178 7th Ave
New York, NY 10014
Hours: 8p-1a Daily
Subway: 1,2,3 to 14th St
Written by: Daniel Morrow
The Village Vanguard is the oldest continuously operated jazz club in the world(1) and has stood at its current location on 7th Avenue in the West Village, since 1935. When walking into the basement level venue, its history is immediately apparent. Photographs and posters of famous Vanguard sessions and musicians cover the walls; they are, in the words of owner Lorraine Gordon, “photos of great artists that are no longer with us, who are here in spirit.”
Although Village Vanguard has come a long way from its beginnings in 1935 as a variety performance and dinner venue, its enduring success can be largely attributed to its owners and their unadulterated passion for jazz. It was the original owner Max Gordon’s love for jazz that led to the Village Vanguard becoming a jazz-only venue in the early 1950s. Lorraine Gordon married Max during this period and took over running the venue after his death in 1989.
Though Lorraine makes all the decisions at the venue, she gets a lot of help from her daughter Deborah and from Jed Eisenman, a life-long Vanguard fan who began working there before Max died.
Today the Vanguard is as lively and popular as it has ever been. There’s a healthy mix of music students, locals and international jazz fans visiting the venue every night. The venue still attracts celebrity musicians; and the booking is adventurous and often risky by inviting occasional unknown artists to perform. As Jed explains, “Lorraine is the sole arbiter of what we end up booking, she does it all herself; that’s how you can tell how passionate she is about the music.” It is thanks to her life-long passion for jazz and her ability to keep up with the latest in the jazz scene, that she has consistently been able to pick out some of the world’s best jazz talent to play at the venue.
The greatest of memories and moments belong to the stage. The room’s oddly triangular-shape means that there are no parallel walls and few reflective surfaces. Most venues are inevitably square in nature and it is often the case that hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on acoustic treatment. This room has never been touched; it is quite by accident, one of the most transparent and natural sounding jazz rooms that can be found in the city.
(1) NPR Music, “The Village Vanguard: A Hallowed Basement,” NPR Music, http://www.npr.org (accessed February 2011).