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New York Jazz Clubs of Yesteryear Remembered

Maurice Brown Maurice Brown Photo by Morrice Blackwell

The New York style jazz clubs of yesteryear often hold a sweet, nostalgic memory in the hearts of fans. We envision a dark place filled with swirling smoke and mysterious strangers chattering against a backdrop of bebop.  Although modern life has altered the landscape of the music and the city, the mystique of these historical venues remains.

“The whole definition of the jazz club has changed so very much in my time.  Jazz clubs used to be a very special cultural kind of place where people smoked cigarettes and drank  … that whole culture has really changed a lot. The stereotype of the smoky jazz club, well, has that gone the way of the dinosaurs,” said veteran pianist/composer Paul Serrato.

The draw of the bygone clubs was affordability.  “When I first arrived in New York many years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to go to Birdland during the early 60s and so on before it closed … It was so cheap we could go there all the time. I used to go three or four times a week,” said Serrato.

Birdland was also the stage that broke new acts and created legends.  “I heard everybody at Birdland,” said Serrato.

Later on, the Village Gate would grow to be a musician’s hang and a place that gave rise to colorful characters like Freddie Freeloader and Babs Gonzales, according to Serrato.  “On any given night, the bar was crammed with not only fans but musicians that might not be playing at the time. It was a great networking venue because everybody got to know everybody and exchange information,” he said.

Although the Village Gate and the original Birdland have closed, fans can still listen to live music at the Birdland location that opened at 2745 Broadway in the late 80s. For a complete schedule, visit www.birdlandjazz.com.

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