Jazz in New York: A Broken Record?

Jazz in New York: A Broken Record?

grandparents loved it. You pretend to know about it. But
for most, it really is just “all that (slightly repetitive) jazz.”
Unsurprising then that sales of jazz account for just 1.4 per cent
of US music market share, falling behind even children’s music. But
despite record lows jazz in New York is as vibrant as ever, with a
host of musicians pushing musical boundaries and broadening our

Due to the increasing demand for more mainstream music, the New
York jazz scene is as small as the city’s best jazz venues. The
life of a musician might be as spontaneous as its score, but it is
hardly as glamorous, as artists are forced to chop and change
between at least three bands in order to fund a living. With such a
hectic lifestyle, jam sessions are as rare as a seat on the subway
and with so many talented ‘cats’ prowling the tight circuit, the
stakes are high and the fare is low. There are no nine lives in New

The benefits of such chaos are reaped by the listener. In order
to distinguish their own original sound, artists are forced to
constantly reinvent their music to re-engage their audiences.
SYOTOS (an acronym coined by Chris Washburne, meaning See You On
The Other Side) one of the longest standing jazz groups in New
York, have knocked the stereotype of jazz as a genre for elderly
late-night drinkers. The group mixes Afro-Latin jazz with Acrid
Rock, or what they call Acid Mambo: “Think Duke Ellington on a
psychedelic trip,” says Chris, the band’s leader. Unlikely pairings
include Duke Ellington’s sacred work Heaven with Led Zeppelin’s
1971 Stairway to Heaven. According to Washburne, SYOTOS is keeping
the vital tradition of jazz alive by pushing boundaries.

It is not just older jazz musicians who are engaged in the
struggle to keep jazz relevant in today’s world of music for the
masses. Etienne Charles, the coolest ‘cat’ around town, is rarely
seen without his trilby (let alone his trumpet) and considers art
and culture as “the soul of any society”. Charles has followed his
own cultural roots to Trinidad by tapping into the energy of Creole
music. His mixture of calypso rhythms and Haitian voodoo music
brings the island heat and excitement to bear on the smoothness of

Equally young and talented, 24-year-old Adam Larson has traced
the origins of jazz, touring the Democratic Republic of Congo,
Ghana and Senegal. “Working with traditional percussionists was the
highlight, especially those musicians who played the talking drum,”
says Larson. For him, the constantly evolving exploration of jazz
is a two-way street that collapses cultural boundaries both within
America and outside of the country.

Artists are forced to constantly reinvent their music to re-engage their audiences

Despite the evolution of jazz, it is still a genre too often
associated with hotel lobbies from days gone by. But there is
arguably no better escape from the late-summer heat of New York
than into this hidden underground world. The venues may sometimes
be seedy, but the rich notes of a saxophone can convert any dive.
And with so many musicians changing the definition of jazz, who
knows where it will take you?

SUITCASE has spoken to some of the best musicians in New York
and compiled their list of the best places around the world to
listen to the shifting identity of jazz. So, get your finger on the

Caleb Wheeler Curtis

Favourite jazz venue: Left Alone, Ashiya, Japan “I played at Left Alone in
2008 on a tour. I remember the wooden beams in the interior being
very cool and the sound was great because of it. The food was
delicious too.”

Adam Larson

Favourite jazz venue: +233, Ghana “The venue is named after the area code in
Accra and is rooted in local culture. The rhythmic roots of jazz
come from Africa, and this is a place you can really hear

Isaac Darche

Favourite jazz venue: Bimhuis, Amsterdam
“This a new and well-designed jazz club with amazing acoustics in a
fantastic city.”

Steven Feifke

Favourite jazz venue: Ronnie
, London “Ronnie Scott’s is a room with the musical
intensity of New York City, but with the vibe and culture of a
British Club.”

Benny Benack III

Favourite jazz venue: Body &
, Tokyo “Body & Soul is not as glitzy and glamorous as
the bigger clubs like Blue Note Tokyo or the Cotton Club, but Body
& Soul has history. It is tiny too – the audience is seated
next to the band, so it’s a very intimate experience. The crowds
are fantastic – last time we played we did three encores!”

Peter Nelson

Favourite jazz venue: The Stone, New York
“A venue that encourages adventurous, honest music. It’s dedicated
to creating an environment that fosters spontaneous, unreserved
improvisation and textural music making.”

Devin Starks

Favourite jazz venue: Porgy & Bess, Vienna
“So many jazz clubs are literally underground and most feel like
basements – dingy, moist, dark rooms with poles in random places.
But Porgy & Bess is pretty fly, very aesthetically created.
They treat the musicians well and host the most of the
international jazz acts coming through Vienna, the big names are
always there!”

Words and Photos by Alice Fane

Discover More
Eight of New York City’s Best Music Venues