Why Everyone Wants To Record 'Live At The Village Vanguard' Bassist Christian McBride says that making his own album at the storied jazz club was like becoming part of a family. He knew: "We'd better bring it harder than we've brought it anywhere else before."

Why Everyone Wants To Record 'Live At The Village Vanguard'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/450908686/450937929" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


When it comes to live jazz, there are some sacred places. Preservation Hall in New Orleans, Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit, Ronnie Scott's in London - these are legendary venues for artists and fans, but nothing is quite like a certain basement in New York City.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the world famous Village Vanguard - great to see you here this evening.


CORNISH: Christian McBride, host of NPR's Jazz Night In America, recorded this song "Fried Pies" there for his latest album. He's far from the only one though. Well over 100 albums have been made live at the Village Vanguard. Here to talk about why is Christian McBride. Welcome back.

CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE, BYLINE: How are you doing, Audie?

CORNISH: Pretty good. So for those of us who have never been there, let's just start with the feel of the place. What does the Vanguard look like?

MCBRIDE: Well, the Vanguard is underground. It's in a basement. The way the club is actually structured - you know, first of all, it's shaped like a V. So you walk down the steps; you walk into this club. The walls kind of angle into the stage. It's not a very glamorous place. I'll put it this way. The drapes in that club haven't been changed in probably 40 years.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

MCBRIDE: And then - and I say that in the most loving way. But you know, as a jazz musician, it hits you, you know? Coltrane walked down these steps. Miles Davis walked down these steps. Dexter Gordon, Bill Evans - all of these legends walked down these stairs. I think any musician, when they record a live record there at the Vanguard, it really is all about the legacy.

CORNISH: Now, I know there must be, as you said, something about standing in the same place that say, a John Coltrane did, and we have one of his performances live at the Village Vanguard. This is the song "Chasin' The Trane."



MCBRIDE: It feels so good to listen to this.

When Coltrane made this recording, which was in 1961, this was sort of at the beginning of his next phase, you know? What would become his legendary quartet with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums was just getting going. And this first Vanguard recording is a great snapshot of that period of Coltrane's next chapter. And when you play there, you probably have this song (laughter) subconsciously playing in your brain. And you're like, man, like, I'm about to play on the same stage where they recorded "Chasin' The Trane." Boy, this is a lot of pressure (laughter).


CORNISH: You know, I'm definitely one of those people who does prefer to listen to a live recording of a jazz performance over studio albums. I mean, I'm - I hope I'm not saying anything out of turn to you here.


CORNISH: But there is something about hearing the introduction, hearing the audience applaud...

MCBRIDE: That's right.

CORNISH: ...That is very - I don't know. I connected to jazz itself.

MCBRIDE: It's a true moment in time. That actually happened at that moment, you know, because when you do a studio recording, you do have the opportunity to go back and fix a couple of things. Oh, I didn't like the way we played at that time; let's do another take. You know, so you get a true sense of what that artist was feeling at that particular moment, you know, mistakes, warts and all. You know, I love hearing those things.

CORNISH: You know, when I think back to some of those names you mentioned - Dizzy Gillespie or Bill Evans or, you know, a John Coltrane...


CORNISH: It makes me think that, also - is there a rite of passage element to this? I mean, I know in the jazz scene there is this kind of sense of, you play here; you play there.

MCBRIDE: Absolutely.

CORNISH: And now you've sort of come of age. Is that still true?

MCBRIDE: Oh, yes, very much so. When you play the Village Vanguard, you get a sense of, OK, I've been sanctioned. You know, it's official now. I'm in the family. I'm part of the legacy. When you play at a legendary venue like the Vanguard, which, by the way, is one of the last places where you get booked because of your reputation, because the club owner likes you, because the club owner feels like you have a career ahead of you. That's why you play there.

CORNISH: As opposed to what?

MCBRIDE: As opposed to a booking agency hustling the gig for you. You know what I mean? It's one of the places where, you know - the Vanguard still handpicks what talent plays there because they like you. So when you play there, you certainly get a sense of validation.


CORNISH: Another performance I know you wanted to highlight, which was recorded at the Village Vanguard came from Bill Evans.


CORNISH: He's recorded there many times throughout his career.


CORNISH: And the song we're going to hear is "Alice In Wonderland" from "Sunday At The Village Vanguard." And tell me why you wanted to highlight this one.

MCBRIDE: The performance itself is legendary. Bill Evans brought a certain sort of quietude and crystalline beauty to jazz at a certain time where combos were really - they still sort of had a big band feel to it like a compact big-band, whereas the way Bill Evans played the piano, it was fragile.


MCBRIDE: And the bassist on here, the great Scott LaFaro - this was his last recording. He never got to hear the release of this recording as he tragically died in a car accident not too long after this recording was made. So there's a lot behind this recording.


CORNISH: Well, before I let you go, I want to ask about this latest album and what it was like for you recording there.

MCBRIDE: It's amazing because I've played the Village Vanguard many times since 1990, but this was the first time I made a recording of my own there. So all of a sudden, when those microphones went up, I had this sense of, we'd better bring it harder than we've ever brought it anywhere else before, you know? This is going down as a document at the world's most legendary jazz club. We've got to come with it and come with it hard.

CORNISH: Oh, no pressure, huh?


MCBRIDE: Exactly, you know? But I was very pleased with the outcome, you know? The crowd was with us on every note. We recorded for three nights, and we chose the best performances over a three-night span. And I felt very, very good about it.


CORNISH: Bassist Christian McBride - he's the host of NPR's Jazz Night In America. His album "Christian McBride Trio: Live At The Village Vanguard" is out now. Christian, thanks so much.

MCBRIDE: Always a pleasure, Audie.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.