The Jazz Walk: A History of Jazz in Greenwich Village and Midtown

The Jazz Walk: A History of Jazz in Greenwich Village and Midtown

Jazz Walk Image1Embrace NYC history by stepping through the same Greenwich Village and Midtown streets as the jazz masters. Cultivate a local sense of jazz geography in the Big Apple by understanding the difference between uptown and downtown, or that Gil Evans famous basement apartment where he “left the door open” for the greatest names in jazz was just around the corner from 52nd Street.

This three hour walk, in the company a jazz historian, includes earphones that enable you to hear key performances and pieces at select moments even as you take in the topography of the city’s jazz neighborhoods.  Starting in the East Village at Charlie Parker’s apartment during the last four years of his life, there are many notable locations in this neighborhood from NuBlu (showcasing current rising stars like Bill McHenry, Jacob Sacks, and Tony Malaby) to Slugs, where the Charles Mingus Quintet performed, and trumpeter Lee Morgan was shot dead between sets by his girlfriend. St. Mark’s place, home of the Electric Circus and the Five Spot, where Monk and Coltrane made history and Ornette Coleman’s Quartet broke through. Just down the street Sam Rivers and his wife Bea established Studio Rivbea in NoHo, a prime example of the jazz loft scene.

Jazz Walk Image2Then turning west, Bleeker Street is still alive with jazz, from Sub-culture downstairs on Lafayette St, then across Broadway to Terra Blues, Zinc Bar, le Poisson Rouge (formerly the Village Gate where Miles Davis, Herbie Mann, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Latin Meets Jazz and many others flourished), Kenny’s Castaways, Sullivan Hall (WinterJazz Fest spills out of these venues one weekend each January), Visiones (where Maria Schneider polished her orchestra), and the Blue Note. Then on to Sheridan Square’s 55 Bar where fusion and blues guitarists mix it up with emerging vocalists, late lamented Sweet Basil where David Murray and Gil Evans reigned, the young jazzer’s lounge Fat Cat, the late night hangout Small’s, ending at the Village Vanguard, arguably the finest jazz club in the world, and known from iconic live albums by Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and the Bill Evans Trio.

Jazz Walk Image3A quick subway ride north on the A Train from the West Village to Midtown will partially dramatize the story of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train” that became the theme of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Based on Ellington’s subway directions to his residence, the tune was written by Strayhorn as a sort of audition piece for a preliminary meeting with Duke:
You must take the “A” train
To go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem
If you miss the “A” train
You’ll find you’ve missed the quickest way to Harlem
Hurry, get on board, it’s coming
Listen to those rails a-thrumming
All aboard, get on that “A” train
Soon you will be on Sugar Hill in Harlem

Once in Midtown, walk “The Street”, a certain segment of West 52nd Street that featured a cluster of celebrated jazz clubs like The Famous Door, Club Carousel, The Downbeat, Onyx, Ryan’s, The Three Deuces, Kelly’s Stable, and the orginal Birdland. The area has become highly developed since the heyday of “The Street”, but the 21 Club as an original structure is still there. Around the corner is that Gil Evan’s basement apartment address, and finally, just up Fifth Avenue is the Stanhope Hotel where Charlie Parker died in the residence of the “Jazz Baroness”, Pannonica de Koenigswarter.

Kenny BergerKenny Berger Kenny Berger is a native of Brooklyn and has been a fixture on the New York jazz scene since the mid 1960’s as a baritone saxophonist, composer, arranger, teacher, and historian. He has played with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, Mercer Ellington, Gil Evans, Toshiko Akyoshi, Duke Pearson and Dizzy Gillespie big bands and in small and medium sized groups led by Lee Konitz, Julius Hemphill, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Previte and Ned Rothenberg to name a few. He was baritone saxophonist and staff arranger for the National Jazz Ensemble, which was the first of the jazz repertory ensembles that are so widespread today. He holds an M.A. in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers University and was a founding member of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop. He has taught jazz history, arranging and composition at Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, William Paterson University, SUNY Purchase, New Jersey City University and The New School.
chris jentschChris Jentsch Chris Jentsch is a Brooklyn-based composer, bandleader, and guitarist working primarily in jazz and contemporary improvisational forms. Since 1999, his main ensemble is Jentsch Group. He has performed at leading NYC venues, and received numerous grants as a composer. As a bandleader and sideman, Jentsch has performed with such diverse musical personalities as George Russell, John Cage, Maria Schneider, and Chris Wood. He is featured in Scott Yanow’s book The Great Jazz Guitarists. Jentsch has released four CDs as a leader and has received critical acclaim for his recordings and performances. Fractured Pop, a CD/DVD production featuring his jazz quartet is due to be released in early 2015. Jentsch attended the Berklee College of Music and has liberal arts and jazz guitar degrees from Gettysburg College, the New England Conservatory, and the Eastman School of Music. He earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Jazz Composition from the University of Miami in 1999 and is published by the University of Northern Colorado Press, Advance Music, and Fleur de Son Records. Dr. Jentsch is an adjunct associate professor of music history at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island.
michael conklinMichael Conklin Michael Conklin is an active jazz scholar, cultural historian, and writer who specializes in jazz history and American music, music of the antebellum South, the Harlem Renaissance, and issues of race and class. He is presently pursuing his doctoral studies (D.Litt) at Drew University. This interdisciplinary Doctor of Arts and Letters degree allows him to focus on the intersections of American 19th and 20th century literature and black, American music (jazz). Michael's dissertation, Uptown Gumbo: The Impact of the Blues and Jazz on the 1920′s Harlem Literary Tradition, examines the relationship between the artistic movements of Jazz Age Harlem in addition to the racial and socio-cultural implications at these crossroads. He graduated from Rutgers University with a Master’s degree in Jazz History and Research and had the pleasure of studying with such luminaries as Lewis Porter and Henry Martin. His thesis, an examination of the divergent piano styles of Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk, was entitled The Poet and The Priest. Unsurprisingly, Michael's spend the majority of his time teaching and writing; his essays can be found in publications by Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Johns Hopkins University Press, Salem Press, Scarecrow Press, University of Michigan Press, ABC CLIO/Greenwood Press and SAGE Publications.