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Peak Performances from the Village Vanguard

The Village Vanguard, 1976.
Tom Marcello
The Village Vanguard, 1976.

For jazz musicians, playing at the Village Vanguard is a special event. To record there is a rite of passage. How can you not bring your best stuff, knowing who brought theirs before? For the rest in the room and around the world, these will be moments that open jazz conversations for years to come. Here are five notable glimpses into the world's most famous jazz joint.

Peak Performances from the Village Vanguard

Sonny Rollins

"Sonnymoon for Two"

From 'Night at the Village Vanguard, Vol. 2'

Although the Village Vanguard opened in 1935, it adopted an all-jazz policy in 1957. Saxophonist Sonny Rollins was the first jazz player to record there that year.

John Coltrane


From 'Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings'

In November 1961, John Coltrane spent a week on stage at the Vanguard. Producer Bob Thiele and engineer Rudy Van Gelder came away with 13 reels of tape. "Impressions" lets the listener in on the Coltrane group dynamic, here with Trane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. (Eric Dolphy is heard on the last note.)

Bill Evans Trio

"Gloria's Step"

From 'Sunday at the Village Vanguard'

Pianist Bill Evans once said that if you try to explain jazz, you start to lose the experience of it. Evans was at home when he played the Vanguard. From 1961's Sunday at the Village Vanguard, with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, here's LaFaro's piece "Gloria's Step."

Thad Jones & Mel Lewis

"The Little Pixie"

From 'Live at the Village Vanguard'

The Village Vanguard has had its own house band since 1966, when Thad Jones and Mel Lewis started a Monday-night tradition — now in its 42nd year as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, which just finished recording Monday Night at the Village Vanguard. The disc will be released in July, but in the meantime, enjoy Jones and Lewis from 1967's Live At The Village Vanguard, doing Jones' "The Little Pixie."

Bill Charlap Trio


From 'Live at the Village Vanguard'

The energy, excitement and magic felt on previous tunes from the Village Vanguard is still very much a part of today's visit to the little basement club on 7th Avenue South in Manhattan. Here's an example from 2003 with pianist Bill Charlap's trio (Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums). Gerry Mulligan's "Rocker" lets you know that a trip to New York for any jazz fan must include a visit to the Village Vanguard, if only to inspire your own jazz conversations.

Copyright 2008 WBGO

Gary Walker