Legendary New York Jazz Club Turns 70

In Manhattan's Greenwich Village, one flight below the city's surface, just a wall away from the 7th Avenue subway, is a space considered sacred by jazz fans the world over.

In the history of the African-American music called jazz, no place on Earth has heard as much great music as the Village Vanguard.

"This has been Black History Month from the day it opened," says owner Lorraine Gordon. "It [the music] all comes from the black soul, and that's the beauty of it. "

But when it comes to who gets to play this black music, "this club knows no boundaries," says Gordon. "It respects everybody if they're talented."

'Carnegie Hall of the Clubs'

In the case of the Dave Douglas Quintet, that includes black, white and Hispanic Americans, and an import from Albania. All five, like the club, which celebrated its 70th anniversary earlier this month, are devoted to jazz.

"It's like the Carnegie Hall of the clubs," says Jimmy Heath of the Heath Brothers, a jazz saxophonist and Vanguard veteran.

Like Carnegie Hall, the Vanguard has distinctive acoustics that draw the best players to its stage, and to its back seats, to listen.

Branford Marsalis recalls the first time he played at the Vanguard.

"I spent the first night staring at the pictures of Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane and Miles Davis," remembers the saxophonist. "And it was pretty amazing to believe they had once stood on this stage as well."

Sound Captured on Recordings

The Village Vanguard sound has been heard around the world through more than 150 live recordings made over the years, including one of the most influential records of the last half-century, "Live at the Village Vanguard" by tenor saxophonist Coltrane.

"John Coltrane had a tenderness," says Heath. "It was like a prayer."

"He was so totally into his music that you had to flip the lights to get him off," says Gordon. "He just played."

As they still play.

"The Vanguard was a place where we could do what we do, regardless of who we were. If you can do it, this is the place to do it," says Heath.

The place to do it and hear it -- jazz still on the cutting edge.

Dave Marash's report aired on "Good Morning America's" weekend edition on Feb. 20, 2005.