Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Concert Hall Salutes Jazz Club

For twenty years the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra held court at the storied jazz club every Monday night. Tonight they played Carnegie Hall instead, as part of the JVC Jazz Festival’s salute to the Village Vanguard and Loraine Gordon, in the words of leader John Mosca: “in violation of their contract by playing above sidewalk level.”

Lorraine Gordon, the widow of founder Max Gordon, took over the reins of the Vanguard in 1989. Beloved by musicians, particularly those like The Bad Plus playing last night, Lorraine Gordon also has a reputation for running a tight ship.

Both Gordons exemplify the adventurous spirit of jazz entrepreneurs. Having prime west village space and a liquor license, the Vanguard presents jazz instead of trendy cocktails and DJ’s. German émigrés and jazz fans Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff started Blue Note Records to document the music they loved. Blue Note became the signature label of modern jazz, producing some of the most beloved LPs in jazz history. Lion and Wolff never got rich for their efforts, but they befriended many of the musicians they recorded. Other label founder-producers like Lester Koenig at Contemporary and Nat Hentoff at Candid recorded music they deemed important, regardless of commercial concerns.

Impresario and producer Norman Granz put his money where his mouth was as producer of Jazz at the Philharmonic. Granz insisted on integrated audiences at his shows. He would refund disgruntled audience members, but would not reseat them to placate their prejudices. He also insisted his integrated troupe stay together at the same hotels, often integrating them through the strength of his economic argument. In many cases JATP would have several floors, or even the entire hotel reserved through their performances—quite a financial hit to turn away Granz and company.

One of the great things about capitalism is that nobody can tell an entrepreneur not to waste their money on a crazy enterprise, if their mind is dead set on doing so. Jazz has certainly been fortunate that the Gordons, Granz, Lion, and Wolff have been free to pursue speculate ventures on behalf of the music.

The concert itself featured great music. Opening the evening with some traditional flair was Dr. Michael White’s Original Liberty Jazz Band, who usually swing the Vanguard every New Year’s Eve. Roy Hargrove led an excellent quintet, including veteran jazz artists Bobby Hutcherson and Ronnie Matthews. The Bad Plus closed their set with a unique rendition of Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love with You” dedicated to Gordon, and fittingly the Vanguard Orchestra closed with a rousing set, featuring guest soloist Joe Lovano.

Next Monday the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra will be back in their regular digs, below sidewalk level. Of course, any night of the year in New York you can count on hearing some great music at the Vanguard.