The New York jazz scene was dealt a blow this week when the Jazz Standard, a noted club on East 27th Street in Manhattan, announced it was closing its doors because of the pandemic.
The 130-seat, subterranean Jazz Standard, which opened in 1997 and then started over five years later as part of Blue Smoke Flatiron, a barbecue restaurant by Danny Meyer, is New York’s first major jazz club to close down as the coronavirus outbreak has meant many months of lost business. But music venues throughout the city say they are hanging by a thread after being shuttered for nearly nine months, with scant revenue or government relief.
“We have explored every avenue to arrive at a different outcome,” Union Square Hospitality Group, which owns the club and restaurant, said in a statement on Wednesday. “But due to the pandemic and months without revenue — as well as a lengthy rent negotiation that has come to a standstill — we’ve reached the disappointing conclusion that there is no alternative but to close Blue Smoke Flatiron and Jazz Standard.”
Also this week, Arlene’s Grocery, a rock standby on the Lower East Side known for its packed nightly lineups of unknown bands — some of whom did not stay unknown for long, like the Strokes — said it was “on life support,” and that without aid it would close on Feb. 1. The club started a GoFundMe crowdfunding page, which by Thursday had raised $25,000.
The pandemic has been brutal for music venues around the country. With few exceptions, they have been unable to put on shows and, unlike restaurants and bars, have received little consideration in the reopening plans of most state governments. A federal bill, the Heroes Act, had earmarked $10 billion in relief for music venues and other live-music businesses, but the bill stalled in Congress this fall as larger talks over government relief broke down.
According to a recent survey by the New York Independent Venue Association, 68 of its members have accrued $20 million in debt as a result of the pandemic, and they need more than $5 million in monthly relief.
“Every independent venue in New York is in danger of going under at this point,” Jen Lyons, the co-chair of the venue association, said in a statement. “No one at all has helped us. The feds haven’t come to the table. The state hasn’t come to the table. We’ve been small businesses in our communities for decades. We need help, and no one has helped us.”
Since its reopening 18 years ago, the Jazz Standard has been a favorite among jazz fans, tourists and foodies, with residencies by big names and regular engagements like a Monday night show by the Mingus Big Band. Maria Schneider, a Grammy-winning jazz composer, had an annual series during Thanksgiving weekend showcasing her latest work; this year, Ms. Schneider took the event online.
The pandemic shutdown has been particularly challenging for jazz, which relies on the network of live performance venues in major cities like New York. In August, Twins Jazz in Washington, the last full-on jazz club on the city’s U Street corridor, shut down.
Jazz clubs, like most music venues, have struggled to find ways to stay alive and keep busy during the pandemic, turning to live streams and focusing on food service. Some offer “incidental” music performances — an accommodation to a rule by the New York State Liquor Authority that allows restaurants and bars to offer some music to customers as they eat.
The Jazz Standard, which has been shut since the pandemic hit, said it would continue to offer virtual performances like the Facebook Live series it presents in conjunction with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. And it left open that the possibility the club could reopen.
“We are dedicated to exploring our options in New York City,” said Seth Abramson, the club’s artistic director. “We look forward to writing the next chapter of Jazz Standard. This is not goodbye.”
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