Smoke Jazz Club Reopens in NYC

Smoke Jazz Club, the acclaimed New York City venue that was closed to indoor performances and dining for more than two years due to the pandemic, will reopen next month with a full set of performances. NEA Jazz Master George Coleman kicks things off with a four-night stint Jul. 21-24, followed by the Bobby Watson Quartet (Jul. 28-31), Louis Hayes & The Cannonball Legacy Band (Aug. 3-7), Mary Stallings (Aug. 10-14), The Heavy Hitters (Aug. 17-21) and many others. (A complete list of upcoming shows is below and at the venue’s website).

Founded in 1999 by the husband-and-wife team of Paul Stache and Molly Sparrow Johnson, Smoke Jazz Club was opened with a performance by Coleman and the late Harold Mabern, both of whom would go on to appear there many times in the ensuing years . The club, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, became a focal point for a wide range of mainstream and post-bop styles, with artists such as Eric Alexander, Vincent Herring, Joe Farnsworth and Eddie Henderson performing there regularly and establishing the club’s reputation and de facto sound.

When the club was shut down because of the pandemic, the proprietors did their best to operate under the ever-changing restrictions, regulations and protocols by serving food outside, streaming shows, sidewalk concerts and other adaptations. As has happened with other venues and presenters, the pandemic had at least a sliver of a silver lining, because it forced the club to expand its physical space. Moving the full-length bar (that used to run from adjacent to the stage all the way to the front of the venue by the entrance) created a space that now serves as an attached lounge and freed up more space for audiences and a larger stage for performers in the main listening room. “We had already agreed, in principle, with our landlord to take on the two adjacent storefronts before the pandemic,” Johnson explained in a press release received at JazzTimes. “But it quickly became obvious that combining the new spaces with the jazz club was not only a priority but really a necessity to operate safely. We feel very fortunate that our landlord has been so supportive these last two years.”

Bobby Watson performing at Smoke Jazz Club in NYC (photo by John Abbott)

In addition, in 2014 Stache and Frank Christopher (and later Damon Smith) started a record label Smoke Sessions Records that recorded and produced albums, both live and in the studio, featuring many of the notable players who were regulars at the club, including Coleman , The Cookers, Renee Rosnes, Louis Hayes, Orrin Evans, Nicholas Payton and many others. That label has continued to release albums throughout the club’s hiatus including most recently Steve Davis’ Bluesthetic and Goldings/Bernstein/Stewart’s Perpetual Pendulum.

“Smoke Jazz Club has so much history,” said Stache in the same press release. “Despite the struggles of the last few years, we just knew that the music couldn’t stop here. The past couple of years have not been easy for anyone, but having live music back in the club with everyone together, musicians and listeners, seems like a turning point. We are very excited to take this next step.”

List of upcoming shows:

Thu-Sun 7.21-24 Smoke Reopening Celebration: George Coleman Quartet, plus special guest Peter Bernstein
George Coleman – tenor saxophone
Peter Bernstein – guitar
Davis Whitfield – piano
Peter Washington – bass
Joe Farnsworth – drums

Thu-Sun 7.28-31 Bobby Watson Quartet
Bobby Watson – alto saxophone
Orrin Evans – piano
Curtis Lundy – bass
Victor Jones – drums

Thu-Sun 8.04-7 Louis Hayes & The Cannonball Legacy Band
Jeremy Pelt – trumpet
Vincent Herring – alto saxophone
Rick Germanson – piano
Dezron Douglas – bass
Louis Hayes – drums

Thu-Sun 8.11-14 Mary Stallings
Mary Stallings – vocals
Emmet Cohen – piano
Russell Hall – bass
Joe Farnsworth – drums

Thu-Sun 8.18-21 The Heavy Hitters
Jeremy Pelt – trumpet
Eric Alexander – tenor saxophone
Mike LeDonne – piano
Peter Washington – bass
Kenny Washington – bass

Thu-Sun 8.25-28 Rudresh Mahanthappa Trio: Charlie Parker Celebration
Rudresh Mahanthappa – alto saxophone
Harish Raghavan – bass
Rudy Royston – drums

Thu-Sun 9.01-4 Al Foster Quintet: Smoke Sessions CD release
Chris Potter – tenor saxophone
TBA – special guest trumpet
Kevin Hays – piano
Vicente Archer – bass
Al Foster – drums

Thu-Sun 9.08-11 Eddie Henderson Quintet
Eddie Henderson – trumpet
Donald Harrison – alto saxophone
George Cables – piano
Essiet Essiet – bass
Lenny White – drums

Thu-Sun 9.15-18 Vijay Iyer Trio
Vijay Iyer – piano
TBA – bass
Tyshawn Sorey – drums

Thu-Sun 9.22-25 One For All
Jim Rotondi – trumpet
Eric Alexander – tenor saxophone
Steve Davis – trombone
David Hazeltine – piano
Peter Washington – bass
Joe Farnsworth – drums

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