Places that Matter

Village Vanguard

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Exterior overview, Elena Martinez
Exterior overview, Elena Martinez
Sign and awning, Elena Martinez
Hand drawn sign of featuring musicians by the front door, Elena Martinez
Photos of musicians on the wall, Elena Martinez
Photos and tuba on the wall, Elena Martinez
Mural, Elena Martinez
Sign and awning at night, Elena Martinez
Street sign: Max Gordon Corner, Elena Martinez
Long-time jazz club
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Place Matters Profile

In February 2010, the Village Vanguard turned 75. It would be hard to find a jazz musician or fan anywhere in the world who does not know of or long to visit or play at this tiny club in the heart of Greenwich Village. The Vanguard occupies a triangular sliver of space on heavily trafficked Seventh Avenue South, next to a pizza parlor and below a nail salon. It has a big neon sign and a shabby awning. Inside, at the bottom of a precipitous, narrow flight of stairs there’s a low-ceilinged, wedge-shaped room with a stage at its tip. The walls are lined with photos of performers who played at the club and, to the right of the stage, there’s a mural with images of the awning, audience and artists. The mural has changed over time (the first depicted a rally in Union Square) but, consonant with the passions of the late Max Gordon (the founder and original owner), his wife, Lorraine (the current owner) and the club’ steadfast supporters, the themes remain jazz and social justice.

No matter where you sit, the sound quality is pristine, the acoustics as perfect for live performance as for live recordings. That’s because of the stage’s all-important location at the point of the triangle. The Vanguard is one of several triangular lots that border Seventh Avenue South and they came about when, in 1914, the city sheared off the corners of buildings to make room for the subway. Between sets you can hear the muffled rumble of the 1, 2, or 3 train going by but nothing interferes with the connection between musicians and their audience in this intimate space.

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