The Village Vanguard At 75

The Village Vanguard is observing its 75th anniversary this week. Joe Lovano and the band he calls Us Five are playing there through Sunday. I wish that I could attend. But I vanguardsplash.jpgshouldn’t be greedy; in my New York years, I was fortunate to be in the club often. I heard music there that echoes in my mind to this day. Frequently on Monday nights, I wrapped up the newscast, jumped into a cab and headed for the Vanguard. That’s a night off for many musicians, and anyone might have shown up for the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band in its weekly gig. Gene Ammons sat in one Monday when I was there, Sonny Rollins another. I missed the night in 1981, after the band had become the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, when Miles Davis successively borrowed all the horns in the trumpet section and played on Jones’s “Second Race.” With or without a surprise guest, that band was a joy. Both of its its founders are gone and it is still a joy…every Monday night at the Vanguard.
It was a pleasure to hang out during the breaks with the musicians at the bar or in the kitchen and to chat with Max Gordon. Max started the club in 1935 because heMax & Lorraine Gordon.jpg wanted a place where poets could read their work. Jazz came to the club later. On National Public Radio, Lara Pellegrinelli told a brief history of the Vanguard, Max and Lorraine Gordon (pictured) and some of the musicians who made a cultural institution of a triangular room in a New York Seventh Avenue basement. To read and hear her report, including the story of the foodless kitchen, go here.
Happy birthday, Village Vanguard, and many more.

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  1. A Midwest Correspondent says

    While I saw Thad with the band in New Orleans in 1978, by the time I made it to the Vanguard for the first time in 1982, Mel was leading the group on his own.
    One of my favorite Vanguard memories was lighting up a joint that night in the back not far from the stairs (a different era, obviously). There was a bunch of players standing on the stairs and one of the trumpet players cupped his hands around his mouth and started repeating “pass the joint up here, pass the joint up here” like a mantra. So I go over there and I’m talking and standing next to Mel and the last thing that happened before the band went back was that he took the joint and in one very prodigious drag, finished the last third of it.
    Holy cow, you saw Sonny sit in with the big band!? Do you remember any more details about that night? When, what he played, how he sounded?
    (I believe that it was 1973 or ’74. He played on one of the band’s blues charts. He was expansive, full of good humor. I remember the smiles on the faces of the band when he was soloing. He wore a black turle neck. That’s it; I should have taken notes. — DR)

  2. Denis Ouellet says

    Truly a legendary room.
    I too remember going there on Monday nights in the 70’s. So many musicians hanging out there. One vivid memory is seeing Lee Konitz and Jimmy Rowles there in the audience the same night.
    Long live the Vanguard

  3. mark rosenthal says

    Among my many memories at the Vanguard was the night Miles called Tony Bennett up from the audience to sing. Miles proceeded to play the best back-up trumpet I’ve ever heard. From time to time, I’ve brought this story up to Bennett, who of course recalls it vividly.
    Doug Ramsey responds:
    (If only that had been recorded. Fortunately, Miles was recorded backing Sarah Vaughan in 1950 in some of the most beguiling work of both of their early careers. There are eight tracks by Vaughan with George Treadwell and his All-Stars: Davis, Benny Green, Tony Scott, Budd Johnson, Jimmy Jones, Freddie Green or Mundell Lowe on guitar and bassist Billy Taylor. The tracks are reissued in “Sarah Vaughan in Hi-Fi”:
    and the Proper box called “Young Sassy”:
    They are essential items.)