When the Sturm family decided to open a club, Ron is the one who suggested jazz. The name Iridium was chosen for several reasons. Iridium is a silvery white metal, but the word derives from iris, so it also refers to a rainbow. The Sturms liked the sound of the word, and better yet someone told them that saxophones were once lined with iridium.
The club opened in 1994 at its original location on 63rd Street and 8th Avenue. According to Sturm, they started with small aspirations. We were just finding our way as a jazz club. We had a $5 cover charge, and we had to go around and find people to get them to pay! The original location went through three renovations, then in August 2001 Iridium opened at its current location at 1650 Broadway on 51st Street.
A key part of the renovation was creating a professional sound system. We have a state-of-the-art Meyer sound system, as well as a Steinway piano and a recording studio. People who really want to hear music like the space because the focus here is on the music.
Iridium also prides itself on its ambience. The club's underground location, discreet lighting, and two-tiered seating create a cozy, even romantic atmosphere. The club is also renowned for its quality service and food, including a Sunday jazz brunch that features singer and pianist Bob Dorough.
Iridium is perhaps most famous for its relationship with guitar legend Les Paul, who has been performing Monday nights at Iridium since April 1995. I noticed that Les wasn't playing at Fat Tuesdays anymore, Sturm said, so I called up a close friend and he hooked us up. Les showed up unannounced one night wearing blue jeans; he was very straightforward with no airs, and we hit it off. Les is meat and potatoes: people come from all over the world to see him, and he has time for everyone. He's the hippest 87-year-old that you're ever going to see.
In addition to Paul, Iridium presents a wide variety of jazz styles, with recent and upcoming bookings including McCoy Tyner, Ahmad Jamal, the Heath brothers, Sam Rivers, Andrew Hill, Henry Threadgill, Roswell Rudd, Vernon Reid, James Blood Ulmer, and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Iridium is also trying something new: Cuban jazz nights twice a month, complete with live music, dancing, and a DJ. Sturm is proud of Iridium's wide spectrum of music. We're not just booking by rote - we try new things. We try to balance our booking by having a week that may not pay the rent, but presents someone up and coming who's just breaking through. We have to keep our finger on the pulse.
Sturm enjoys the work, particularly getting to know the musicians and seeing a side of them that others often don't know. There are a lot of wonderful, genuine people in this business. For instance, Michael Brecker was playing the club during September 11th. It was his week, and we were excited to have him because we had just opened up at the new location a month earlier. And Michael donated his entire salary to the Red Cross. He was totally low-key about it, he didn't tell anyone and he didn't want press. That blew me away, and reaffirmed just how good people can be.
Iridium has its challenges like all jazz clubs in New York, but as Sturm reflects on his years in the business he says, I wouldn't have dreamed that we would still be here so many years later, and that we would be presenting people like McCoy Tyner and Ahmad Jamal. I'm proud of our staying power.