Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola Manager Roland Chassagne and Artistic Manager Todd Barkan have pushed hard for three years to maintain a strong foothold on the Manhattan landscape at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Frederick P. Rose Hall. To give an indication of how well they've succeeded, hear what Tony Bennett recently said to them: "You know, this is the best jazz room in the city."
Jazz clubs in the past are remembered for their smoky, dingy basement strongholds. Not today. Jazz has gained prestige and respect. Barkan was the owner and booker of the legendary Keystone Korner jazz club in San Francisco decades ago and he has seen the evolution of the music firsthand.
"It's all about making the beat sing and the melody swing," he declares. "Here in the House of Swing, we do put a high premium on music that really swings and has something truly uplifting to say, while hopefully touching a few hearts along the way. It cannot be overemphasized how important it is to try and provide a warm and welcoming environment for this jazz we love so deeply, which is to its very core an indispensable way to celebrate both human individuality and the possibilities to harmonize and synchronize with one another in a creative way. Roland and I stay busy every day and night to try and maintain as comfortable and accommodating a home for the music as possible‹both for our customers and for the wonderful artists who perform so extraordinarily and consistently at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola."
Chassagne shares Barkan's enthusiasm. "Man, there are so many things that are satisfying about the job I have," he says. "The first thing that comes to mind is how our customers feel after a Dizzy's evening. They are impressed with the jazz they hear, especially in the incredible club setting." Chassagne worked closely with Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis for years as Jazz at Lincoln Center was building Frederick P. Rose Hall. "The first time I met Wynton was in the fall of 2000," he recalls. "I was in the Project Office listening to John Coltrane when Wynton walked in. We started talking about jazz and he asked me why I liked Coltrane. I didn't know what to say, really, so I just responded, 'Because he can play the heck out of that horn!' He laughed and that's when the friendship started."
Chassagne and Barkan work together running the club. Chassagne makes the machine move, drawing on his past experience working at other New York City jazz clubs. At Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, he coordinates with the restaurant crew Great Performances, keeping the artists happy and entertaining the A-list celebrities that frequent the club. "I had no idea they had such love for jazz music," Chassagne says. "Many celebs have come to the club, and I've actually sat down and had conversations at length with Tony Bennett, Eric Clapton, Ewan McGregor, Angela Bassett, Ed Norton, Kofi Annan, and Julia Stiles, to name a few."
While Chassagne hosts, Barkan books the talent. It's no easy task putting together the puzzle of artists and agents, creating concepts for weekly headliners, dealing with managers, publicists, and whatever comes his way. "With a lot of inspiration from the artistic vision and pragmatism of Wynton for the overall programming of Jazz at Lincoln Center, I try to help facilitate, as the artistic manager of our club, as much of an ongoing and multifaceted jazz festival here as possible," says Barkan. "Both our Monday-night Upstarts! program and our Tuesday-through-Saturday After Hours sets work in unison with the headliners we present and greatly contribute to fulfilling our basic artistic mission as an organization to inspire and grow audiences for the music."
The popular Upstarts! shows have ranged from an outstanding Month of Mondays featuring a "Northern Lights Jazz Series" of up-and-coming Scandinavian bands to a wide variety of college groups and soloists from the Juilliard School, the Manhattan School of Music, The New School, NYU, and from university jazz programs across the country. After Hours sets regularly feature exciting jazz instrumentalists and singers deserving a much larger audience: pianists Helen Sung, Aaron Diehl, and Pete Malinverni; saxophonists Bob Kindred, Stacy Dillard, and George Garzone; organist Akiko Tsuruga; singers Denise King and Giacomo Gates, and many more.
"Jazz music has the best chance of moving us when it tells a unique story in a compelling way, and we try to do just that in the way we book the club's artistic lineup," explains Barkan, "striving to present as varied and imaginative combinations and programs of swinging jazz as possible." As an example, this month's lineup is highlighted by "West Coast Jazz" on June 5-10, creatively interpreted by the great jazz pianist Eric Reed, with alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton, bassist Gerald Cannon, and the hard-swinging drummer Willie Jones III; the fiery young tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, vibraphonist Joe Locke, and bassist Dwayne Burno on June 12-17; and the wonderful Lewis Nash on drums with guest trumpeters Nicholas Payton and Jeremy Pelt on June 19-24. "Chasin' the Trane": The Sonny Fortune All-Stars featuring Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson, Charles Sullivan, George Cables, Buster Williams, and Louis Hayes bust things wide open June 26-July 1.
July 10-15, Barkan will feature the strong musical architecture of the Charles McPherson-Tom Harrell Quintet featuring Ronnie Mathews, Ray Drummond, and Jimmy Cobb. They will be followed by the legendary Roy Haynes and his Fountain of Youth Quartet, July 17-22, and the dynamic Brazilian duo of Flora Purim and Airto with Marcos Silva, Gary Brown, and Grecco Burratto on July 24-29. August is anchored by jazz giant Cedar Walton with Lewis Nash, Steve Turre, Vincent Herring, and David Williams for two weeks from July 31 through August 12, and "The Music of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stan Getz," featuring Trio da Paz with Maucha Adnet, Harry Allen, and Joe Locke on August 14-26. The explosive One for All Sextet with Steve Davis, Eric Alexander, Jim Rotondi, David Hazeltine, John Webber, and Joe Farnsworth will propel you into the Labor Day weekend with style from August 28 to September 2.
So it's going to be another sizzling summer of hot, swingin' jazz at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola. The club is closed the first week of July for annual maintenance, otherwise you'll find the joint jumpin' every night of the year. Bring your friends to Broadway at 60th at Columbus Circle and go to Jazz at Lincoln Center on the fifth floor. "Dizzy's elevates the art form," Chassagne says. "There's a place in New York City where you can listen to high-quality jazz as you enjoy the Manhattan skyline. In our club, you can't separate Manhattan and jazz, they're both there for your enjoyment."
For reservations, call Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at (212) 258-9595 or visit www.jalc.org.
Scott H. Thompson is Assistant Director for Public Relations at Jazz at Lincoln Center.