Art D’Lugoff dies at 85

Saturday brought the news of Art D’Lugoff’s death.  It seems like each day brings news of another death from the vintage post-war New York City jazz world.  The founder and owner of the legendary Village Gate, at the corner of Bleecker and Thompson, Art was born in Harlem in 1924 and raised in Brooklyn, according to the obituary in the Times.

I never met Art but I had two occasions to chat with him on the phone earlier this year.  I’ve been doing extensive research on the life, work, and death of pianist Sonny Clark, a veteran of the scene at 821 Sixth Avenue who died of an overdose in January 1963.  Bassist Butch Warren told me that there was a memorial gig thrown at the Village Gate in Clark’s memory, so I called Art to ask him about it.  He didn’t remember much about the Clark memorial, but we ended up talking for close to an hour about all sorts of things.

Without question one of the privileges of the Jazz Loft Project has been the opportunity to have conversations with people like Art.  For him it wasn’t a big deal. In fact, it might have been a waste of his time.  For me, nearly a half century younger than him, it was a brief but poignant glimpse into a former New York City culture that generated an urban vernacular of profound uniqueness.  Many—if not most—of the residents of New York during the heyday of the Village Gate were one generation (or less) removed from another homeland.  They could be from the rural African-American South or Ireland or Italy or Eastern Europe.  They retained family and cultural traditions from their heritage, but the New York cauldron produced something entirely new.  These culture-seekers from different backgrounds were all of a sudden inside the same basement club at the corner of Bleecker and Thompson, smoking cigarettes, drinking Rheingold beers or Teacher’s Scotch, digging the same tunes.

The Village Gate features into the story of 821 Sixth Avenue in a number of ways.  In future blog posts we’ll hear more about the remarkable odyssey of loft resident and drummer Ronnie Free.  One night in 1959 or early 1960 Ronnie had a gig at the Gate as a member of Mose Allison’s trio, playing opposite Horace Silver’s band, and Carla Bley was checking hats that night.  It was a pivotal night in Ronnie’s life.

The seminal new club in New York, Le Poisson Rouge, is located in the same space as the old Village Gate.  Art D’Lugoff was a consultant when the club got off the ground.

–Sam Stephenson, Jazz Loft Project Director

2 Comments

  1. Art D’Lugoff, Jazz (and Calypso) Impresario « Working for the Yankee Dollar Said,

    November 17, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

    [...] honored him at Jazz Times and Sam Stephenson marked his passing at Duke University’s Jazz Loft Project, while Marc Myers gave a salute at JazzWax and Patrick Jarenwattananon offered an appreciation at [...]

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    December 19, 2009 @ 5:50 am

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