This month, WestView welcomes jazz musician and new contributor Andrew Collier, who will cover the jazz scene in the West Village, home of the greatest concentration of jazz clubs in the world. Each month, Collier will write about issues jazz fans care about and spotlight players, bands, clubs and upcoming West Village gigs.
Why is New York jazz stuck in a time warp? Walk around most of the Village clubs on a Wednesday night and you are likely to hear the same tunes played in similar styles by the same lineup of instruments. These tunes include classic “standards” such as “On Green Dolphin Street,” “A Night in Tunisia” and “All the Things You Are.” And the style? Generally, bebop from the Charlie Parker era around 1952. Visit any of the smaller clubs—the Garage, Knickerbocker’s, Fat Cat, Arturo’s—and that’s mainly what you’ll hear.
That’s not to say the quality isn’t good, even among the semi-pros. For the most part, they play these tunes with a refreshing passion and skill that far exceeds what most other cities in the world offer in the way of jazz. And jazz lovers will argue that there is a host of clubs playing other kinds of jazz in New York, which is true. As a long-time resident of the West Village, I know that clubs like the Village Vanguard, 55 Bar and Smalls in my neighborhood and Iridium and Smoke uptown present a lineup of top-quality and upcoming musicians who often venture further afield than the 1950s. And Brooklyn, where the rent is much cheaper, has some offbeat venues with unusual offerings. But even at these clubs, the standards in bebop form frequently make their appearance.
For some reason, particularly among amateur and semi-amateur musicians, bebop has become the jazz “classical” music. Of course bebop is important, but what about all the other forms of jazz that came before and after? Dixieland in the 1920s. Swing a la Coleman Hawkins in the 1930s. West Coast jazz in the 1950s. “Post-modern” bebop from Miles Davis in the 1960s. Most of that is missing from the standard repertoire. It’s like Julliard graduates spending most of their time playing Bach—and only Bach.
Surprisingly, this isn’t true only for New York. I just returned from a trip to Shanghai, where I heard a group of musicians (admittedly, mainly American) who banged out high quality bebop. There’s a club in Beijing called East Shore that rarely strays far from updated versions of bebop.
European musicians often argue that they are much more open than Americans are to eclecticism in jazz. I confess I find that European jazz melds styles far too much for my ears. Maybe I’m a bopper after all. But maybe it’s time to open the jazz doors.
Here are some jazz artists with upcoming West Village gigs who are doing that.
Kurt Rosenwinkel Quartet
February 28-March 4
Thirty years ago, Pat Metheny reinvented jazz guitar with a rock flavor while working under vibraphonist Gary Burton. That tradition of fusion-influenced jazz guitar, in a small group setting, has been picked up by others. Arguably the best current exemplar is Kurt Rosenwinkel, who, funnily enough, also was schooled early on by Gary Burton at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Rosenwinkel’s music is fiery and complex, with long, winding harmonic melodies and modal jams. For his Village Vanguard gig, he is backed by his touring band, including Aaron Parks on piano, Eric Revis on bass and the young prodigy Justin Faulkner on drums (formerly also with trumpeter Terence Blanchard). Not to be missed. Shows: 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., $25 per set, one drink minimum. Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South at 11th Street, 212-255-4037, villagevanguard.com.
The Cornelia Street Café
Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth Deluxe
Friday, February 10
Bassist Chris Lightcap is central to the downtown New York jazz scene consisting of artful, intellectual composers with a backbone of improvisation. This younger group of jazz musicians is trying to reinvent the music with influences from classical compositions and the training that comes from knowledge of hard bop. Lightcap is playing with other top musicians, including Andy Milne on piano and the precise Gerald Cleaver on drums. And if you get there early enough to eat before hitting the cute performance space downstairs, the upstairs cafe serves excellent and well priced American food. Shows: 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m, $15 cover, $10 minimum. The Cornelia Street Café, 29 Cornelia Street between West Fourth & Bleecker, 212-989-9319, corneliastreetcafe.com.
– By Andrew Collier
Andrew Collier is a longtime jazz fan and jazz drummer. He studied percussion at Oberlin College, including marimba and vibraphone, and has performed in clubs in New York and in Asia, where he lived for seven years. He grew up in Greenwich Village and now resides on Barrow Street. If you want to talk jazz with Andrew, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.