Five live jazz albums that bring NYC’s ‘Soul’ clubs to life

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In Pixar’s new animated movie “Soul,” which begins streaming on Disney+ on Christmas Day, jazz pianist Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) is set to have his big break playing at the Half Note, a Greenwich Village club with shades of the Village Vanguard. The Half Note was also the name of a Manhattan venue that is now closed, but, of course, there’s still the Blue Note.

While live music remains on pause indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, here are five albums that capture the soul of New York’s jazz club scene.

Wes Montgomery & Wynton Kelly Trio, “Smokin’ at the Half Note”

Montgomery was at the peak of his powers on this 1965 set, released just three years before the jazz guitarist’s sudden death at 45. Although there are only five songs, the album stretches to 41 minutes, with pianist Kelly’s trio swinging and smoking along.

Oscar Peterson Trio, “The Legendary Oscar Peterson Trio Live at the Blue Note”

In 1990, virtuoso pianist Peterson — of whom no less than Duke Ellington once called the “Maharaja of the keyboard” — reunited with his late ’50s cohorts, guitarist Herb Ellis and bassist Ray Brown. And with the band back together again, there was a lot of joy in their jamming. 

John Coltrane, “Coltrane ‘Live’ at the Village Vanguard”

Culled from a four-night stand in November 1961, this album captures the supreme sax man finding his improvisational groove — going wherever the spirit took him — with his classic quartet lineup: pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones. 

Art Blakey, “A Night at Birdland, Vol. 1”

Bringing his hard bop beats to Birdland, the drummer got the joint jumping in 1954 with help from his quintet crew: pianist Horace Silver, bassist Curley Russell, trumpeter Clifford Brown and alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson. It includes an epic version of the Dizzy Gillespie classic “A Night in Tunisia” that lasts, oh, just over nine minutes.

Mingus Big Band, “Live at Jazz Standard”

While Jazz Standard recently announced its closing due to the COVID-19 crisis, it will live on in this recording — by the New York-based band dedicated to Charles Mingus’ music — which won the Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album in 2011.

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