THE DOZENS: LIVE AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD by Eric Novod

Whenever I step inside the Village Vanguard, I am always struck by a déjà vu sense of the awe-inspiring amounts of jazz history at my fingertips. It doesn’t necessarily happen at the other legendary NYC jazz clubs (Blue Note, Iridium, or even Birdland) – there’s just something about the Village Vanguard. And if you’ve been there, I’m sure you’ve had similar feelings, whether it’s your first, tenth, or hundredth visit.



                The Village Vanguard, photo by Dave Kaufman


Perhaps it’s simply the walk down the narrow staircase and encountering that “jam session in the basement” feeling. Perhaps it’s all of the photographs on the wall that are a constant reminder of the legends who have graced the stage. Or perhaps it’s just because, along with the club’s reputation as one of the most important physical sites in the history of jazz, recording at the Vanguard has also become a canonic “rite of passage” for a jazz musician.

A jazz fan does not even have to go to the Vanguard to feel like they know it intimately, because (over the past 50+ years) its expansive discography has acted to spread its historical influence around the world. It is with this in mind that jazz.com pays tribute to the Vanguard with a list of 12 essential tracks captured live on its premises.

Of course, a list of twelve omits hundreds of worthy candidates for inclusion. The Vanguard, which opened in 1935 and initially featured comedy/variety shows, was long run by Max Gordon and, following his death in 1989, by his widow, Lorraine. After a short period booking poets and folk singers at the Vanguard, Gordon began featuring jazz artists exclusively in the late ‘40s. And the rest, as they say, is history. Fifty-plus years of jazz recordings, therefore, leave an enormous collection of classic musical moments captured on record. Aside from the twelve presented below, artists as varied as Woody Shaw, Wynton Marsalis, Tommy Flanagan, Tom Harrell, Jason Moran, Betty Carter, Sun Ra, Uri Caine, Bill Charlap, Elvin Jones, Phil Woods, and Geri Allen have all made their mark in live recordings from the Vanguard. The twelve tracks below, some classic and others less known, offer jazz fans glimpses of a few of the more memorable moments of music-making that have taken placed within these storied walls.


Sonny Rollins: Old Devil Moon

Track

Old Devil Moon

Artist

Sonny Rollins (tenor sax)

CD

A Night at the Village Vanguard, Volume 1 (Blue Note 99795)

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Musicians:

Sonny Rollins (tenor sax), Wilbur Ware (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by Burton Lane and Yip Harburg

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Recorded: Village Vanguard, New York City, November 3, 1957

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Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

No better place to start than at the beginning. This landmark Blue Note session was the first record released from the Vanguard. Originally issued in two separate volumes comprised of the afternoon and evening sets on November 3, 1957, the complete collection has since been remastered and re-released (with additional tracks). Musically, this set the standard for the piano-less trio – Rollins is accompanied by just a bassist and drummer. This musical freedom allows Rollins to showcase his masterful rhythmic reconfiguration of the “Old Devil Moon” melody throughout his improvisation.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Bill Evans: Some Other Time

Track

Some Other Time

Artist

Bill Evans (piano)

CD

The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961 (Riverside 3RCD-4443-2)

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Musicians:

Bill Evans (piano), Scott LaFaro (bass), Paul Motian (drums).

Composed by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green

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Recorded: Village Vanguard, New York City, June 25, 1961

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Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

The summer and fall of 1961 at the Village Vanguard marked one of the greatest musical runs in jazz history. In just a matter of months, Bill Evans and John Coltrane would release some of their most revered music, all captured live at 178 Seventh Avenue South. The Evans recordings are complete master classes in the art of the piano trio – all three players communicate brilliantly and seem to know exactly when to play, and more importantly, exactly when to leave space for their trio-mates. While Evans and Motian are both in fine form, it is LaFaro’s exquisite decision making on the bandstand that places these recordings on the edge of (dare I say) jazz perfection.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


John Coltrane: Spiritual (Take B)

Track

Spiritual (Take B)

Artist

John Coltrane (tenor sax, soprano sax)

CD

The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (Impulse IMPD4-232)

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Musicians:

John Coltrane (tenor sax, soprano sax), Eric Dolphy (alto sax, bass clarinet), McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by John Coltrane

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Recorded: Village Vanguard, New York City, November 1-3 & 5, 1961

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Rating: 89/100 (learn more)

There is perhaps no better combination in jazz than Elvin Jones’s ride cymbal and John Coltrane’s tenor. The minds behind these two instruments pushed each other to the musical limit throughout their tenure as members of the classic Coltrane quartet, and there is no better example of their raw energy and extreme interaction than on the Complete Vanguard sessions (November 1961). Note the beginning and end of this track for the Coltrane/Jones lockup (Coltrane on tenor at the beginning and soprano at the end), split in two by an inspired, strenuous improvisation from altoist Eric Dolphy.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Bobby Timmons: Dat Dere

Track

Dat Dere

Artist

Bobby Timmons (piano)

CD

Bobby Timmons In Person: Recorded Live at the Village Vanguard (Riverside 9391)

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Musicians:

Bobby Timmons (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Albert "Tootie" Heath (drums).

