Who hasn’t heard the name Village Vanguard at least once?
Located at 178 7th Avenue South in New York City’s colourful Greenwich Village, this temple of jazz has been serving as the center of the jazz universe for almost 80 incredible years. Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Hank Mobley, Bill Evans…all the great jazz masters of the past regularly performed at the Village Vanguard. And today it continues to be the prestigious stage that welcomes the Big Apple’s most talented jazz musicians, as well as the finest members of the international jazz scene.
Village Vanguard: Where History Is Being Written
The Village Vanguard was opened on 22 February 1935 by Max Gordon. For two decades, it featured sketch comedy, beat poetry, folk music and dinner, before switching to an all-jazz venue in 1957.
Today, almost 60 years afterwards, the Village is one of the world’s prestigious jazz clubs. Alongside the Blue Note and Smalls Jazz Club, both just a 10-minute walk from the Village Vanguard, it is the place where Newyorkers go to listen to the finest jazz acts around.
While the Blue Note and Smalls have been popular in the last 20-30 years, the Village has been the Big Apple’s jazz mecca for well over five decades. It is the place where jazz history has been written. Its success has been so big, that numerous jazz venues around the world have tried to incorporate the Village Vanguard’s formula for success.
Today, the name “Village Vanguard” is synonym of excellency. Just look at places around the world, like Copenhagen’s Jazzhus Montmartre, which is often referred to as “the Village Vanguard of Europe”.
For over half-century, the Vanguard has welcomed all the jazz greats for live shows or to record an album. The list of albums recorded in the basement room includes Sonny Rollins’ A Night at the Village Vanguard (1957), John Coltrane’s and Bill Evan’s iconic Vanguard titles from 1961, Art Pepper’s Thursday Night at the Village Vanguard (1977) and Wynton Marsalis’ 1999 seven-disc masterpiece Live at the Village Vanguard.
While for first-timers the jazz club may just seem a triangular-shaped room, it actually is a hip jazz venue with incredible acoustics. That’s why a Live at the Village Vanguard album has become a rite of passage for modern jazz artists. “The way the band can set up in that triangle-type corner, the sound really projects out,” said Joe Lovano in an interview published on the Village Vanguard’s website. “I call it the Carnegie Hall of jazz, because most jazz clubs just don’t have the sound that that place has,” echoed Jason Moran, who has also recorded an album at the Vanguard.
Today, the catalog of Live at the Village Vanguard records includes about 150 records.
A “Must” for Every Jazz Aficionado
No matter who you are, where you are from, and what you do, if you are a jazz enthusiast, Village Vanguard is a place you should visit at least once. Some venues draw crowds because of their menu, happy hour or similar things, but this is not what the Vanguard does. In fact, this jazz club is all about live jazz!
The experience at the club is down to the essentials: music, drinks and history. The walls display old photographs and posters of great icons who have regularly played the room: Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus and Elvin Jones. And above the bar, you might notice an unusual double-belled euphonium, donated by trumpeter Jabbo Smith.
At first, the Village Vanguard may seem artfully minimalistic, but it incorporates what jazz has been about: prizing economy over embellishment. No fancy menus, happy hours or similar things…and no second-rate music either! The Village Vanguard is all about top-class live jazz.
The Village Vanguard presents two sets every single night. The first usually starts at 8:30 pm, while the second at 10:30 pm. Doors open at 7:30 pm. To guarantee your seats (the the club seats about 120 guests) you can pre-pay your admission to upcoming shows with your credit card. You can find more information about that here.
Another thing you should keep in mind, especially if you are a tourist visiting New York City, is that the Village Vanguard doesn’t have a ticket counter that sell tickets on location. So, if you decide not to pre-pay your admission online, you might want to make your reservation over the phone by calling (212) 255-4037.
During your experience at the Village Vanguard, you are likely to see Lorraine Gordon, who inherited the basement room from her husband Max when he passed away in 1989. Overseeing the club six nights a week, she is probably one of the hardest-working club owners in the whole world. But Lorraine, how she is called by all musicians (yes they call her by her first name, and so does she), enjoys what she does. Only the very best jazz clubs are part of DownBeat’s list of 150 great jazz venues, but Lorraine Gordon and her late-husband Max have successfully brought, and kept, the Village Vanguard among the world’s élite jazz venues.
If you like jazz, you will love the Village Vanguard. Stop by to enjoy world class live jazz in this historic temple of jazz that has welcomed all the jazz greats of the past and the present. As jazz enthusiast, one thing is sure: Village Vanguard, with all the exciting acts it presents, will blow you away! And if you aren’t a jazz fan yet, you will probably become one after spending an evening at the club.
If you have been at the Village Vanguard we would love to hear from you. Leave a comment after the post and tell us who is the best act you saw live at the Vanguard? And if you haven’t been there, would you like to tell us which of the Live at the Village Vanguard albums is your favourite?
178 7th Avenue South, Greenwich Village
New York City