The Smoke Jazz Club rises from its ashes after the end of the pandemic

A cultural hotspot

The venue’s first night on July 21 will feature saxophonist George Coleman, who has a long history with the venue. The George Coleman Quartet were the first band to play The Smoke when it opened in 1999; they were the first to perform at the club after 9/11 shut it down for several days; and they performed there during the summer of 2020.

“George is 87 now, that still sounds good,” Stache said. connection.”

Coleman, who has worked with Miles Davis, Max Roach and Herbie Hancock, said he was relieved Smoke was back in business.

“The wonderful staff and owners always make everyone feel at home, and it’s an institution that fans and musicians know will always have great music,” he said. . “In fact, I often go to Smoke when I’m not working to just enjoy the music, like a fan!”

There are at least a dozen other artists and bands booked all summer, including the Al Foster Quintet, Charles McPherson, Vijay Iyer, Mary Stallings, Bill Charlap and Bobby Watson. Stache is optimistic about turnout because he thinks people are hungry for live experiences.

“As New Yorkers, we’re so spoiled in so many ways ⁠—because we’re in this cultural mecca, we can have whatever we want at our fingertips at all times,” he said. . “There are a lot of venues and a lot of music. All of a sudden you take that away for a while and people realize how important it is to their lives. We take things for granted when we have them. all the time. “

As for the alarmism over the state of the city – a view emanating from right-wing newspapers, rumbling hyperventilation and occasionally the mayor “Stache and Sparrow Johnson aren’t too worried. They see rising rents and the proliferation of vacant stores — which began years before the pandemic, but were exacerbated by it — as among the biggest problems facing New York.

“We see ourselves as part of the solution,” Stache said. “There are a lot of creative people in New York, and a lot of people who want to open small businesses. The bureaucracy is no joke – this whole process took as long as it did partly because of that.”

Sparrow Johnson recalls how different the city looked 25 years ago. She moved here in 1996 and lived in Williamsburg before gentrification.

“Times Square was seedy and spooky, and you didn’t go into the woods north of Central Park,” she said. “It’s not like that now. Crime may be on the rise, but it’s not like it used to be. And I know it’s all relative, but like someone who remembers being told to not walk east of Amsterdam Avenue, I think it’s fine. It’ll be fine. fine.”

That’s part of why the couple never even considered giving up on Smoke, even during the darkest times of the pandemic, when there was no indication things would get any better.

“We love working together,” Sparrow Johnson said. “We’re good at it, I think. And it’s such an important part of our lives that we never really said, ‘Let’s do something else. Let’s just go open somewhere else and forget about it. It’s kind of unthinkable for me to do anything else.”

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that Frank Christopher is no longer a business partner of the Smoke Jazz Club. Club operation days have also been fixed. It is open from Thursday to Sunday.

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