Village Vanguard

178 7th Avenue South

New York, NY

September 26, 2009

Streisand seen onstage singing at Village Vanguard

To promote her new album, Love is the Answer, Barbra Streisand sang a one-night-only gig at New York's famed jazz club The Village Vanguard. Richard Jay-Alexander, who directed Streisand's one night only gig at the Vanguard explained that “the reason Marty [Erlichman, Barbra's manager] had his eye on this particular club was because it is the only venue of its kind still standing and in business from the era during which Barbra began singing in clubs like The Lion and the Bon Soir, which no longer exist.”

Below: Streisand rehearses at the Vanguard as video director Scott Lochmus looks on.

Rehearsals at Village Vanguard

Streisand, her band, and Richard Jay-Alexander rehearsed at the club on Friday, September 25th. “The band shows up for the first time,” Jay-Alexander wrote, “having rehearsed the ‘set’ of songs the prior day at a rehearsal studio and prepping more songs than we need, awaiting Barbra’s final choices, after a rehearsal.”

Streisand and Jay-Alexander rehearsing at Village Vanguard

Pianist Tamir Hendelman was happy that the band got enough rehearsal time. “We spent 20 minutes to half an hour for each song,” he said. “We played them through, talked about what kind of flavor we wanted to give it. So by the time Barbra joined us, we didn't really need to talk about the music, since it was already there, and other things needed to be talked about at that point—you know, the lighting, this and that. But the music really flowed. That's the best way I can describe it.”

Richard Jay-Alexander rehearses with Streisand

On Saturday, September 26th at Waverly Place —the back entrance to the club— there was a craft-services table, an All Mobile Video hi-def mobile video truck (the evening was captured in hi-def video for a DVD, due second quarter, 2010), and Barbra's big black trailer.

Photo by Walter McBride, Retna

The buses which carried the lucky fans who won the Village Vanguard lottery arrived around 7:00pm. Celebrities and friends of Miss Streisand entered the club closer to show time: Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; daughter Chelsea Clinton and her fiancee; Barbra's husband James Brolin; Sarah Jessica Parker; Nicole Kidman; Donna Karan; actress Phyllis Newman; Alan and Marilyn Bergman; mogul Barry Diller; Frank Rich of the New York Times; Deborah Lee Furness [wife of Hugh Jackman]; Columbia Records chief Rob Stringer; Hollywood manager Sandy Gallin; and Tommy LiPuma, who produced Love is the Answer with Streisand and Diana Krall.

instructions to the winners of the contest

(Above: Instructions to the ticket winners, courtesy of Michel Filion)

The show began at about 8:10pm. Richard Jay-Alexander explained that video director Scott Lochmus “and his team were totally up to it and he assigned five cameras inside (which you had no idea were there) and one outside to capture arrivals, the fans, etc.”

Inside the club there were introductions by director Richard Jay-Alexander. Several people who were there during Barbra’s early Greenwich Village days spoke to the audience: Lorraine Gordon, widow of the Village Vanguard’s owner, Max Gordon; Rick Edelstein, a waiter at the Village Vanguard who arranged for Barbra's first audition at the venue, and lastly, Marty Erlichman, Barbra Streisand’s longtime manager.

Photos below by Kevin Mazur: Streisand introductions [top to bottom: Rick Edelstein, Lorraine Gordon, Marty Erlichman]

Streisand introductions

Uptown, at the Waldorf-Astoria Louis XVI room, a live video feed was shown to a small audience including some of Streisand's family, Columbia Records employees, and former New York Mayor David Dinkins.

Waldorf for Streisand concert

Village Vanguard Musicians:

  • Tamir Hendelman (Keys)
  • Jeff Carney (Bass)
  • Brian Koonin (Guitar)
  • Ray Marchica (Drums)

Streisand entered the Village Vanguard through the audience and joined her four musicians on the stage, greeted by a standing ovation. On stage with her: a chair, a small round table with a single pink rose in a vase, Barbra's eye glasses, a notecard, two lozenges, and tea in paper cups—which Barbra toasted the audience with during her first song. A large TelePrompTer was set up in the back right of the room near the entrance door.

“This is hysterical,” Barbra joked as she stepped on the small stage. “Are we a box of sardines here or what?”

Before singing her first song (“Here's To Life”) Barbra addressed the small audience: “I haven't sung in the Village since 1962. And after everything I've done and everywhere I've been, I'm back to where I started. Life is a circle, right? So, this is where I was. And this is where I am now.”

Streisand toasts audience during Here's To Life

Then, a little later, Streisand said, “It’s hard to have stage fright when there’s hardly any stage!”

Streisand set list

(Right: A fan holds up the set list from the Village Vanguard)

Barbra’s Set List:

Streisand singing at Village Vanguard

During the music break in “Make Someone Happy,” Streisand spoke to Stefania in the audience, who is Donna Karan's granddaughter. “Barbra’s records are all she wants to listen to,” Karan told Harper's Bazaar. Streisand, she explained, “can’t believe how Stefania can carry a tune.”

Great care went into recording Streisand's historic Village Vanguard performance. The recording team consisted of: Jim Flynn (who provided the equipment to record the concert via his company, Jim Flynn Rentals); Jay Landers (Streisand's A&R rep at Columbia Records); and David Reitzas and Isaiah Abolin (engineers/mixers).

