“Jazz Club Friday” Features Music Recorded at Dizzy’s Club
Fridays on All Night Jazz, since seeing live jazz in clubs is difficult to do right now, Mike Cornette brings the clubs to you on “Jazz Club Friday” on the Jazz Trip@Ten. This week, Mike featured music recorded at Dizzy’s Club, an intimate venue with million dollar views.
By Mike Cornette
As many can attest, Manhattan is the biggest little city in the world. Accordingly, it was with a chance encounter in 1998 that impresario Todd Barkan, former owner of the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, ran into trumpeter Wynton Marsalis on 8th Avenue in New York. Barkan, fresh from a stint managing the Harlem Boys Choir was producing jazz records for a variety of entities and recording labels.
Everyone in jazz knew Marsalis, but for Barkan the relationship was special since he had encountered him while Marsalis held the trumpet chair in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Barkan and Blakey went back to the ‘70s.
Marsalis, already recognized as a musical force before joining Blakey in 1980, had since catapulted to one of the most recognized jazz artists of our time. During the early 1980s, he toured 120 days a year for 15 straight years with his band of “young lions.” He redefined and revitalized jazz with multiple bestselling albums and Grammy wins. He had also “crossed-over” into the Classical side. In 1987, an opportunity arose with the Lincoln Center.
The Center housed major arts entities such as the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic and the New York City Ballet. The non-profit wanted to both expand their audience and present concerts year round, especially in the summer when most of their other organizations went dormant.
They wanted Marsalis to be the Artistic Director of this new endeavor. Jazz at Lincoln Center was born. The first concert took place in August of that year at Alice Tully Hall.
Despite initial funding inequalities, Jazz at Lincoln Center became a successful entity. After over a decade, it became apparent that jazz needed its own home.
In 1998, around the time Marsalis and Barkan crossed paths, Jazz at Lincoln Center was beginning to design their own facility, completely dedicated to jazz.
It would be located inside the soon to be opened Time Warner Center, a massive multi use complex at 65th Street and Columbus Circle in Manhattan that overlooks both the Lincoln Center and Central Park.
An ambitious endeavor, the plans involved three main venues, The Rose Room, which would hold 1,200, the Appel Room, which would hold 500 and a nightclub, Dizzy’s Club, named after the famous trumpeter, Dizzy Gillespie which seats just 140 people.
On that day on 8th Avenue, Marsalis told Barkan of this plan and, as Barkan told JazzTimes, Marsalis said, “We’re thinking of, actually working on, getting a new facility open for Jazz at Lincoln Center, and I’m planning on having a jazz club in that facility. You would be a good guy to help us with this effort.”
Barkan initially demurred, his job running 32 Records and producing jazz artists like Jimmy Scott, was quite fulfilling. Marsalis stayed persistent, however. In December of 2000, the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center resigned and Marsalis came calling again.
As Barkan told JazzTimes, “Wynton is such an effective visionary, motivator, facilitator-he convinced me to come to work there for half the salary I was making at the time.”
While Marsalis, Barkan and the team completed the design and build out, Barkan booked more JALC concerts at Alice Tully Hall and other venues. Dizzy’s opened in 2004, with Barkan at the helm.
The club is an intimate fifth floor venue with a scenic overlook of Columbus Circle, Central Park and the Manhattan skyline. Bamboo walls provide superb acoustics.
To Barkan things had come full circle. He recalled his early days at Oberlin College in Ohio where he promoted several jazz concerts. “I remember especially the Modern Jazz Quartet,” he told JazzTimes, “a Miles Davis concert with Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock, and, ironically, a 1964 Dizzy Gillespie Quintet concert with Kenny Barron on piano-never imagining that one day I would be involved with a New York jazz club bearing Dizzy’s name and regularly featuring Kenny as a major headliner.”
Barkan remained at Dizzy’s until 2012. Of the facility, Marsalis told the New York Times, “It’s our house. It’s allowed us to integrate everything we’re trying to do. And it’s allowed us to present a face to the world.”
All due to the drive of one of jazz’s most visionary and entrepreneurial musicians and a chance encounter with one of jazz’s most notable impresarios on 8th Avenue.