By Karen Rempel
One of the things I have missed the most during the NYC Pause is going to the Village Vanguard to hear live jazz. After a time of retreat and adjustment, the Vanguard shook off its muffling slumber and resurged on June 13 with a most welcome performance by the Billy Hart Quartet.
I hooked my laptop to my smart TV, mixed up an approximation of the Vanguard’s Appletini, and was transported into the black-walled cellar of the best jazz venue in the city. Billy Hart and his mates played a laid-back set of jazz that made me feel I didn’t have a care in the world. Billy touched lightly on the protests rocking the world, leading into Ethan Iverson’s sensitive composition “Showdown.” I was in heaven, soaking in the sights and continuous melodic brilliance of this stellar foursome. The skillful camera work expressed the mood like a fifth instrument, and brought a better view than a front row table.
Live Streaming Schedule
The Vanguard is continuing their virtual programming, with live performances sending a beacon out into the village Saturday nights at 7 PM and Sunday afternoons at 2 PM. Tune in and add your ears to the reception net. Get set to receive the sounds of some of jazz’s heaviest hitters, giving you a soothing balm for your spirit.
Billy Hart First Played the Vanguard Almost 60 Years Ago
Think about this. It might make you cry. Billy Hart recalls his first time playing at the Village Vanguard: “It was 1961, you know. I remember we were playing opposite Miles [Davis]. And I was excited to be around him. And just this whole scene here, the brightness of the Vanguard, the beauty of it, the sound of it.” Thank goodness for jazz, for Billy Hart, for the Village Vanguard. When I spoke to the modest Billy Hart after the show on June 13, I asked what he was going to do, thinking he was off to celebrate with friends. But he said “I’m going to go home and study the music, cause we gotta do this again tomorrow afternoon.” This is the real deal. Real jazz at the Village Vanguard. Check it out!
How it Feels to Play without an Audience
Due to the limitations imposed by the current Covid-19 pandemic, after a brief soundcheck, the band hit the stage without rehearsing. After the show, I asked Billy how it was to play without an audience. He said, “It was different, but on the other hand, we hadn’t played with each other in a long time, and we hadn’t even played in a long time. So it was really nice to play with people that you see things the same way. It was just nice to feel that again. They [the Vanguard] asked for this. It’s the first one, it’s an experiment. So I don’t know how it worked out, out there in the audience. I don’t know if there was an audience. Well there was you. It’s almost like the audience was there, you know, I’ve been playing here a lot, it felt like home, it felt comfortable. A lot of times, that’s what happens, that energy, it isn’t just the musicians that make the music… It’s not just the applause, it’s just that we’re all concentrating on the same thing… Musicians don’t just feel that by themselves.”
Saxophonist Mark Turner, turned out in a great 70s-era patterned shirt with long collar points, said after the show, “I feel great. I mean it’s always nice to have the vibe from the audience. Somehow that’s also the music. I thought it would feel more empty somehow. But it didn’t, strangely. I didn’t feel the sense of loss that I thought I’d feel. I mean, I think once the audience is there, I’ll remember and say, “Oh, OK.” Maybe it’s just I love playing there so much. It feels like home, somehow.”
Ethan Iverson added, “We’ve been lucky to play in this band quite a lot over the years, for over 15 years, so we really know what we’re doing, so that’s what I felt. When we hit, I thought, oh man, the connections we built are here, we just have to remember what we do, we don’t have to learn it in the moment. And Billy’s very, very special, he’s a real jazz master. His drumming is so vital and everything we love about jazz. Just to play with him at any time… in the sound check he doesn’t really give us the whole Billy Hart, but he gives us the whole Billy Hart at the gig, and so he gave it to us tonight and so it was great.”
Tuning in from my living room, Appletini in hand, I have to agree.
The Village Vanguard
178 7th Avenue South
Vanguard Appletini Recipe
• 1 ½ oz. vodka
• 1 oz. apple schnapps
• ½ oz. calvados
• maraschino cherry
A handsome server at the Vanguard named Sam used to tell me this cocktail was made from organic apples grown in New York. Still new to the Big Apple, of course I believed him!