Composed by Bobby Timmons

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Recorded: Village Vanguard, New York City, October 1, 1961

Albumcoverbtimmonsvv

Rating: 84/100 (learn more)

This underrated 1961 session presents Blakey/Adderley alumnus Bobby Timmons in a trio format with Albert “Tootie” Heath and a young, understated Ron Carter on bass. A Philadelphia native with a penchant for blues and gospel-influenced playing and composing, Timmons alternates hard-bop compositions (“Topsy,” “So Tired”) with standards (“Autumn Leaves,” “They Didn’t Believe Me”) on this date. The chosen track, “Dat Dere,” is one of two Timmons hard-bop classics (alongside “Moanin’”), and is performed tastefully and flawlessly, if perhaps in need of some Jazz Messenger guest appearances.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Thad Jones & Mel Lewis: Big Dipper

Track

Big Dipper

Group

Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Big Band

CD

Opening Night – The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band at the Vanguard (Alan Grant Prod.)

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Musicians:

Thad Jones (flugelhorn), Mel Lewis (drums), Bill Berry (trumpet), Jimmy Nottingham (trumpet), Jimmy Owens (trumpet), Snooky Young (trumpet), Garnett Brown (trombone), Jack Rains (trombone), Bob Brookmeyer (trombone), Jerome Richardson (reeds), Joe Farrell (reeds), Pepper Adams (baritone sax), Hank Jones (piano), Richard Davis (bass), Mel Lewis (drums).

Composed and arranged by Thad Jones

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Recorded: Village Vanguard, New York City, February 7, 1966

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Rating: 91/100 (learn more)

This track is the first tune played on the first night of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, a Monday night tradition at the Vanguard that continues to this day, nearly 42 years later. After finishing major tours with Count Basie and Stan Kenton, respectively, Jones and Lewis started the band in order to solidify a fresh, swinging New York big band. With arrangements written predominantly by Jones and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, classic swing charts were infused with modern bop elements to push the big band tradition into innovative territory. Even though Jones left the band in 1979 and Lewis passed away in 1990, the current Vanguard Jazz Orchestra extends the Jones/Lewis tradition by continuing to play some of their arrangements on Monday nights at the Vanguard.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Dexter Gordon: 'Round Midnight

Track

'Round Midnight

Artist

Dexter Gordon (tenor sax)

CD

Homecoming: Live At The Village Vanguard (Columbia 34650)

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Musicians:

Dexter Gordon (tenor sax), Woody Shaw (trumpet), Stafford James (bass), Louis Hayes (drums), Ronnie Matthews (piano).

Composed by Thelonious Monk

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Recorded: Village Vanguard, New York City, December 11-12, 1976

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Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Due in large part to the concluding chapter of Ken Burns’s engaging yet contentious documentary Jazz, the return of Dexter Gordon to the United States (after 14 years of living in Europe) has gradually become an iconic moment in the history of modern jazz. While there has always been brilliant jazz being performed since the music’s creation nearly a century ago, the late 1970s may have been a time when many jazz fans were nostalgic for the bebop and post-bop giants who had dominated the jazz clubs in decades past. Dexter Gordon’s triumphant return set at the Vanguard satiated some of those desires with an exciting set of music backed by Woody Shaw’s working quartet. Dexter is clearly impacted by his reception and plays especially emotionally and intensely on this Monk classic.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Art Pepper: Anthropology

Track

Anthropology

Artist

Art Pepper (clarinet)

CD

The Complete Village Vanguard Sessions (Contemporary 4417)

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Musicians:

Art Pepper (clarinet), George Cables (piano), George Mraz (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie

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Recorded: Village Vanguard, New York City, July 29, 1977

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Rating: 82/100 (learn more)

Art Pepper’s post-rehabilitation career reached its pinnacle with a successful run at the Vanguard in late July 1977. Backed by a first-rate group of Cables, Mraz and Jones, Pepper performs at an impressively high level on original cool jazz compositions and bebop mainstays, as evidenced by this version of "Anthropology." While some may be bothered by occasional intonation issues at points throughout the complete session recordings, the unorthodox combination of musicians assembled here is quite sensitive to one another's personal styles, making for an absorbing listen. On this track, note the duet between Pepper (on clarinet) and Mraz on bass, later joined by Jones on brushes.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


George Adams & Don Pullen: Big Alice

Track

Big Alice

Group

George Adams / Don Pullen Quartet

CD

Live at the Village Vanguard, Volume 2 (Soul Note)

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Musicians:

George Adams (tenor sax, flute), Don Pullen (piano), Dannie Richmond (drums),

Cameron Brown (bass)

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Composed by Don Pullen

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Recorded: Village Vanguard, New York City, August 19, 1983

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Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

