Years ago, when I was visiting New York, I would slip into a saloon called Bradley's on University Place in Greenwich Village. All I knew was that it was a bar with a music schedule. It took me a while to realize it was famous as a hangout for serious jazz musicians and that the piano had belonged to Paul Desmond of "Take Five" fame. But it was also a fine place for a woman alone to have a quiet drink and enjoy the music. When it closed some years after its owner's death, there was a gap in the jazz scene with no small piano-centric club to take its place.
Now there may well be a successor, and on a fast trip to Manhattan, I wanted to investigate. Mezzrow, named for the late jazz clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow, is a long, narrow basement bar. It offers a few snacks to soak up the alcohol, but nothing so substantial as even sandwiches, so plan on dinner first. Or after; this is, after all, New York City.
There's a cover charge, of course - which also covers its sibling club, Smalls, in the same block. When I arrived a little before 11 on a weeknight, the music was...sort of the jazz equivalent of Phillip Glass, discordant and atonal to my ear, at least. The man on the door volunteered that soon there would be different music, implying that it would be more to my taste - but was he saying that because I was obviously old enough to have hung out at Bradley's and he was assuming?
The acoustics are good, the atmosphere is relaxed and the drinks are swell. Besides the music (of which more in a bit), the best thing about it was the age of the patrons. There I was, the oldest in the place, a couple of guys maybe in their 50s, and everyone else was below that. Young people grooving on jazz: How great is that? The atmosphere was not hushed and reverent; like the clubs of the glory days of the mid-20th century, there was the clink of glasses and the murmur of conversation.
When the discordant sound ended, there was a little polite applause. The minute that group abandoned ship, a young woman with a large bass started to set up shop. She was joined by a piano player. I later learned the bassist was Adi Meyerson, the piano player Miki Yamanaka, and they often host the late-night jam sessions, where other musicians often sit in. After a couple of songs, they were joined by a trombonist. More fun ensued, as the New Yorker would say.
When I left, I asked if the music I heard when I came in was programmed often. "No," growled the manager-type. "That's not our style at all. This," he added, nodding toward the back of the room where a little Ellington could be heard, "is more what we do. I don't think you'll hear that other stuff again."
I think I've found a home away from home.
163 W. 10th St. at 7th Ave., New York City