The Price Of Jazz: Jazz Gallery’s Legacy and Ledger

Written by NYPress on . Posted in Arts & Film.


By Howard Mandel

Latest music organization to enter the tight local real estate market: the Jazz Gallery, which lost the lease on its loft at Hudson and Spring streets after 17 years. Moving an ongoing venture at any time is painful, but seldom worse than right now in Manhattan, where the Gallery wants to stay. Still, the can-do spirit that has exemplified the Gallery since its founding prevails. Executive director Deborah Steinglass takes the task as an opportunity for growth, calling the effort “A Home Run.”

The Gallery is a unique venue that has introduced scores of progressive musicians at modest prices to local audiences while also exhibiting jazz-related visual art. It’s a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, neither bar nor restaurant but low-key listening room, with good sight lines and folding chairs. It’s larger than The Stone, its nearest relative aesthetically speaking (but way across town), and the vibe is more relaxed. It was established in 1996 by Dale Fitzgerald, who retired three years ago to work as business manager to trumpeter Roy Hargrove (also present at the Gallery’s birth), and has been booked since 2000 by Rio Sakairi.

From its start, the Gallery’s focus has been on emerging artists—many of whom have been émigrés, lending the place an international cast—plus experimentation and large ensembles. It’s hard for little-known big bands to find rehearsal space, a stage, open-minded curators or curious listeners, yet the Gallery has even commissioned large ensemble works (with grants from private funders and government agencies).

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society had its “jazz venue” debut there in 2007; pianist Orrin Evans and his Captain Black Big Band performed there in early April; and Karl Berger’s Improvisers Orchestra is nearing the end of its twice-monthly residency, during which open-to-the-public rehearsals are followed by full concerts. Alto saxophonist Steve Coleman has enjoyed a long-running Monday evening workshop, recently in alternation with composer/reeds player Henry Threadgill. Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, drummer-bandleader Dafnis Prieto, pianist Jason Moran, saxophonist Miguel Zenon, guitarist Lionel Loueke, singer Gretchen Parlato and bassist Linda Oh are Gallery favorites who’ve graduated to gigs at the Village Vanguard, Jazz Standard, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, MacArthur fellowships and far-reaching tours. They return to the Gallery for special events.

Impressed and want to be the Gallery’s new landlord? “We are looking for a new space that will maintain the intimacy and warmth of our current venue,” reads a communiqué from Steinglass on the Gallery’s website. “It must provide musicians with great performance room acoustics, rehearsal space, and the ability to record and stream live music. We are committed to continuing to offer more than 180 performances a year, residency commissions, and The Woodshed, which provides free rehearsal space to musicians who have performed here.”

The place may get noisy sometimes, so those with tender eardrums need not apply. However, potential lessors are probably less worried about the noise level than the bottom line. The Gallery has launched a $250,000 capital campaign to support the move and provide a cash reserve (donate through JazzGallery.org or send checks to the Jazz Gallery, 290 Hudson St., New York, NY 10013).

If $250,000 sounds like a lot, consider that Jazz at Lincoln Center raised $3.6 million—14 times as much—with its mid-April gala that showcased Paul Simon with Wynton Marsalis’ LCJO. The National Jazz Museum in Harlem has begun a $22 million campaign to build a facility and a $2.5 million endowment. Roulette spent $3.5 mil opening its new home near Atlantic Yards, with $447,000 from the office of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. The Gallery should survive.

Contact the author at jazzmandel@gmail.com

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