4. The Village Vanguard – Present

The Village Vanguard jazz club in NYC exterior during the daytime.

Known today as one of the oldest remaining jazz clubs in NYC, the Village Vanguard was first opened by Max Gordon at Charles Street and Greenwich Avenue in 1934. However, due to an insufficient area of facilities, Gordon was unable to procure a cabaret license which impeded his plan to operate a club designed to serve as a forum for poets, artists, and musical performances. As a result, the club moved into the former building of the Golden Triangle, a speakeasy at 178 Seventh Avenue South. The Village Vanguard would go on to begin operations on February 22, 1935, dedicated to presenting patrons with poetry readings and folk music. Prominent visitors to the club during the 1930s and 1940s included poet Matthew Bondenheim, Caribbean calypso musician the Duke of Iron, and stand-up comedian Phil Leeds. 

From the 1930s to the 1950s, as college students and artists began to take more interest in jazz music, the Village Vanguard’s focus began to shift towards featuring this music genre more prominently. Throughout the 30s and 40s, it soared in popularity among jazz clubs in NYC. The club served as a haven for small swing groups and received performances from Sidney Becht, Mary Lou Williams, and Roy Eldridge. By the 50s, the club had become one of the city’s leading venues for jazz music and worked to launch some of the era’s most celebrated careers. On November 3, 1957, tenor sax player Sonny Rollins would record three LPs during some of the club’s first recording sessions. A few years later in 1961, John Coltrane and Bill Evans would record Vanguard titles with Coltrane’s consisting of 22 songs produced in just four days. 

The club remains most well-known today for its Jazz Orchestra which began as the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. After receiving rave reviews for three Monday night performances in February of 1966, the Orchestra has gone on to perform every Monday night since. In 1989 following the death of Max Gordon, his wife, Lorraine took over, running the establishment until June 9, 2018, when she died at the age of 95 from a stroke.