Some things feel so wrong, they're just right in the Village. Take the A Train to the West 4th Street and you get out on West 3rd. Walk over to Sheridan Square and find that it's only a triangle. Once upon that
triangle in the winter of 1939 Billie Holiday debuted Strange Fruit to an unusually mixed crowd and the civil rights movement zoomed forward. The address across the triangle was a cross dresser's hang called Stonewall where the spirit of Judy Garland is said to have catalyzed a gay revolution in 1969. And right next-door at 55 Christopher Street in 1919 a little bar opened up that witnessed all these changes and
maintains the divey dignity of a bygone era that is sliding away.
Now in 2003 that bar named for its address offers jazz and blues music nightly in an atmosphere that is timeless Greenwich Village. Cafe Society, the integrated club that hosted Billie Holiday was
deflatingly known as the right place for the wrong people, and you could say that the 55Bar is too. Step downstairs to its dugout depths and discover a joint that exists as a refuge from the high falutin'. Take a gander at the jazz LP collage past the long bar across the narrow room. Sweep your eyes along the worn wood paneled walls to note the who's who among the panoply of 8 X 10 glossies who have graced their
stage-less stage and protected the masses from dull nights. When the stage is quiet, the Wurlitzer jukebox takes requests until it's show time once again. Weekend sets start at 6 and 10 pm because there are two acts, but most nights the band kicks off at 10 pm and winds down by 2 am.
If you come by on a Monday or perhaps on a Wednesday you will be thrilled to see Miles' guitarist from his '80s comeback years, Mike Stern, working out. Stern, who studied under Pat Metheny and worked with Blood Sweat and Tears, Jaco Pastorius, Billy Cobham, Bob Berg and Joe Henderson has had a steady residency at the 55 along with vocalist/guitarist/wife Leni Stern (Tuesday's) and guitarist, Wayne Krantz (Thursday's). The price of admission is typically $3 - $15. Even at $15 it is still half the price of many of the other venues Mike Stern plays: In April he headlined the Iridium, and in June he'll play tribute to Miles Davis at the Blue Note.
When the 55Bar weekday resident players are unavoidably detained from performing, you will find that the management has an extraordinary pool of envelope-pushing talent from which to choose. You will mark up your music calendar pretty well when you note which superstars are swinging in this
intimate room: guitarists Jim Campilongo and Adam Rogers; saxophonists Chris Potter, David Binney, and Virginia Mayhew; vocalists Kendra Shank, Tessa Souter, and Jonah Smith; drummers Ari Hoenig and Keith Carlock; keyboardists John Medeski and Adam Klipple; bassists Tim Lefebvre, Lincoln Goines, and Harvie S; trumpeters Steven Bernstein, and Duane Eubanks.
There are two other weekly performers who must be mentioned at this time - late show queen, Sweet Georgia Brown, who belts out the soul and R&B standards in a rough and ready Etta James style that is all about letting the good times roll. On alternating Saturdays you will find KJ Denhert who blends a vocal and instrumental cocktail of urban folk and jazz in front of a tasty band which she leads on acoustic
guitar. Denhert is the tornado behind indie label Mother Cyclone Records.
As a change of pace, 55Bar is experimenting with an early Sunday evening theater series known as Bar Hoppers: Three one act plays based on life in a bar starting at 7:30 pm. Following the Bar Hoppers Series at 55 the live music returns at 9:30 pm, offering an opportunity to Enjoy drinks, drama, satire, and jazz, all on the same Sunday night.
~ Gordon Polatnick