This session featuring Mingus alumni (with the obvious exception of Cameron Brown) is filled with high- energy original music from Adams and Pullen. While the arrangements are expectedly unpredictable and multidimensional, their free jazz elements are countered by a strong compositional basis in the blues and gospel music (à la their former bandleader). This Pullen-penned track opens with an exceptionally melodic unaccompanied drum solo from Richmond, followed by extended solos by Pullen and Adams over the New Orleans street-beat groove. The tune concludes with playful, quote-dominated trading between Adams and Richmond. Stimulating, bold jazz from understudied masters.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Joe Henderson: Boo Boo's Birthday

Track

Boo Boo's Birthday

Artist

Joe Henderson (tenor sax)

CD

State of the Tenor: Live at the Vanguard, Volume 2 (Blue Note B2-28879 )

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Musicians:

Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Ron Carter (bass), Al Foster (drums).

Composed by Thelonious Monk

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Recorded: Village Vanguard, New York City, November 14-16, 1985

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Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Nearly 30 years after Sonny Rollins’ inventive piano-less tenor recordings from the Vanguard, Joe Henderson released these piano-less tenor recordings made with the all-star rhythm section of Ron Carter and Al Foster. These three masters weave flawlessly in and out of solidified, swinging time and free, exploratory sections. This allows the musicians to explore and reinvent the tunes they are playing through interspersed combinations of trio, duet, and unaccompanied playing. Some of Henderson’s strongest playing from this period in his career can be heard on these recordings – there is a delicate balance of extreme intensity and fervor combined with the understated, “less is more” brilliance of an older, wiser Henderson. Essential tenor recordings.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Paul Motian (with Joe Lovano & Bill Frisell): Yahllah

Track

Yahllah

Artist

Paul Motian (drums)

CD

At the Village Vanguard (JMT)

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Musicians:

Paul Motian (drums), Bill Frisell (guitar), Joe Lovano (tenor sax).

Recorded: Village Vanguard, New York City, June, 1995

Albumcoverpmotianvv

Rating: 86/100 (learn more)

In the last 15 years, many modern groups have become frequent visitors to the Vanguard stage – none with more regularity than the Paul Motian Trio featuring Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano. Their free, introspective, bass-less improvisations often meander between sensitive and sweet and forceful and raucous within a single tune. The experimental approach to their improvisations makes each set totally unique (some more traditional and some more free), leading many fans back for repeat visits to the Vanguard when this trio is playing. Note Frisell’s atmospheric layering under Lovano’s extended solo throughout the middle and end of this track.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Brad Mehldau: Monk's Dream

Track

Monk's Dream

Artist

Brad Mehldau (piano)

CD

Art of the Trio, Volume 2: Live at the Village Vanguard

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Musicians:

Brad Mehldau (piano).

Composed by Thelonious Monk

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Recorded: Village Vanguard, New York City, July 29 - August 3, 1997

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Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Brad Mehldau’s virtuosic version of Thelonious’s “Monk’s Dream” provides the listener with a prime example of a jazz musician improvising based on the melody of a tune until he/she finds an idea that they wish to instantly develop. Throughout this solo, Mehldau time and again dips into the “Monk’s Dream” melody and then embellishes it with improvised statements. The melodic improvisation intensifies for well over four minutes until Mehldau begins an amazing rhythmic/harmonic variation (beginning at approxi- mately 5:20 and lasting until 6:45) that still references the melody as the solo reaches its climax. It is a remarkable improvised statement that Mehldau’s Vanguard audiences have been absorbing for many years now. Also note the rare Rossy solo (in the form of trading fours with Mehldau) at the conclusion of Mehldau’s improvisation.

Reviewer: Eric Novod


Chris Potter: Boogie Stop Shuffle

Track

Boogie Stop Shuffle

Artist

Chris Potter (tenor sax)

CD

Lift: Live at the Vanguard (Sunnyside 3022 )

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Musicians:

Chris Potter (tenor sax), Kevin Hays (piano, Fender Rhodes), Scott Colley (bass), Bill Stewart (drums).

Composed by Charles Mingus

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Recorded: Village Vanguard, New York City, December 13-14, 2002

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Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

After a four-minute-plus unaccompanied tenor sax introduction (so substantial that it is separated onto another track!), these four in-demand New York jazz musicians perform a powerful rendition of this Mingus classic. Kevin Hays solos early in the track on both Fender Rhodes (first) and piano (second), before Potter reenters and picks up where he left off from his introduction with his identifiably crisp rapid-fire runs and motivic development. Colley and Stewart perform superbly together, managing to simultaneously play with great energy and overall effortlessness.

This track hints at the “State of the Vanguard” in the 21st century. The players are modern, there are combinations of electric and acoustic instruments, the ideas are complex yet historical, and they are paying homage to a past master with a reach into the Mingus repertoire. Modern jazz at its best. Here’s to the next 70+ years of live jazz at the Village Vanguard!

Reviewer: Eric Novod


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