The Five Spot

The Five Spot

A crossroads of creatives.

A crossroads where all this creative energy overlapped, where artists and writers met actors and musicians, and all listened to the hippest and the newest, was a small storefront bar in the East Village called the Five Spot. It was located at 5 Cooper Square near Astor Place and the Bowery.

The Third Avenue El was dismantled in late 1955, and the city began a restoration of the Bowery. Many artists were drawn to the area during this time due to the lower rent prices compared to Greenwich Village. In early September 1956, the bar opened under the name the Five Spot Café.

Artists such as Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Larry Rivers, Jack Tworkov, writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, Ted Joans, and Gregory Corso started going to the club.

The first engagement at the Five Spot was Cecil Taylor and his band. The gig lasted from November 29, 1956 to January 3, 1957.

Photo by Arie Wubben on Unsplash

Less jazz-aware than simply savvy to the need for a cultural center, the bar benefited from great timing. The decision to focus on jazz coincided with the return of Thelonious Monk’s cabaret card. Unfortunately, Monk lost it to prevent a drug bust on Bud Powell. Nevertheless, the reinstatement allowed the pianist to return to live performance in Manhattan, and through the club’s first summer, Monk’s legendary Quartet held forth with John Coltrane.

On July 4, 1957, Thelonious Monk’s Quartet featuring John Coltrane on tenor saxophone began a six-month stay. This stay was Monk’s first extended engagement.

This extended gig is where Coltrane radically developed. Coltrane learned fast, as did the hipster scene. With no cover charge or minimum at the outset, it quickly became a packed popular hangout. It had a capacity of 75, which is a great size to keep it at capacity and cache.

Every night, history was being created. Over the next few years, the club attracted a staggering range of talent, both on stage and in the audience.While Mark Rothko and Norman Mailer listened in the crowd, you could hear Allen Ginsberg recite poetry one night, and Lester Young blow his saxophone the next.

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

On November 17, 1959, the Ornette Coleman Quartet from Los Angeles made its New York debut at the Five Spot earning the club more enduring fame in the annals of jazz and turning the entire jazz world on its ear with a historic run.

Leonard Bernstein, Miles, and Coltrane were among the attendees on the opening night.

The Quartet featured Charlie Haden on bass. Haden remembers looking out from the bandstand and seeing every famous bassist queuing up at the bar to watch and listen.

The engagement was supposed to last two weeks but was extended to 10 weeks due to its success, finishing in late January 1960.

The scene was short-lived. The club was forced to close in 1962 due to city redevelopment efforts. Mingus led the final performance.

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