“A real loss.” The Jazz Standard announced on 2 December 2020 that it will be closing permanently. Dan Bergsagel reflects:
The Jazz Standard has announced that it will be shutting its doors permanently. Since the summer there have been rumours of many storied NYC jazz venues shutting their doors (Birdland, Smalls), however the Jazz Standard is the first major location to confirm its fate, after nearly 20 years of service.
Unlike many other parts of the US and much of the world, New York City never really reopened after the virus first arrived with such devastating consequences in spring. Nearly all indoor activities have been restricted since, and the impact of this on performance industries has been fretted over and documented throughout the year. It seems particularly cruel for music genres based around live improvisation, which involve expelling air at high speed in atmospheric basements with poor ventilation, and where a musician’s development is structured around gig hopping each evening and cross-pollinating all-night jam sessions.
The world’s most vibrant jazz scene, jazz in NYC has been on life support since March and scraping by through online events, livestreams of performances in empty venues, and outdoor performances. For venues with Manhattan rent due and no revenues coming in, it was increasingly challenging. With no substantial government relief coming, and the pandemic far from over, for the Jazz Standard it clearly became untenable.
The Jazz Standard is a real loss in the city’s landscape of venues, previously named as a Best Jazz Club and always in the lists of top venues. On a personal level, I will feel the loss keenly. The Jazz Standard has been one of my favourite clubs since moving to New York two years ago. Artistic Director Seth Abramson and team always did a fantastic job of managing a balanced and exciting programme: from their regular Monday night Mingus series (review) to rare big bands such as Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society (review), important album launches by up-and-coming small ensembles (review) to the most established groups (review). While the venue was famous for its BBQ ribs from restaurant Blue Smoke upstairs, as a Londoner pining for quality South Indian cuisine, I saw any gig at the Jazz Standard as an opportunity to get a Dosa from ‘Curry Hill’, Manhattan’s dense three-block stretch of subcontinent restaurants just around the corner.
In a parallel universe I would have been at the Jazz Standard on 20 March this year to see Dominique Eade and Fred Hersch mark 50 years of the New England Conservatory, instead of watching Hersch livestream from his apartment – alone – two days later. In a parallel universe I would have been at the Jazz Standard in May to see The Gil Evans Project perform Sketches of Spain live, instead of watching a cleverly spliced video montage on my laptop in August.
There is, however, a glimmer of hope. In the announcement, Abramson says they “are optimistic about the future and writing the next chapter of Jazz Standard”. The Jazz Standard plans to continue hosting interviews and online events on its various digital platforms, as well as a Facebook Live series in partnership with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Fingers crossed that a physical reincarnation can reemerge in the coming years, too.