New York City is considered the jazz capital of the world, the hip-swinging city where the music genre icons Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis came to make their name. Even Louis Armstrong, whose trumpet skills preceded him from New Orleans, came to the city for a brief stint with the Jimmie Lunceford Big Band and changed the New York sound of jazz. The number of jazz clubs in the city may have dwindled since the days of these legendary architects, but a wide variety still exists for anyone’s listening pleasure.
If you’re looking for a unique experience, Zinc Bar, located in the heart of the West Village at 82 West 3rd St. (between Thompson and Sullivan streets), is your best bet. To enter, take a few steps down upon arriving, open the door and move aside the giant velvet curtain. Considering its 150-person capacity, Zinc Bar is quite spacious, unlike many jazz clubs in the city. The tables are comfortably spread apart and, most important, you can see the stage clearly from any seat, including the bar.
Most recently, vocalist Charenee Wade performed a 7:00 p.m. set. Wade does not have national recognition, but she proved to be more than capable of holding the audience’s attention. She performed a host of standards, both up-tempo and ballads. At times, her voice was reminiscent of the great Carmen McRae and her swift scats danced like Annie Ross melodies. Her only accompanist was a young well-traveled bassist. The 9:00 p.m. set featured the Ron Affif Trio, with Latina vocalist Claudia Acuna.
“We program similar to a radio show, expect a certain style of music on certain nights,” says owner Alex Kay. Monday nights feature guitarist Ron Affif and his band; early Mondays feature a string of vocalists; on Fridays it’s African Jazz; Saturdays, Marianni with Bossa Groove; and Sundays it’s Cidinho Teixeira Sambajazz Band. Early Wednesdays feature an assortment of jazz bands.
“To keep the big band tradition alive we usually have two or three big bands per month,” says Kay.
The bar features different musicians each night, from established to rising stars playing everything from straight ahead, bebop, fusion, Latin jazz and post bop. “From the perspective of a customer, this program makes the best sense,” says Kay. “People can come in two or three times per week and not hear the same music.”
For history buffs, the Zinc Bar was formerly the site of Club Cinderella in the 1940s. The house pianist at the time was Thelonious Monk, and Billie Holiday was one of the regular singers.
This is a relatively new location for Zinc Bar, which reopened in the fall of 2008. The club originally was located further east on Houston Street, a location Kay describes as “a real classic hole in the wall.” Kay, a native New Yorker raised in midtown Manhattan, opened the club in 1993. With a capacity of 75 people back then, it became the jazz club of choice for young and established musicians to woodshed and work on new material and the spot for folks to check out cutting-edge music. Musicians such as Richard Bona, the Strickland Brothers (Marcus and E.J.), El Negro Hernandez and Claudia Acuna all jump-started their careers at Zinc Bar. At any given time you may see a major musician hanging at the bar.
“We have a big family of musicians hanging out,” Kay says.
Kay wears many hats as owner, manager, soundman and the person who books the acts. His plans for the new location include perfecting the acoustics and bringing in a grand piano.