In an interview with MixOnline, Reitzas revealed that he used a Audio-Technica AE5400 handheld condenser mic for Streisand's vocals in the club. The mic's wire ran from inside the club to the All Mobile truck outside. In these days of wireless mics, using a wired one was actually “part of re-creating the 1960s ambience of the club,” Flynn said.

Streisand crew editing the Village Vanguard show for broadcast on morning TV

Flynn set up a mixing room at the Waldorf in order to quickly turn around the sound and video recorded for the CBS Morning Show, YouTube and AOL music channels.

Barbra at the Vanguard in the 1960s

The Village Vanguard was a training room of sorts for the Blue Angel — also run by owner Max Gordon. Many new acts were broken in at the Vanguard before making the move uptown to the Angel.

Streisand never officially performed at Village Vanguard, but auditioned for Max Gordon. As Streisand told the press in 2009 — as she prepared to sing at the jazz club for the first time — her good friend, Rick Edelstein, asked Gordon to listen to Streisand audition. Gordon told Edelstein she was “too undisciplined” to hire. Edelstein replied: “But she's gonna really be big someday, you're gonna have to pay her big money.”

Gordon replied: “What do you know? You're a waiter.”

“Miles Davis was the star of the show,” Streisand told the L.A. Times. “The opening girl singer was Joanie Sommers. My friend Rick Edelstein was the waiter and he got Miles' musicians to back me at the audition.”

“At least I did audition there, and didn't get the job," Streisand said. “Now I got the job.”

At the end of 1960, Barbra was already a big hit at The Bon Soir on West Eighth Street, yet hadn't been cast in I Can Get It For You Wholesale which would propel her to stardom.

Max Gordon (who died in 1989) wrote a book about the club called Live at the Village Vanguard. Gordon related a story about Streisand and jazz icon Miles Davis. Gordon asked Miles Davis to take bows and introduce the band, which Davis didn't like to do. Gordon wrote:

I knew [...] to leave Miles alone, and I did, except once when I asked him to play for a girl singer who used to hang out at the Vanguard Sunday matinees ...

“She's great,” I told him. “I heard her at a benefit.”

“I don't play behind no girl singer. Ask Herbie (Herbie Hancock, the piano player in Miles's sextet); if he wants to play for her, it's OK with me.”

When Miles heard the three numbers she did—and the applause, he said, “What's her name? Bring her in, if you want to, but hire a trio to play for her. I won't play behind no broad.”

The girl singer was Barbra Streisand. I put her into The Blue Angel later.”

Singer Carol Sloane played the Vanguard in 1961 and met young Streisand. “One of the waiters came up to me to tell me that there was a young girl in the back who looked kind or weird,” Sloane told Marc Myers. “He said she doesn't have a purse and she's wearing a T-shirt and her hair is long and stringy. The waiter asked if I wanted to see this girl or should he tell her I'm not available. I went to the back of the club and there was this ordinary looking girl. She said to me, ‘How do you do that?’ ‘Do what? You mean singing,’ I said. ‘Yeah, how do you sing like that?’ She said she was just starting out, but she may have been auditioning for the part in Wholesale.”

Sloane continued the story about meeting Streisand: “She introduced herself, and we chatted about singing for a while, and I wished her well. The next thing I knew, Columbia signed her. Many months later, I was invited to a cocktail party where Barbra was the guest of honor. She arrived and was completely made over. She really looked great. We sat down in a corner and started yapping like two old friends. She eventually waved goodbye, and I didn't see her again until years later, when I was getting my hair done at Revlon in New York [...] I sent over a note. A minute later the note came back with a note from her on the flip side asking me to come over. When I went over, Barbra was sitting in a chair with foil in her hair and both arms extended while her nails were being done and someone else was giving her a pedicure. She was absolutely charming and adorable.”

In Lorraine Gordon's book, Alive at the Village Vanguard, she wrote:

Barbra did sing at the Vanguard. Without Miles. She'd been singing off and on in the Village at a club on Eighth Street called the Bon Soir. Barbra was a shy one. Nineteen years old. She wasn't a seasoned performer—she was new. Max [Gordon] took a chance on her. In fact, Max was a very generous man to Barbra early on, giving her new gigs...

Eventually he brought Barbra uptown to the Blue Angel. This would have been July 1961. That's when I got to know her. We would sit together between shows and talk. She was always alone, it seemed to me. Got up to sing in a very inconspicuous dress, kind of a muumuu, one of those long things. And I don't know why, I have this sense that she was barefoot. Maybe she was. But she had the look of a young girl. Coltish. Not dressed to kill, no sequins ... Barbra was very plain and simple.

Until she opened her mouth. Then she was transformed. Suddenly you were in the presence of this extravagantly talented woman who could give you chills just by singing. There was nothing Barbra couldn't do with her voice—she had such control, top to bottom. And she had the brains, the good sense, to pick fabulous material—each song that she sang had a different character. And she imbued them all with an emotional core of true feeling and a point of view that was altogether unique.

Barbra wasn't a jazz singer, though she could do that. She had the chops, and if it was a jazz number, yeah, she could heat it up, but she didn't particularly want to be a jazz singer. She was just a natural ...


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