Monday, June 11, 2018

Lorraine Gordon, Guardian Of Legendary Jazz Club, Dies At 95

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

There was a period in my life when my business interests frequently took me to New York. Additionally, I went on holiday to The Big Apple with family and friends on a number of occasions.

Whenever I was in town, for whatever reason, I always made it a point to visit The Village Vanguard on Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village, irrespective of who was performing there, because I felt obliged to pay my respects to the memories of all the great Jazz that was created in that legendary room.

To my way of thinking, Max Gordon and after his death in 1989, his widow Lorraine, deserved that kind of support for all they did for the music over the years.

Interestingly, I was rarely disappointed because as result of my many visits I had come to the realization that their choice of performers to appear at the club almost always agreed with my tastes.

Lorraine died yesterday and the editorial staff at JazzProfiles wanted to remember her on these pages with reprints of the following obituaries.

With her passing, Jazz has, to quote the late Orrin Keepnews, lost “a true friend of the music.”

© -  Copyright protected; all rights reserved, used with the author’s permission.

June 9, 2018
NPR:The Record

New York's Village Vanguard may come closer than any other club to embodying the spirit of jazz. For nearly 30 years, the guardian of that spirit has been the Vanguard's formidable impresaria, Lorraine Gordon. Gordon, a jazz champion since her teen years and one of the music's female pioneers, died Saturday at the age of 95.

The cause of death was complications from a stroke she suffered on Memorial Day, said Jed Eisenman, the longtime manager of the jazz nightclub.

Lorraine Gordon was never hard to find at the Village Vanguard. On most evenings, Gordon shuttled between two points: a table to the left of the stage, and the club's so-called kitchen. That's where she'd hang out with musicians, do the club's books, and take reservations — by hand, on a legal pad behind an ancient desk.

Once called "the Camelot of jazz rooms," the Village Vanguard hosted Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Bill Evans, to name just a few of the legendary talents who've graced its tiny stage. In 1935, Lorraine Gordon's late husband Max opened the club on the site of a former speakeasy; she inherited her role as its honored caretaker when he passed away 54 years later. She became almost as much a fixture as the club itself.

"She's a real New York character," the late Bruce Lundvall, the former president and CEO of Blue Note Records, told NPR in 2012. "She's tough, but she's charming and she's wonderful and she's smart as a whip. And she runs the greatest jazz club in the world, period."

Lorraine Gordon's affinity for jazz arguably ran as deep — if not deeper — than her late husband's, as she said in a 2010 NPR interview. "I loved jazz from the day I was practically a toddler," she said. "I don't know why. I don't question it. I'm glad I do."

As a teenager growing up in New Jersey, Gordon was a member of the Newark Hot Club and an enthusiastic collector of jazz records. Some of the best ones, she thought, were on the Blue Note label. That was a happy coincidence because Gordon's first love, after jazz, was Alfred Lion, Blue Note's co-founder.

They married in 1943. As a war bride and for the seven years their union lasted, she helped with the label's operations, doing the books, promoting artists and helping to select the takes used in the finished albums. Sometimes she took a special interest in a musician, like pianist Thelonious Monk.

According to Lorraine Gordon, "Nobody understood Monk but me." And she convinced Max Gordon, who was then just a business acquaintance, to book the pianist at the Vanguard.

"He came here and played," Lorraine Gordon recalled, "and there was nobody here to listen except Monk and the group on the stage and me and couple of my friends."

Luckily, Max didn't hold it against her — much. After she left Alfred Lion and married Max, Lorraine Gordon traded work for motherhood, although she was also a committed political activist: for Women Strike for Peace, to protest nuclear testing, and against the Vietnam War. In 1965, she made a daring visit to North Vietnam — an illegal activity during the war.

Lorraine Gordon was anything but an unwitting spouse impressed into service. She reopened the Village Vanguard the night after Max died, continuing his legacy and letting her ears be her guide. As the opinionated Gordon said (semi-jokingly) to the New York Times in 2000, "When I have to make a decision," she said, "I ask, 'What would Max do?' Then I do the opposite."

"It has to do with your perception of what you like, how you see the music. You jump in and try to support it and people will agree with you or not," she told NPR. "I don't care if they don't agree, it's what I like. Eventually they agree though. I don't have a lot of bad marks against me — one or two, maybe."

In 2006, Lorraine Gordon published a memoir titled Alive at the Village Vanguard, co-written with Barry Singer. And in 2013, she was recognized as a "Jazz Master" by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the only time the honor has been given to a club owner.

© -  Copyright protected; all rights reserved, used with the author’s permission.

The New York Times
June 9, 2018

Lorraine Gordon, who took over the Village Vanguard, New York’s oldest and most venerated jazz nightclub, in 1989 and remained its no-nonsense proprietor for the rest of her life, died on Saturday in Manhattan. She was 95.

The cause was complications of a stroke, said Jed Eisenman, the longtime manager of the club.

“Wherever I happened to be,” Ms. Gordon said in a 2007 interview with The New York Times, “music was always with me.”

Ms. Gordon was married for 40 years to the Vanguard’s founder and owner, Max Gordon. But she had been a jazz fan long before she met him. She fell in love with jazz as a teenager in the 1930s, listening to it on WNYC radio. The music pierced her soul, she said, “like a spike in my heart.” It was the start of a lifelong romance.

