Love may be in the eye of the beholder but this self-described club in the sky has got it all or as Billie Holiday has been known to sing, more and more and then some.
This is not an easy accomplishment. Navigating the imposing marble, glass and steel interior of the Time Warner Center that houses Jazz at Lincoln Center can seem a bit daunting even for a seasoned jazz-goer. Whether you enter from Broadway fronting Columbus Circle into the shopping mall or from W. 60th Street, it's hard to believe that there's a cozy, inviting spot on the fifth floor; the elevators look so corporate and put you off. But what a wonderful world it is once you've made it through those big wooden doors and into this gorgeous house of sound, one of three venues (including Frederick P. Rose Hall and The Allen Room) envisioned and realized by JALC founder and jazz visionary, Wynton Marsalis, which officially opened Oct. 18th, 2004.
Still, at first it's not easy to reconcile this inflexible and somewhat monumental entrance with a music as fluid, inventive, laid-back and as much fun as jazz. The proprietors of Dizzy's know this. That's why they work like the devil to make a visitor happy once they're inside. And, as everyone knows, the devil's in the details.
Because of where we are physically, in the Time Warner Center, in a mall in essence, some people feel that we are going to take the same sort of atmosphere as the other places here, says Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola manager Roland Chassagne. So we at Jazz at Lincoln Center and Dizzy's make sure that we give it sort of a down-home feeling... The clubs in the past and present, well, everybody sort of wants that going- down-in-the-basement feeling of a jazz club, which is fine also, but we are trying to elevate the perception of jazz clubs. We're a jazz club in the sky. It's comfortable, the food is good [by Executive Chef Nina Khansari], we have the view obviously but of course what counts is the music.
No problem there. If you are a sightseer and can take your eyes off the terrific view of Columbus Circle, Central Park and the night-lights of the city beyond, there's a lot to hear. Artistic Manager Todd Barkan, who masterminds the music and sees that it all swings, makes excellent and diverse choices. A proven jazz concert and record producer of long standing, Barkan was the former owner and artistic manager of the well known San Francisco jazz club Keystone Korner, site of many famous live recordings and where Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers showed up with a young trumpeter named Wynton Marsalis.
When he was putting together Jazz at Lincoln Center, Marsalis told Barkan he'd like him to lend his talents to the venue. Anytime you go, you will find him there, announcing shows and looking over things. Barkan stresses that running the club and creating its singular atmosphere for music and other enjoyments is a team effort and cites Chassagne and assistant manager Desmond Prass as essential partners in making it all happen.
As for programming the music, he explains that he strives to create a certain architecture in booking, making a concerted effort to include not only jazz headliners but a mix of younger and older musicians, different styles of jazz to appeal to varied audiences.
For example, in the month of March, we had the great pianist Eric Reed with two young tenor giants--Seamus Blake and Stacy Dillard. There was Willie Jones III on drums and Dezron Douglas on bass. So there were about three generations of players on stage. The next week Marian McPartland celebrated her 90th birthday with Norah Jones and Bill Charlap and Karrin Allyson and Wynton Marsalis and a whole phalanx of great people, he continues. Then we had Phil Woods. And Cyrus Chestnut with Carla Cook. More recently, Ernestine Anderson with Houston Person.
In addition to these main shows (at 7:30 and 9:30 pm with a later third set on Friday and Saturday, most nights $30, sometimes $35, with $10 minimum at tables, $5 at the bar), Dizzy's also offers After Hours shows following the main sets ($10). Those same weeks included pianist Spike Wilner Quintet with trumpeter Ryan Kisor (a superb player who is also a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra) and singer/pianist Champian Fulton's trio.
Seating options appeal to various tastes. A long bar winds around the attractive wood paneled room with its curvaceous undulating walls (which have acoustic as well as aesthetic purpose). The distinguished drummer Roy Haynes was recently camped out at the bar with his grandson, the very able drummer Marcus Gilmore. There are also tables for those who seek more privacy.
Barkan's love of jazz is lifelong and he feels that anyone can enjoy this music. Jazz offers something that appeals to the heart and soul at the same time as it appeals to the mind. It's music that lifts the spirits and the soul and your intellect. And it swings. And it's fun. And it's entertaining. It makes your soul dance. It makes your heart dance. It's not just an intellectual pursuit.
~ Laurel Gross