To the average passerby, the street-level space at 70 University Place in Manhattan, just a few blocks south of Union Square, holds little significance; it currently houses a garden-variety sports bar. For jazz musicians and fans in the know, however, it’s a landmark. There, from 1969 to 1996, stood Bradley Cunningham’s eponymous saloon—a spot that served as an enclave for artists of all stripes, a pole star for pianists and bassists, and the last port of call for the jazz community on a nightly basis. Blessed with one of the city’s best pianos (courtesy of Paul Desmond), Bradley’s was, in the words of the New York Times’ Peter Watrous—written just after the club closed its doors for the last time—“part jazz headquarters, part jazz college, part exhibition hall.” And all this despite the fact that, for most of its existence, drums were strictly prohibited. In the following oral history, those who knew Bradley’s will attest to its being a sine qua non of the scene for more than a quarter-century.
The Elks Club of Jazz
KIRK LIGHTSEY (pianist): Bradley’s was our home.