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Tribeca Honors Cafe Society

In January 1939 a new jazz cabaret opened in Greenwich Village with a performance by a then unknown Billie Holiday. The place was called Café Society and was the brainchild of Barney Josephson, a jazz fan who was sick of the segregated club scene and wanted to create a place where blacks and whites both worked together and enjoyed jazz together. Café Society, with satirical painted murals on its basement walls and the motto “The wrong place for the right people,” spoofed the haughty uptown clubs, paved the way for integrated clubs to come and thrived for nearly two decades. Among the other musicians whose careers were launched at Café Society were Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan, Mary Lou Williams, Teddy Wilson and Lester Young.

For 35 bucks you can pay respect to the jazz hot spot, and listen to some damn fine jazz as well, as the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York City presents its 5th annual Lost Jazz Shrines Series beginning May 16. In tribute to Café Society’s custom of presenting three-shows-a-night, the Tribeca is putting on three shows honoring many of the club’s stars. All three shows take place in the Arts Center’s Theater 2 at 8 p.m. and cost $35.

May 16 – The Saxophone Tradition of the Hawk & Pres

Saxophonist Von Freeman comes in from Chicago to join pianist Barry Harris to resurrect the traditions of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.

May 30 – The Piano Tradition of Mary Lou Williams and others

Three female pianists—Joanne Brackeen, Bertha Hope and Francesca Tanksley—honor Mary Lou Williams.

June 20 – The Great Divas of Café Society: An Evening with Billie, Sarah and Lena

Contemporary jazz vocalists Carla Cook and René Marie join the John Toomey Trio to pay homage to Holiday, Vaughan and Horne.

Originally Published