Café Bohemia

Café Bohemia

Photo by John Matychuk on Unsplash

The Café Bohemia, located at 15 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village, was a legendary jazz club. In the mid-fifties, it became a central spot for the performance of hard bop.

Jimmy Garofolo created the jazz club in 1955. Garofolo had owned the establishment since 1949 and had operated it as a restaurant, bar, and stage at various times, each endeavor turning out unsuccessfully. In 1955, saxophonist Charlie Parker lived across the street from the club and offered to play the club for Garofolo. Thus began the room’s life as a jazz club. Unfortunately, Parker died before his engagement at the Bohemia, but the hype generated around his upcoming gig was enough to create buzz for the new club.

In the mid-1950s, Cafe Bohemia was one of New York City’s most lively jazz clubs, a Greenwich Village establishment where Manhattan’s art and intellectual scene congregated. A patron might hear Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, or Kenny Dorham on any given night, with future cult hero Herbie Nichols serving as solo pianist between sets.

Jazz greats frequented Café Bohemia as listeners, too: Sonny Rollins, Max Roach, and Thelonious Monk among them. Other patrons included novelist Jack Kerouac and painter Larry Rivers. Cafe Bohemia was where saxophonist Cannonball Adderley made his electrifying national-scene debut. Miles got his first great group up to speed there.

Photo by Alberto Bigoni on Unsplash

A half a dozen standout records were recorded there. The style of jazz played there was strictly progressive hardbop. The Night Lights show Live at Cafe Bohemia features live recordings made at the club by Mingus, Davis, Blakey, Kenny Dorham’s short-lived Jazz Prophets group, and pianists Randy Weston and George Wallington.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Miles’ Prestige recordings Workin’, Relaxin’, Steamin’, and Cookin’, were meant to convey the spirit of the group’s performances at the Bohemia. This atmosphere is most evident on Workin’, where the band’s set-closer intermission tune “The Theme” appears at the end of both sides of the record.

The photograph on the cover of Miles Davis’s album ‘Round About Midnight’ was taken by Marvin Koner during the quintet’s stay at the club in 1956. The original hue is preserved in the shot. Above the bandstand, a red fluorescent light was responsible for the iconic crimson color.

Oscar Pettiford’s jazz standard “Bohemia After Dark” was titled in honor of the club. Pettiford gigged there for a while as the club’s house band director.

The great Charley Parker never did get around to playing the Bohemia; he died before his engagement came up. But his prestige had done the trick and jazz lovers jammed the place. And Miles and his new band raised the roof.

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