by Margie Goldsmith Oct 30, 2019 Forbes
There’s a new sizzling hot jazz venue in New York City: Café Bohemia, downstairs at the Barrow Street Alehouse. Back in the day, Café Bohemia was home to some of greatest jazz players in history: Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly and Art Blakey. A score of other musicians including John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Lester Young, and Charles Mingus played and recorded albums at Café Bohemia.
The club originally opened in 1955 and was made famous when saxophonist Charlie Parker, who lived across the street, offered to play in exchange for free drinks. Unfortunately Parker died before he began playing there, but the association of his name with Café Bohemia helped draw in other famous musicians including the first Miles Davis Quintet, Herbie Nichols, and Oscar Pettiford who wrote the song “Bohemia After Dark” after the fledgling club.
Café Bohemia closed in 1960. Now, the newly re-opened intimate venue is back, owned by Mike Zieleniewski (also owner of the Barrow Street Ale House) and featuring live jazz, blues and folk music. “We’re trying to bring it back to the 60’s,” says Christine Santelli, the managing partner/talent buyer of Café Bohemia who is also a singer, Grammy-nominated songwriter, and the promoter of Big Ed Sullivan’s Monday night blues jam at the Red Lion on Bleecker Street.
The club retains the same red look as the cover photograph of Miles Davis’ record ‘Round About Midnight which was taken at Café Bohemia in 1956 and had a red tint caused by a red fluorescent light above the bandstand. Also bathed in red are the album covers on the walls, recorded in between 1955 and 1960 and mostly on Blue Note Records.
So why a new club now? Says Santelli, “This is an opportunity to bring back some of the Village in a historical revival because so many jazz, blues and folk clubs have closed. It seems like the right time to bring things back instead of closing them. And besides, this niche needs to be filled. People want to see live music.”
“This is a place where the musicians can make a real connection to the audience; plus, it’s acoustic,” says Evan Arntzen, frontman for the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band’s opening last week.
A tenor sax player, clarinetist and vocalist, Arntzen performs at Town Hall, Birdland, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Smalls, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. Playing such tunes as I thought about you, Barbados, After You’ve Gone, and Bohemia After Dark, Arntzen was joined by Felix Lemerle on guitar, Alex Claffy on bass and Andrew Millar on drums.
It might be a basement hole-in-the-wall seating just fifty, but Café Bohemia has soul, heart and history. Guests can listen to top-rate musicians while sipping such drinks as the Jazz Standard Mile, B-sharp lemonade, the Mingus Margarita and The Bold Fashioned. The Alehouse’s menu is also available.
Eventually, Café Bohemia will offer six nights of live music with Thursdays dedicated to the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet to be led by Jon-Erik Kellso and top jazz performers in NYC. Kellso has performed and recorded with Leon Redbone, Levon Helm, Wynton Marsalis, Wycliffe Gordon, Ken Peplowski, Bob Wilber, and Kenny Davern among many others.
Monday night features “The Hot Club” with Matthew ‘Fat Cat’ Rivera spinning original 78 rpm jazz records including many recorded at the venue. Frankie Newton and James P Johnson played at Cafe Bohemia in 1944 when it was called The Pied Piper and the Bluebird record, WHO? is one of the many 78s which ‘Fat Cat’ plays.
In 1955, Blakey and The Jazz Messengers recorded At the Café Bohemia, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 for Blue Note, playing hard bop, which at the time was the pièce de résistance at every jazz club in the Village. Tuesday November 12th will feature The Merritt Brotherhood with sons of The Great Jymie Merritt from Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers including Marlon “Moses” Merritt on guitar, Mike Merritt of the Conan O’Brien Band on bass, Shawn Pelton of Saturday Night Live on drums and Grammy-nominated Brian Charette on organ.
Friday November 8th Bohemia After Dark features Alexander Claffy On Bass, Joe Peri on Drums, Hillel Salem on Trumpet, and Isaiah Thompson on Keys.From 9pm -12am during breaks, The Hot Club will spin rare jazz 78s followed by a midnight to 3am jazz jam session with the Bohemia After Dark Jazz band. (Tickets for both events: eventbrite.com).
With only a sprinkling of jazz clubs in New York City today, the reopening of Café Bohemia is a home run for the continuity and preservation of jazz.