It's difficult to count how many times we've said goodbye to the Knitting Factory: when they left their Houston Street hole for tony Tribeca, when John Zorn broke all ties with the club and label, when they were threatened with bankruptcy. No doubt there's someone out there who maintains it was all over when they first got a liquor license.
But when Michael Dorf, whose financial dealings and commitment to the music have often been questioned, announced that the club had been sold earlier this year, it seemed undeniably the end of an era.
Big ups to Village Voice writer Ted Hendrickson, then, who got KnitMedia President Jared Hoffman to put his mouth where his money is. "The problem was that the cutting-edge genres that made the Knitting Factory what it was in the early years continued to be a focus," Hendrickson is quoted as saying in the May 7-13, 2003 issue. "And the cutting edge always changes. Selling tickets is not a measure of how well you're doing. It's whether the people who buy the tickets come in the door and drink."
It's not a new modus operandi for the Knit. Another musician, who has been playing at the Knit since the Houston Street days, reports that records of bar receipts have long been kept with artists' names. Musicians who bring in the drinkers got the most bookings. It's disheartening, but it's business.
Regardless of the reasons, changes in booking policies have been plainly apparent at the Knit. And while it's not entirely a rock club (a recent night featured Tim Berne's Big Satan in the Old Office and Gary Lucas playing in the larger, remodeled Tap Bar), the artists who were featured on the old Live at the Knitting Factory cds aren't likely to be found on Leonard Street often, if at all.
Which is only a sign of changing times, not the end of time itself, unless you're reading the New York Press, the neoconservative free weekly response to the Voice. In an article headlined "Too Many Solos: New York Jazz - purists vs. tourists." Tim Marchman opined ridiculous about jazz players, venues and audiences in New York City, seeming to believe that the only viable place left for jazz musicians to turn is Wynton Marsalis' Jazz at Lincoln Center, and (rightly) criticizing the program's booking policies. "What does it mean for audiences when a quarter of the spots in the most influential jazz series are held for people who started recording in the 1950s, and another half are held for [tributes to] the dead?"
Setting aside potential debates about what performers are deserving, and what "jazz" is anyway, we still take exception with Mr. Marchman's depiction of a typical night out on the town.
"Go into any club where jazz is played and you'll likely find yourself surrounded by people who are nostalgic for something they've never known," Marchman writes. "They applaud after every solo, and how a group reacts to such a crowd tells a lot about them. Some get discouraged and lock themselves into head-solos-head, letting even the drummer take his chorus every song of every set; some batter out purposefully clattering notes, sneering that no one notices; some do what they wish and just play, somewhat deadened. None of them, no matter what they do, can much affect their situation. They've been turned into living museum exhibitions, like the women who churn butter in preservationist towns in central Pennsylvania."
Marchman doesn't refer to any venues other than Lincoln Center in the piece, but we feel certain he didn't ask anyone we know where to go to hear some live jazz. While we won't deny that things could be better - things could always be better, for working musicians - we do have some suggestions for Marchman, and will even extend an invitation for a night on the town.
It's hard to guess where he might have been looking if he missed the Jazz Gallery, the Jazz Standard and Up Over Jazz Cafe. But while we're out, we'd certainly also swing by Tonic, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this summer. The Brecht Forum has been running it's monthly Neues Kabarett series for going on five years as well, and CBGBs Lounge on Sunday nights continues to be the best deal in town. The Village Vanguard, Sweet Rhythm and Makor all have their nights.Issue Project Room is a new East Village gallery that started a promising music series with performances by Anthony Coleman and Marc Ribot. Location One, Pen and Brush and Three Jewels Cafe are also spaces that serve functions other than being a performance venue, but host adventurous jazz and improvised music.
And who knows? Maybe there'll even be something going on at the Knit.