Hanging out at the Garage

One of the pleasures of New York as recently as the 1980s was to schlep around Greenwich Village and drop into small clubs for casual listening. An evening of music, even in major clubs, did not require a reservation secured by a credit card, and a second mortgage to fund the occasion. Today, there is a minor renaissance of listening spots that at least hint at the fifties, sixties and seventies when there were places like the Five Spot, Slug’s,The Guitar, Bradley’s and–somewhat farther afield, down in the meat packing district–the blessed Half Note. My publisher, Malcolm Harris, his wife Karen and I took an evening out of our recent whirlwind book promotion visit to New York to dine in the midst of the youth explosion at Pastis (recommended for the food and the nonstop floor show provided by the crowd of early-twenties hangers-out at the bar) and then prowl in search of music.

The Village Vanguard was sold out, full of advance planners and second mortgagers eager to hear Lou Donaldson. We wandered three blocks down the street and found a 1920s garage converted into a jazz club. Even adjusting for inflation, the Garage Restaurant at 7th Avenue South near Grove is no throwback to the last golden age of jazz in New York–not in the fiscal sense. A couple of drinks can make twenty dollars disappear. But there is no cover and no minimum, and it is possible even on a populous Saturday night to commandeer a stool at the bar, focus your hearing through the hilarity and be treated to a superior jazz performance.
We listened to the Nick Moran trio with bassist Marco Panascia and pianist Eduardo Withrington. Moran is a good young guitarist with a lyrical bebop bent and an alert harmonic faculty. He would benefit from self-editing, but it’s a rare young improviser who would not. Unless you don’t want to hear the piano, try for a spot at the bar that is not under the enormous copper air vent, a relic of a cooking area long dismantled. The metal seems to block or absorb the piano’s sonority.

Next up was the bright young tenor saxophonist Virginia Mayhew, a Garage regular. She was at the helm of a pianoless quartet, a good idea under the acoustic circumstances. Mayhew’s playing was so far advanced from the last time I heard her that I was riveted by her expansive tenor sound, flow of ideas, humor, use of space, and swing that is by turns loping and hard-driving. This pleasant brunette, lean as a model, is one of the most interesting mainstream players of her generation. She has rhythm in her bones, and her exchanges with drummer Victor Jones are amiable conversations. When Jones solos, he makes melodies. Occasionally in her improvising, Mayhew reorients the listener by returning to or referring to the melody, an act of generosity she performed this night during an adventurous turn on Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation.” During a slow dalliance with “Deep in a Dream,” I wondered if she was thinking of Sinatra.

The Garage floor show is provided not by the customers but by a pair of young veteran bartenders, David Coss and Mary Ann Stevenson, who deftly dodge each other, occasionally dance together, hug now and then, josh with the counter dwellers and seem to have the time of their lives while slinging the sauce at top speed. Coss moved from Seattle to the Village thirteen years ago. In his spare time, he books the club. Sunday nights, he gets out from behind the bar and onto the bandstand. Next trip, I hope to find that he sings with the band as well as he performs with Ms. Stevenson under the copper overhang. Overhang is what I did at Garage. The loss of sleep was worth it.

Next time: The Take Five book party at Elaine’s.

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