It's no longer true that there's no live music in New York City
But, for a city usually pulsing to live music from every corner, it's been a disconcertingly quiet year. Thankfully, the city's artists and venues have been finding ways to safely and carefully return to their calling. Almost all of the music being played in New York these days is live-streaming— some live music is performed for small, socially distanced, mostly outdoor audiences. Here are a few spots around town where you can safely enjoy live entertainment while supporting NYC's artistic community.
West Bank Café
The beautiful cabaret couple Michael and Mardie (known individually as Michael Garin and Mardie Millit) have been performing live at the West Bank Café on 42nd Street on Sunday evenings. The West Bank's Laurie Beechman Theatre remains closed, but the café itself is open for curbside pickup, local delivery, and limited outdoor seating. The performers work indoors, at the piano, just beyond large, open windows. They're not far from their audience; one might call it a safe distance. Michael and Mardie have also been streaming these performances on Facebook and Instagram, replacing the earlier "Live From Lockdown" concerts streamed from their apartment earlier in the pandemic.
The Roxy Hotel
Garin's other gig, tickling the ivories at the Roxy Hotel in Tribeca, has resumed. In contrast with most Manhattan venues, the Roxy is even offering limited-capacity indoor dining. Garin has been live-streaming these sets, too; he and Millit happily take requests as well as gratuities from both the online and in-person audiences. We've spent much of the pandemic pondering the changes it's brought and wondering which, if any, might outlast the crisis. Place your bets on live performance, even when it returns to its former prevalence, continuing to be offered alongside remote viewing options.
Smoke, on the Upper West Side, offers its "Smoke Screens" live-streaming concert series with an exceptionally high level of technical production; Smoke's streams are captured with multiple HD cameras and impeccable sound quality. The venue has also reopened for limited-capacity in-person dining, along with performances on "the Smoke Sidewalk Stage." The setup is similar to that of the West Bank, with guests seated at sidewalk tables and musicians performing inside, seen and heard through the open storefront.
Many venues that remain fully closed to the public have still been opening their doors to live-streaming performances.
These virtual nights on the town provide some needed income for venues and artists, and for the audience, the ambiance of New York's great rooms is at least suggested by live video; it's better than seeing band members in separate boxes on Zoom.
The Blue Note
The tables may be empty at the Blue Note on West 3rd St. However, the stage is not. The club's streaming concerts now have a dedicated website. Streaming performances from Blue Note venues in other cities are expected to join the mix; in the meantime, the seminal Greenwich Village location keeps the playlist going with regular concerts and a burgeoning archive, including contemporary masters Keyon Harrold and the John Scofield Trio.
The Village Vanguard
The Village Vanguard's "Live Streaming at the Vanguard" series offers that venue's signature fusion of tradition and the cutting edge. One recent streaming set featured the paradigm-shifting percussion of Marcus Gilmore, a pioneer and jazz royalty.
Smalls Jazz Club
In at least one respect, Smalls Jazz Club on West 10th St. prepared for these times: They've been live-streaming performances since 2007. The available archive of jazz sets from Smalls (and Mezzrow, its sister club across the street) now includes over 17,000 recordings, featuring nearly 4,000 artists. The library continues to expand, with new streaming performances filling the calendar.
Birdland, the venerable jazz and cabaret hotspot on 44th St., has been offering an impressive lineup of performers in their "Streamed from Birdland" concerts. At the time of this writing, the roster includes musical comedian Michael West (in his alternate persona as jazz stylist (Kenn Boisinger) and Christina Bianco, "the Girl of a Thousand Voices."
Dizzy's Club, operated by Jazz at Lincoln Center, has joined the streaming boom with "Live From Dizzy's Club." In keeping with the program's institutional mission, this streaming series offers not just performances by great jazz artists, but highly engaging interviews with those artists, conducted by Jazz at Lincoln Center's general manager, Roland Chassagne.
The Jazz Gallery
The Jazz Gallery in Chelsea is also supplementing its streaming concerts with interviews and conversations, as well as an archive of the Gallery's recent "Lockdown Sessions."
Some of the city's musical artists have been performing their music live, wherever possible, since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. Brian Stokes Mitchell, singing from the window of his apartment, has a rich and resonant voice that seems to fill Broadway, the street, as easily as it filled Broadway theatres. And the intrepid Jazz Age revivalist Glenn Crytzer has seemed determined to grow a new golden age from the soil of the COVID crisis. Crytzer has played 2020 engagements in alleys between buildings in Washington Heights, sometimes jamming with other musicians in other nearby alleys. Those informal sessions led to a regular gig playing in Bennett Park, where Crytzer and his band have enlivened many a recent Sunday afternoon. With the weather getting cold, they're switching to streaming; every Sunday afternoon, the Glenn Crytzer Quartet is focusing on the Great American Songbook compositions from a specific year, playing their way from 1920 to 1945. The sessions are free to watch, with donations to support the artists strongly encouraged, and each is followed by a conversation via Zoom, covering the music and the history.