“I was lucky,” she said. “I was attracted to something wonderful which appealed to me.”

She made her first trip to the Vanguard in 1940, when she was 17 years old and a member of the Hot Club of Newark, a society of jazz enthusiasts. Not long thereafter, she met her first husband, a fellow music lover: Alfred Lion, the founder of Blue Note Records, a leading jazz label, where she would work selling the music during and after World War II.

Nine years after that first visit to the Vanguard, having divorced Mr. Lion but still in love with jazz, she married Mr. Gordon. More than seven decades later, long after Mr. Gordon’s death in 1989, she was still running the club — booking performers, counting the receipts, taking no guff and keeping the flame.

“When I have to make a decision,” she joked, “I ask, ‘What would Max do?’ Then I do the opposite.”

The Vanguard remained essentially unchanged throughout the decades after Mr. Gordon opened it at 178 Seventh Avenue South in Greenwich Village in 1935: a wedge of a room, one flight down from the sidewalk, seating 123 people. The club has always had immaculate acoustics; more than 100 records recorded live at the Vanguard by musicians like John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins and Wynton Marsalis attest to that. A good table put a customer practically face to face with a great musician. There were very few bad tables.

Ms. Gordon, often nursing a glass of vodka, presided over the scene with a personal brand of tough love. She played her role like the wisecracking star of a black-and-white movie, and she helped make the Vanguard an unfailing fountain of late-night music. But she was also a hard-driving manager; she had to be.

“We open at 3,” she once said, describing the daily grind. “Deliveries come in, the phones are ringing, the roof is leaking, there’s something always going wrong, and then musicians come to rehearse. Every Tuesday night there’s a new group, so every six nights there’s a changeover. Sound checks have to be done. Instruments have to be brought in or taken out.”

She put in six hours of work before the first of the night’s two sets. The first usually began at 9 o’clock sharp, the second at 11. (In later years the start times were changed to 8:30 and 10:30.)

“I’m a stickler for being on time,” Ms. Gordon said. “And the show goes on — on time.”

Under her direction, the show went on and on. The Vanguard celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2015.
Lorraine Gordon was born Lorraine Stein in Newark on Oct. 15, 1922, at the dawn of recorded jazz and blues. The middle-class daughter of a homemaker and a businessman, she grew up in and around Newark and began traveling to New York to hear music as soon as she was able. (Her older brother, Phillip, who died in 2009, was also a jazz fanatic; he painted the mural on the Vanguard’s back wall.)

As a teenager, she was listening to Blue Note records — which featured some of the greatest jazz musicians of the day — before she met the label’s owner, Mr. Lion, in 1940. They hit it off immediately.

“He presented me with two volumes of all the records he had made until that time,” she recalled. “That was a great present.”

Once he got out of the Army, she worked full time for the label: packing records, mailing them out, handling public relations. At the time the Blue Note label was chartreuse and blue, and the couple painted their first apartment those same colors.

In the summer of 1948 she was trying to promote a Blue Note musician — the pianist Thelonious Monk, then little known — when she met Max Gordon quite by accident on Fire Island. “I accosted Max Gordon,” she remembered. “I’m all business. I told him about Thelonious Monk. He was very interested. He said, ‘I just happen to have an opening in September.’”

They struck a deal. Monk was “in and out in one week,” she said. “But Max and I were not in and out in one week, somehow. Whatever the connections were, they took hold.”

The two were married in 1949 and had two daughters, Rebecca and Deborah. They survive her, as does a grandson. Deborah Gordon will take over the Vanguard, Mr. Eisenman said.

The Vanguard had originally been a place for poetry and comedy as well as music. But the advent of television, where comedians and variety acts flourished in the 1950s, meant “the end of nightclub acts of that genre at the time,” Ms. Gordon said. “And that’s when Max decided to stick with jazz.”

In the early 1960s Ms. Gordon became a political activist, protesting against nuclear testing and, later, the war in Vietnam. In 1965 she made an unauthorized trip to Hanoi as a member of the group Women Strike for Peace. She carved out a life for herself apart from the club, working at the Brooklyn Museum as a merchandising manager.

In 1989, when Mr. Gordon died, there was no question that the show would go on — and that it was up to Ms. Gordon to make it go on.

“No one had to ask me,” she said. “There was nowhere else to go but me.”
The Vanguard closed the evening of Mr. Gordon’s death, but “I opened the club the next night,” she recalled in 2007. “I took reservations on the phone; there was a band still playing that Max had booked in advance, fortunately.” She learned the trade as she went along, “from one day to the next,” she said.

“I began, well ... running the Village Vanguard,” Ms. Gordon wrote in her 2006 memoir, “Alive at the Village Vanguard: My Life in and Out of Jazz.”
Ms. Gordon’s contributions to jazz were recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, which announced in 2012 that she was the winner of a Jazz Masters award. The awards ceremony was held in New York in January 2013, but she was too ill to attend.

Until just a few weeks earlier, though, she had still been at the Vanguard almost every night. She usually stayed through the first set, sometimes into the second set, sometimes all night. She felt she had no choice but to go on; the music was always her great passion.

“To keep the music alive,” she said, “is the most important thing there is in my life.”

Jeffery C. Mays contributed reporting.

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