Skip to content

Live at the Village Vanguard

Something Sonny Rollins said in an excellent interview in the March issue of Uncut magazine reminded me of how much I miss being in clubs. The thing with live music, Rollins told John Lewis, is that “everybody has a role — even the audience. The guy nodding his head, the girl who’s smiling, the sceptic who’s not impressed — they all make you play better.” He was answering a question about his youthful experiences in clubs on 52nd Street, but the thought is eternal.

The Village Vanguard, the legendary club on Seventh Avenue South where John Coltrane, Bill Evans and many others made historic recordings, is currently programming a series of livestreamed gigs. You pay $10 and you can either watch the performance live or at any time in the following 24 hours. It’s a way of staying close to the practitioners of an idiom that places such a premium on communication, as well as supporting an institution.

I caught the second of the weekend’s two gigs by the drummer Tyshawn Sorey, the saxophonist Joe Lovano and the guitarist Bill Frisell. Sorey was billed as the leader, and I guess the tunes must have been his, but this was a meeting of three creative minds in a relaxed chamber-jazz environment. I particularly enjoyed seeing Tyshawn — who can do anything — at work on a small jazz kit, swinging with a loose, easy but totally alert feeling that makes me think of Billy Higgins and Tony Williams at the same time.

Lovano and Frisell played together for many years in a trio with the late drummer Paul Motian. There’s no replacing the kind of rapport those three developed over time, but it was fascinating to hear the music the two of them made with Sorey deepen and intensify over the course of an hour. One day maybe we’ll be in the same room as these musicians again, playing our little parts in the ceremony.

* The Vanguard’s coming attractions include the trio of the great pianist Kris Davis and solo performances by the guitarist Ben Monder and the drummer Bill Stewart. Go to and hit the livestream button. You’ll need to register.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dr_Jim #

    A wonderful venue with a great atmosphere. I was fortunate enough to be in New York at Easter a few years ago. My companion & I were passing by the Village Vanguard and became engaged in conversation at the door, where we were encouraged to come in to listen to Teddy Charles who was playing that evening. The gentleman at the door turned out to be the saxophonist Chris Byars, with whose band Mr Charles was playing, alongside Harold Danko (piano), John Mosca (trombone) and an extremely talented bass player Ari Roland. Teddy Charles, at quite an advanced age, had decided to return to music after a career in marine salvage. I suppose you do not require a lot of wind to play the vibraphone, which he did with much enthusiasm. It was a great evening of music in an intimate and friendly setting, combining a veteran performer who was part of jazz history with a fresh young band of accompanists. Charles’ recordings from that period with the Byars – including ‘Dances with Bulls’ (Smalls records) and ‘Bop-ography’ (Steeplechase) – are well worth seeking out. Ari Roland has a good list of highly listenable albums too.

    February 8, 2021
  2. Ronald McNeil #

    Loved that trio with Paul Motian. It didn’t last for long, though they did put out a great album of Monk tunes, Monk in Motian. Would like to have caught them with Sorey.

    February 8, 2021
    • mjazz g #

      I think they recorded from 1989 to 2007. I have seven or more albums by them.

      February 8, 2021
  3. mjazz g #

    I saw the same set and enjoyed it. I thought I recognised a number of the tunes as being from the Motian Trio songbook.
    Sorey really is a master. He was able to sit in that Motisn seat, most definitely play himself but also allow the trio to respect the original leader’s legacy.

    February 8, 2021
  4. I caught that Saturday gig too, Richard, and also marvelled at the trio’s extraordinary collective empathy and understanding – especially as, I’m pretty sure, this was only their third time playing together as a unit.

    Luckily, as I’m sure you know, there are two definitive documents of what the Paul Motian Trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell sounded like at the Village Vanguard, both recorded during a run in June 1995: ‘At The Village Vanguard’ (subtitled ‘You Took the Words Right Out of My Heart’) and ‘Sound of Love’.

    Together they represent, to my mind, two hours – of mostly Motian’s marvellous folk-like originals, plus some standards, two by Monk – of group creativity and interaction, freedom and control, at its very highest level, two albums to add to the long and venerated line, as you say, of live recordings at the club. “It’s kind of like magic,” Joshua Redman once said of the trio. “The sense of three musicians becoming one.”

    February 8, 2021
  5. GuitarSlinger #

    Tyshawn is a genuine revelation and a force to be reckoned with both as a composer as well as an instrumentalist . To check him out I’d start with ” Koan ” and work your way to his most recent offerings . Then read the article in the NYTimes Sunday magazine a few weeks ago .

    As for the VV … need any more than the legend it is be said ?

    February 8, 2021
    • John Evans #

      Here’s the link to the article:

      February 8, 2021
      • GuitarSlinger #

        Molto grazi .. I wasn’t sure the site would accept links so thanks for posting it

        February 8, 2021
  6. Rollins is right – audiences can make or break a live performance. I haven’t been able to perform since the lockdown shenanigans began… many have urged me to do livestream performances but I fail to see the point because the sort of material I perform depends on the audience as every performance is unique, tailor made for them based upon their reactions and what I see of their facial expressions. Take that away and perform to a camera in a bare room, there is no interactivity, no dynamic, hence no point.

    February 8, 2021
    • GuitarSlinger #

      I keep hearing this . And the more I do the more I’m convinced it is whinging at its finest from individuals unable or unwilling to cope with change . So a bit of wisdom for your edification …

      ” Survival of the Smartest ” is a real thing ( if it wasn’t Neanderthal Man would of kicked our posters off the face of the earth )

      and …

      ” The smartest person in the room is the one capable of dealing with change regardless of how severe it might be ”

      So seriously … wrap your head around the new reality ( cause more than likely its gonna get worse before it gets better ( WHO J-H etc ) . Adapt . Even if you have to pretend you’re in a recording studio . And survive ..

      Cause as the TV character ‘ House ‘ so often said … ” yeah life sucks but it beat the ( bleep ) out of the alternative ”


      February 8, 2021
  7. Alan Laney #

    Love the Village Vanguard and the atmosphere and intimacy. Been to a gig there every time we’ve been to New York,no matter who’s in residence. Talking of drummers, saw The Kenny Barron Quintet in April 2014 with Jonathan Blake. He was outstanding and his profile has certainly increased since then.
    Sad to read of the demise of the Jazz Standard. Intimate there too,especially when we saw the Mingus Big Band – touching knees inadvertently with the saxophone section!
    Great to see the Vanguard and Spike Willner at Smalls trying to keep the music alive in such desperate times. Understand that Smalls is able to open again next week to customers to 25 per cent capacity. Obviously very limited in terms of numbers of patrons but maybe a green shoot and a source of cautious optimism.

    February 8, 2021
  8. I saw that Motian trio once, too. Great. Managed to visit the VV to see Stanley Turrentine while I was in NYC for a conference 26 years ago. Watching jazz livestreams too, both from there and from Nottingham’s excellent new club, Peggy’s Skylight (who put theirs up for free on YouTube, but ask you to donate to pay the musicians). The last gig I went to was there, the Saturday before lockdown, with Clark Tracey and his young hotshots. The club’s well worth visiting, both virtually and, later this year, I hope, in person. Visiting musicians are always knocked out by it.

    February 10, 2021

Leave a Reply to mjazz g Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: