Downtown New York Sounds


With New York City’s big-name jazz clubs presenting mostly established players and groups, the smaller musical venues in the city’s Lower Manhattan region have taken the lead in offering younger, lesser-known and more forward-looking musicians a way to find an audience.

Although other clubs-some of which have not survived-have played a role in this mostly quiet revolution, Smalls has made its reputation as a spot with a more mainstream jazz orientation, while the Knitting Factory caters to a cutting-edge crowd in both jazz and rock veins. The sounds emanating from Smalls often tend to merge standard tunes and original compositions with occasional tinges of hip-hop rhythms. A more edgy, experimental, often free-form quality is found in the mixture of music found at the Knitting Factory.

Opened in 1994, Smalls became the mecca for combos and big bands with a revolving cast of players, as well as a place for all-night jamming-the sort of jazz training ground largely missing from the scene since the ‘50s. It also has become a hangout for record producers seeking new artists, as well as a place for live recordings.

Established roughly a decade earlier, the Knitting Factory has made its name with more avant-garde players, has grown to include recording facilities and its own recording label, as well as a continuing and growing involvement in the New York summer music festival scene. Tonic on the Lower East Side has emerged as perhaps the most progressive and interesting venue in the area, as it features the likes of Dave Douglas and John Zorn in regularly curated musical series.

Other Big Apple clubs-not necessarily downtown in location but in essence-also contribute to this somewhat incomplete picture of a small but growing jazz movement.

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December 2017
Wynton Marsalis
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