Two women with no knowledge of jazz, and no plans on a Thursday night ventured to WNYC’s new studio/performance venue: The Greene Space. The event taking place was “Jazz Loft Live,” a preview of “The Jazz Loft Radio Project,” a ten-part series paying homage to the multitude of jazz musicians that came to NYC in the 50’s and 60’s to do one thing only: jam.
The main attraction of the evening was pianist Dick Katz, vibraphonist Teddy Charles, bass player Bill Crow, and drummer Ron Free—four cats who used to frequent the same jazz loft at 821 Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. They came to the event without rehearsing and played like they did 50 years ago. Below Michelle and Justyna reflect on the evening, and what happens when history is revived in a sleek modern setting:
On WNYC’s New Digs:
Michelle Rafferty: Although we weren’t streaming over radio waves, the new space made me feel very much a part of a live show with its intimate seating, studio fixtures(ON AIR signs, boom mics, crew members), and hermetic glass walls that make both audience and performer the object of any passerby’s gaze.
Justyna Zajac: The new space is a polished and innovative downtown haunt, but without a bar, so you are still in the right frame of mind to enjoy the visible sun set courtesy the glass studio walls. I just remember sitting within this chic, modern structure, hearing the music to the right and seeing the liveliness on the street to my left, and thinking this is minimalist perfection.
On the Presentation:
Rafferty: I got “Old New York” chills while watching the show. Hosts Sam Stephenson and Sara Fishko put the music in context as they shared black and white photographs, the crackling jam session recordings, and the recollections of the men who played in them. When I learned that a certain New York City heiress frequented the jazz loft, I began to imagine myself a young debutante in the sultry summer of 1955, sneaking over to 821 Sixth Avenue (then the rough part of town) much to the chagrin of my upper crust family…
Zajac: At first, when they cut the music, I have to admit, all I could think was I have absolutely no desire to sit through a slide show presentation about jazz. However, as soon as Sam Stephenson began to explain his motives behind bringing “The Jazz Loft Project” to life, any reservations I may have had disappeared at that moment. Stephenson was researching the photographer W. Eugene Smith‘s work in Pittsburgh, when he stumbled upon countless of Smith’s recordings of jazz musicians in a New York City loft. Kismet!
On Our First Jazz Jam Session:
Rafferty: I looked at music in a way I never had before; the jam session is not a structured thing with a rigid beginning and end. It’s a conversation between artists that ebbs and flows, converges, and moves unpredictably. I don’t have an ear for jazz, but I appreciated the way the musicians anticipated and reacted to one another, figuring out which direction they would take the music next. It seemed odd when Teddy Charles announced the title of their next song—I thought “jam sessions” surpassed all classification.
Zajac: Listening to these 1960’s musicians playing together after all those years was so good for the soul. The only way to describe the music is it gave me a sense of gratification in the present, and at that moment there was no place I would have rather been. Those kind of states of content are very rare, so I am not surprised that the jazz musicians that visited the loft stayed for days and even weeks.
Highlight of the Evening:
Rafferty: I think Justyna and I agree on this one. Take it JZ.
Zajac: Michelle and I chatted up the drummer after the show, because as we all know, the ladies love the drummer. Anyhow, he shared with us how he had once played in the loft in the 1960’s but then his life ran dramatically off course. When he was sitting there at his drumset, this elderly man, he looked at us and said “I thought I’d never play again.” All of sudden there was this sense of possiblity in the air, for all of us, at any age. That was my highlight by far.
Rafferty: You can be as much a part of the experience at the Greene Space as you want. Ask the artists questions and mingle with them after the show. Or sit back and take it in. Either way it will be hard not to feel a part of the production.
Zajac: The Greene Space is an architectural feat, but it is WNYC’s tasteful choice of material and performers that gives the studio substance, the life to its Greene.