Jazz Club Friday: Music Recorded at the Jazz Standard in New York City
Fridays on All Night Jazz, since seeing live jazz is difficult to do right now, Mike Cornette brings the live jazz to you on “Jazz Club Friday” on the Jazz Trip@Ten. This week, Mike featured music recorded at the Jazz Standard in New York City. It’s a club owned by a world-renowned restaurateur, Danny Meyer, best known today for his Shake Shack hamburger chain, who took a chance nearly 20 years ago, hoping his recipe for restaurant success could work in a jazz club. WUSF’s Steve Splane has more:
Danny Meyer is one of the world’s best-known restaurant impresarios. He started with a splash in 1985 when at the age of 27, he opened Union Square Café in Manhattan with an aim to present the highest quality food with the lowest amount of attitude. He followed that in 1992 with the Gramercy Tavern, which cemented his reputation as a visionary with a winning formula: World-class gourmet “New American” cuisine served in a casual atmosphere, hold the big city snobbery.
In 2002, Meyer decided to go in entirely different direction. He opened Blue Smoke, offering what was scarce in New York City at the time: high end barbeque food.
The restaurant, in Manhattan’s Flat Iron district, would replace one in the same location that had been struggling, called 27 Standard.
And if that wasn’t enough of a twist, Meyer decided he would keep the fledgling jazz club that had been operating the basement of 27 Standard since 1997 and keep the name, Jazz Standard.
Danny Meyer loves jazz, he grew up listening to it around his house and was a jazz DJ in college, but running a jazz club, he admits, was way out of his wheelhouse.
”There’s a huge amount of hubris involved in opening a jazz club when you don’t know about the music or nightclub businesses,” Meyer told the New York Times in 2002.
”But the bottom line is I love jazz, and it’s disappointing to me why it seems that in the last 20 years fewer and fewer New Yorkers have elected to hear live jazz at night. So I thought we should use our ignorance to our advantage.”
Meyer enlisted his cousin, James Polsky, who had been the managing partner of 27 Standard, and the original Jazz Standard, to run the jazz club. The room seats 150 and after extensive renovations overseen by Polsky and Meyer, the venue now features what has been called “pitch perfect” acoustics.
There are many jazz clubs in New York that also serve food, but by teaming up with his legendary cousin, Polsky knew they could stand out by offering award-winning food to go with the music.
”People would come, but there wasn’t a visceral connection between the food and the music,” Polsky told the New York Times about the original Jazz Standard. ”The restaurant was a ‘B’ destination and a ‘B’ in New York just doesn’t work. There are too many choices. Now, I think it’s an ‘A.’ ”
The Jazz Standard not only has top-notch food, but most nights, patrons pay a lower music charge than some of the other premiere jazz clubs in New York City like The Blue Note.
They accomplish this, in part, by booking a mix of up and coming players and jazz veterans. Over the years you could catch emerging stars like keyboardist Jon Batiste or multi reed player Anat Cohen one week or living legends like organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, drummer Roy Haynes and saxophonist Benny Golson the next.
Some memorable recordings have been made there. The Mingus Big Band’s New Year’s Eve 2009 performance “Live at the Jazz Standard,” won a Grammy in 2010. That band has been a fixture at the club since 2008 when they started the weekly “Mingus Mondays” series.
Other standout recordings made at the venue include “Days of Wine and Roses” by the Maria Schneider Orchestra (2000); “Live at the Jazz Standard” (Vols 1 & 2) by guitarist Russell Malone (2006-2007) and “Live at the Jazz Standard” Vol’s 1 & 2 by singer Dena DeRose. (2007-2008).
The club is also dedicated to the next generation of jazz musicians (and fans). The Jazz for Kids Program features an annual competition to win a seat in the Jazz Standard Youth Orchestra, which performs on the Jazz Standard stage.
The program was “founded with the intention of bringing kids from all backgrounds, including both public and private schools into New York’s famous club for a live jazz experience.”
The Jazz Standard is still closed due to COVID-19, but Blue Smoke just “fired up the smokers” and has started offering food for take-out. The Mingus Big Band has been hosting a series of Monday live streams during the pandemic with a different member of the band performing solo each week. https://www.facebook.com/charlesmingus.
Danny Meyer is still thriving and expanding his food empire. But his sole venture into jazz continues to stand out as well. Proving his recipe for success transcends food. Start with quality ingredients, mix in equal parts hospitality, then stir. Serve hot.