Jazz Club Review: 55 Bar (in New York City)

Rob Mallows writes from NYC…

Open since the 1920s, the 55 Bar, in the basement of  55 Christopher Street at Sheridan Square has been serving up lean slices of jazz off the bone for eighty years. In its time it has played host to some of the biggest names in jazz, past and contemporary: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter. Even now, guitar legend Mike Stern and other local big guns frequently play the venue, such is its spirit and vibe. Sitting at the long bar, with the walls covered in photos of the greats, one can only imagine what it must have been like in the bebop era or at the start of the fusion era when Miles went electric.

On the night I went, on the bill were two local players whose styles could not have been more diametrically opposed. First on stage – rather, on the floor by the back door, there being no space for a stage – was local singer Amy Cervini. Her voice has a rich, breathy timbre and her repertoire touches all the right bases, including a number of great Bessie Smith numbers from her recent album. In her hour-long set she created a friendly early evening vibe with two local musicians on bass and Rhodes piano. A real favourite was Rhode Island by Deitz and Schwartz, which took the audience on a whistle-stop tour of most of the US states in rhyming couplets. Cervini is a class act perfectly suited to this cosy New York venue.

The late show was the polar opposite. Wayne Krantz is a fusion guitarist who seems to channel the aforementioned Stern and Al di Meola but then goes off on his own, rocket-fuelled world of shredded, angular melodies and sudden rhythm changes. Two fantastic drummers worked up some insane beats to power the set along, characterised by Wayne’s twenty minute long tours de force on his guitar. This was loud, rocket-fuelled fusion that brought the house down and probably kept the neighbours up.

Any LondonJazz readers visiting the Big Apple this year are encouraged to check out this little club at the core of the local jazz scene, and transport yourself to the era of speakeasies and smoke filled jazz joints while listening to New York’s best.

Previous review: Sebastian heard Tessa Souter and Sean Smith there in 2011

Categories: miscellaneous

2 replies »

  1. It is indeed one of the greatest place to listen to jazz in NY. Small, intimate, packed bar, about 50 people max. Great vibes always. I have seen Mike Stern play there many times (and sell his CDeeeeee's!!!).
    Highly recommended, but come early.

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