminiscing in Tempo,” in which the question “What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz recordings of the 1940’s” is posed to Rickie Lee Jones, Chick Corea, Tom Piazza and others.

Contributing writers

Site Archive