'Page One'

Jazz's Hallowed Basement In Photos

The Village Vanguard's awning and sign have become iconic among jazz aficionados.

The Village Vanguard's awning and sign have become iconic among jazz aficionados. Mito Habe-Evans/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Mito Habe-Evans/NPR

The Village Vanguard is one of jazz's hallowed venues — quite an achievement for a cramped basement room with a capacity of 123 people.

Plenty of folks have traveled across New York City, or across the world, in order to see a show there. But many fans have never enjoyed the privilege, either. So earlier this year, NPR's Mito Habe-Evans went into the club before a show to grab these photos, annotated by NPR contributor Lara Pellegrinelli, who recently finished teaching a Princeton University class about the Village Vanguard. (Click the bottom-right icon to enlarge to full screen.)

If you're curious about what the club sounds like, check out one of the dozens of commercial recordings made at the venue. Or tonight, NPR Music and WBGO present a free live video webcast of the Marc Ribot Trio performing at the club, as part of our Live at the Village Vanguard concert series.

  • Hide caption
    Jazz club owners rarely seem to inspire warm and fuzzy feelings. That's why it's so impressive that the corner of 7th Avenue South and Perry Street, just a few feet from the Village Vanguard's entrance, was named for beloved club founder Max Gordon back in 1996.
    Mito Habe-Evans/NPR
  • Hide caption
    The Vanguard's skinny red awning offers little in the way of shelter, but that's hardly the point. It lends the basement club curb appeal and leads straight to its bright red doors.
    Mito Habe-Evans/NPR
  • Hide caption
    If you wish to enter this sacred jazz site, your rite of passage will be to navigate the perilously steep red stairwell. Suggestion: Use the handrails.
    Mito Habe-Evans/NPR
  • Hide caption
    Of course, there's also a cover charge if you want to get in, but it's a steal by New York standards ($25 with a $5 drink minimum, $20 for students for the late set on weeknights). Although the club remains old-school — no food, no talking, no frills — it did start accepting credit cards last year.
    Mito Habe-Evans/NPR
  • Hide caption
    Max Gordon once described the Vanguard's patrons as "poets, WPA writers, hustlers, insomniacs, college students from the Bronx and Brooklyn, broads on the make, musicians and moochers, all of them crowding the place every night to let off steam." That's a lot of people.
    Mito Habe-Evans/NPR
  • Hide caption
    In the interest of accommodating lots of people, tables and chairs should take up as little real estate as humanly possible.
    Mito Habe-Evans/NPR
  • Hide caption
    Musicians think they've made it when they've headlined at the Vanguard, but true success is earning a permanent place on the wall.
    Mito Habe-Evans/NPR
  • Hide caption
    The clearly marked but winding trail to the men's room was immortalized in the title of Chris Potter's album Follow the Red Line, recorded live at the club and released in 2007. Along the way, it snakes past the Vanguard's famed kitchen, which now doubles as both office and green room.
    Mito Habe-Evans/NPR
  • Hide caption
    Protected from the glare of sunlight, the little wedge-shaped room is peaceful in the afternoon. Musicians will sometimes come to practice here, among the spirits of jazz past, before their performances in the evening.
    Mito Habe-Evans/NPR

1 of 9

View slideshow i

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.