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Nick’s Tavern, the Jazz Joint That Went Down Swinging

This week and next, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.
Nick's Postcard

When Dick Hyman — “a living, breathing encyclopedia of jazz,” per NPR – was a Columbia student, he’d often travel to 7th Avenue and 10th Street in Greenwich Village to catch a glimpse of his heroes playing. Although there were plenty of jazz joints in the neighborhood, the place he loved most was Nick’s Tavern.

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The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith Will Bop You and Floor You

W. Eugene Smith, (self-portrait at Loft window). (c) The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith.

W. Eugene Smith, (self-portrait at Loft window). (c) The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith.

“I caught the tail end of when New York was cool,” said a woman waiting in line to watch movies with Shia LaBeouf this morning.

Should she want to relive those days, she might want to forget about #AllMyMovies and catch The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith, showing Friday and Monday as part of the DOC NYC festival. The documentary by Sara Fishko is an offshoot of her “Jazz Loft Radio Series,” a 10-part WNYC production that unboxed the audio recordings that legendary photographer W. Eugene Smith made while sharing his Chelsea loft with some of the jazz greats of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Her new documentary adds a visual element, sharing some of the thousands of photos that Smith took of the loft’s habitués, from Thelonius Monk to Salvador Dali to Warhol’s Ultra Violet, and the street life below.

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Bill Nye the Science Guy Boogied Down at the Reopening of Swing 46

Now there’s nothing to stop you from living the life of a 1920s libertine. Swing 46, where you can dance to live big band music every single night of the week, returned with a vengeance Thursday when scores of dancers descended on 46th Street to strut their stuff to the tunes of the George Gee Orchestra.

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A Film Tribute to Ornette Coleman, Jazzman of the Bowery and LES

(Still from Ornette: Made in America)

(Still from Ornette: Made in America)

Ornette Coleman was buried in Woodlawn Cemetary a little over a week ago, following a memorial service attended by Pharoah Sanders, Cecil Taylor and other fellow luminaries of avant-garde jazz. But even if his final resting place is in the Bronx, the free-jazz pioneer was very much a creature of downtown. At one point he even owned a Lower East Side school building, and you can watch him amble through it in a documentary that will be shown at Spectacle next week as part of “Something Else: A Celebration of Ornette Coleman on Film.”

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Talks + Readings: Duff McKagan, Galway Kinnell, and a Living Female Rock Critic

battle linesMonday

History buffs, take note: Battle Lines is not your ordinary Civil War read. This books is a team effort by graphic novelist Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and award-winning historian Ari Kelman, and it’s sweeping, full-color panoramas combined with Kelman’s nuanced understand of the period provide a whole new perspective on the topic. The authors will talk about the book with acclaimed graphic novelist Josh Neufeld (A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge) accompanied by images from Battle Lines on Greenlight’s big screen.
Monday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m.  Greenlight Bookstore, 686 Fulton Street (Fort Greene). 

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A Jazz-Fest Chat With Brian Newman, Who Got Matching Trumpet Tattoos With Lady Gaga

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The man sitting next to me at the Black Penny in the French Quarter is very tall, pencil thin, in a black T-shirt and trousers with a skull-and-cross-bones belt buckle. He leans into his Vieux Carre cocktail with his tattoo sleeves propped on the bar, his pin-striped jacket hanging under it. In New Orleans, he could be anybody—a rocker, a random tourist, just a guy. But in barely 24 hours, he’ll be headlining Jazz Fest with a jazz legend and a pop superstar: Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.

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Mona’s Hot Four

This jazz quartet consisting of Gordon Webster (piano), Nick Russo (banjo/guitar), Jared Engel (bass), and Dennis Lichtman (clarinet) isn’t exactly a well-kept secret anymore (they have two albums), but hearing them perform Prohibition-era jazz at Mona’s, an unassuming East Village spot, feels like a treat every time. 

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This French-Born NYC Tour Guide Will Serenade You With Gypsy Jazz Tonight

(Photo: Sherry Hsieh)

(Photo: Sherry Hsieh)

One look at Alex Gabriel McKanze and it’s obvious he’s a musician: the tall, lanky 22-year-old has shoulder-length brown hair and a tattoo of the solar system on his right arm. But he isn’t your stereotypical Bushwick rocker: raised in the Paris suburbs by an American father with Cherokee blood and an Italian mother with Gypsy blood, he’s fluent in five languages (and knows a little Portuguese and Latin, to boot). And as a freelance tour guide for Great New York Tours, he’s a walking encyclopedia. Even with a hangover, he can tell you that Henry Hudson discovered the Hudson River in 1609 (adding snidely, “Because the Native Americans obviously never saw it before”).
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After Sandy, Jazz Musicians Really Banded Together

BruceMackIn the days after Hurricane Sandy darkened the Lower East Side, an old man played horn inside his dark, cold apartment, hungry for his favorite food: chicken. Then, unexpectedly, knuckles rapped at his door. It was four volunteers from the Jazz Foundation of America, and they had warm food and clothing.

Tears welled up in the man’s eyes. “Who are you? And, I love you,” he said.
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It’s John Zorn Month, So Just Go Ahead and Clear Your Calendar

Cancel all plans for the rest of the month if you’re a fan/worshipper of avant-garde composer and saxophonist John Zorn: you may have missed his 60th birthday jam at his East Village venue, The Stone (see above video for 30 seconds of him performing with Fred Frith), but worry not: a cavalcade of events will celebrate the pillar of the downtown music scene, starting with a week and a half of movies he curated for Anthology Film Archives.
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On Sunday There’ll Be Cool Jazz, Hot Jazz, and Jazz Poetry, You Dig?

This weekend, it’s “all that jazz” in a very literal sense. You already know that the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival is bringing legendary Miles Davis sideman and cool-jazz pioneer Leo Konitz to Tompkins Square Park for a free show. But that’s just the start of it. If you need to get out of the sun at any point between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., you might want to duck into A Gathering of the Tribes, where Bird meets the word in the form of the Charlie Parker Poetry Reading. Downtown poets Bob Holman, Steve Dalachinsky, Patricia Spears Jones and a host of others will do their thing at Steve Cannon’s East Third Street apartment gallery.
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Paradise Alley Was the Beat Generation’s ‘Oasis in the Middle of Chaos’

501 East 11th Street ca. 1940 (photo: New York City Municipal Archives) and today (photo: Frank Mastropolo).

501 East 11th Street ca. 1940 (photo: New York City Municipal Archives) and today (photo: Frank Mastropolo).

The senior housing complex on the northeast corner of Avenue A and East 11th Street hardly looks like a landmark of Beat culture. But there, at 501 East 11th Street, three buildings shared a courtyard where residents gathered to talk, eat and drink wine. Fifties-era hipsters called it Paradise Alley.

The complex first drew attention in 1958 when Jack Kerouac published The Subterraneans, inspired by his affair five years earlier with black poet Alene Lee. The original version of the short novel was set in Paradise Alley, where Lee lived, and used her real name. For legal reasons, her character was re-written as Mardou Fox, one of the novel’s jazz club crowd; Kerouac’s character pursues an affair with Fox at her tenement apartment in what was changed to Heavenly Lane in San Francisco.
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