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Fifty Years of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

A new vault release celebrates the band's rich legacy

The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band in the mid-1960s. Lewis is second from left; Jones is at far right
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra outside the Village Vanguard
Thad Jones (top) and Mel Lewis

Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, just before 10:30 p.m. Out of the Village Vanguard’s famous red doors, a long line of clubgoers snaked up Seventh Avenue South, bracing themselves against the bitter Manhattan cold. They were waiting-or, in the case of those not holding advance reservations, hoping-to experience history: the first performance of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra’s 51st year, and the finale of an eight-day residency celebrating five straight decades’ worth of Monday-night shows by one of the world’s most important currently operational big bands.

By design, this residency coincided with the appearance of an archival two-CD set that demonstrates how the VJO acquired such a sterling reputation. Through some magic quirk of fate, the band’s very first performance at the Vanguard, on Feb. 7, 1966, was captured on tape by a 19-year-old Columbia University student named George Klabin. (Actually, magic had nothing to do with it; the band was looking for a deal and wanted something they could play for record companies.) Now Klabin is giving those recordings, along with those of a second date six weeks later, their first official release on his Resonance label in honor of the VJO’s 50th anniversary.

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