Skip to Sunday when Peter Mazza’s trio created an equally transporting experience as the guitarist soloed over a sample of himself on the standard “My Funny Valentine”, forming a lush, intricate string orchestration, while Will Vinson added a compelling dynamic on saxophone. A group of cheerful Greek tourists continually clinked their wine glasses while a family of four and a relaxed couple sipped their martinis by candlelight.
Two tunes into the set bassist Hans Glawischnig finished his beer and joined the duo, quickly followed by vocalist Melissa Stylianou who hopped off her barstool and found a place among the band for an impromtu performance of “All The Things You Are”. If it all sounds rather bohemian it’s because the essence of Greenwich Village flows nightly down the steps at 129 MacDougal Street and through the door of the townhouse built by Aaron Burr.
“I had this vision of a venue that had great music but was more intimate than your typical big established jazz club. It wasn’t as rough as a Smalls or a Fat Cat, but wasn’t as found as the Jazz Standard or the Blue Note. It had a taste of that thing where you feel like you’re on the cutting edge,” said Mazza who in addition to playing the regular Sunday night slot, books all the music at the club. He achieved his vision by culling from a network of musicians from his own community (he grew up in Manhattan), while keeping “one ear on the new stuff.” The groups he books bring a substantial knowledge of jazz tradition spiked with fresh ideas to the table. “Everybody has this one sensibility here - their own unique blend of old and new,” he explained.
For eight dollars patrons can settle into one of the club’s chairs, banquets or bar stools and enjoy music all night long. Mondays feature vocalists like Gretchen Parlato and Sasha Dobson; Tuesdays are for tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm’s group; Kreisberg’s trio plays every Wednesday; a revolving cast of trios led by musicians like Ben Monder, Donny McCaslin and Jon Gordon holds court Thursday through Saturday; and Mazza plays every Sunday night in a duo or trio setting.
The music began at La Lanterna a few years ago when Kreisberg started playing typical restaurant background music in a tiny corner by the door once a week. Gradually performances were added on other nights, the stage area moved to a more central location in the room and Mazza came on as Music Director.
“Jonathan and I walked in here like it was the Village Vanguard,” he said. “He had the ambition to elevate the room to the level of a jazz club. You look around, it’s very classic West Village jazz. He had this idea of a Bill Evans-inspired chamber jazz where all the musicians are conversing with each other.” This style of music he explained, fit well in a space defined by intimacy and found that qualities of character were important as well.
“You have to feel comfortable being with people. You have to be able to make the audience feel included,” Mazza said. He’s a natural at that, introducing each tune and slipping into an easy camaraderie with his audience.
Four working fireplaces and a gorgeous garden where the cherry blossoms are currently in bloom help La Lanterna live up to its reputation as one of the most romantic spots in the city. The restaurant’s full menu including myriad thin crust pizzas and salads, lasagna specials are available at the Bar Next Door and the wine and martini lists are extensive. On one recent night, owner Vittorio Antonini was found inspecting the mint bursting from a pot in the garden. “It’s for the mojitos,” he said. “The bartender will have to schlep out here and pick the mint when anybody orders one.” Live jazz and fresh mojitos by candlelight. Sounds right.
~ Celeste Sunderland