The Village Vanguard, At Last

M. Bogen, 4/29/16, NYC
If there is a Jazz Mecca, it's the Village Vanguard, on Seventh Avenue South in New York's Greenwich Village. Some friends and I went there Friday evening, which means my Hajj has finally been completed. Incredibly, more than 100 live jazz albums have been recorded there. Among these are landmark recordings such as the John Coltrane Quintet's "Live at the Village Vanguard," released on Impulse in 1961. The impact of the club on jazz music is in inverse proportion to its size. The small basement room, which is shaped like a triangle, holds a mere 125 tightly packed listeners. But the small size is part of the key to the club's success. One of my friends remarked that she prefers the Village Vanguard to other clubs precisely because of it's small size. This is because jazz is an intimate music that requires close listening, and which thrives on reciprocal energy from the audience. Summer jazz festivals are hugely popular, but it's hard for those performances to catch fire, since audience energy and attention are so varied and diffuse.

We heard a challenging and thrilling set from Trio 3, featuring jazz masters Andrew Cyrille on drums, Oliver Lake on sax, and Reggie Workman on bass. All are associated with the "new jazz" that grew out of the 60s. This means that they make music that resists cliches or easy hooks upon which one can hang one's hat, music that above all has a searching quality. It's the opposite of background music. It requires from the listener concentration and a willingness to go into unusual sonic spaces, which is why it is best experienced live, as opposed to on a recording. I find this mode of jazz to be invigorating. I call it a palate cleanser for the soul. Jazz lives!


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