Smalls Live on YouTube

March 15, 2024

In the 90s when I was DJing on college radio, I remember getting a compilation titled Jazz Underground Live at Smalls that was released on Impulse! Records, the legendary jazz label. I hadn't heard any of the groups on the album and listening to it made me feel like I was getting a glimpse at some of the up-and-coming jazz artists in New York at the time. Smalls sounded like an incredible place to catch jazz. Regular sets were often followed by jam sessions that would run into the wee hours of the morning.

I first visited Smalls in November 2000. Its below-ground location at 183 W 10th was certainly easy to miss, and I almost did. I worked my way down the stairs and joined only a dozen or so other folks for the first set of the evening. Max capacity was 50 people.

There was a bar, but you got your own drinks. There were chairs, but they were scattered about the tiny floor and I had to step over them to get the couch lining one of the walls. The couch was fine, but sitting in the wrong spot could render one's pants wet due to a puddle from a drip in the ceiling. There were two bathrooms, but one had an unavoidable leak in the ceiling. Leaks aside, it was a nice intimate atmosphere for jazz. I could envision legends playing in a place like this when they first started.

Smalls opened in 1994 by Mitch Borden, a "former Navy submariner, registered nurse, philosopher & jazz violinist." After September 11th, the club went bankrupt and shut down for a few years. Thankfully, it returned with a dedication to recording shows and, now, streaming them live. It looks like they've cleaned up the interior a bit, too.

I really enjoy checking in almost nightly on the live stream from Smalls to see what's going on. The sound is quite good, though two of the four camera angles seem to be a split second off, which can be a little weird. I'm not complaining, though, because being able to catch hours of free jazz online every single night is a true treasure.

A few videos to check out...

I love a fiery saxophonist, so one recent set I really enjoyed was the Sarah Hanahan Quartet:

One of the more interesting sets to watch, just in terms of logistics (though the music is fantastic, too), was when The Alan Ferber Nonet performed. Getting nine folks on the tiny stage in the tiny room--one of them a trombonist!--was pretty impressive:

And if Smalls isn't small enough for you, check out the Mezzrow Jazz Club's stream. Mezzrow is a partner club across the street and it looks like the musicians have even a smaller space to work in:

(Related: pianist Emmet Cohen, who I saw in New York a few years ago, has frequent live streams of his shows as well.)

One post, no archive. Ephemeral, obnoxious.