Smalls Club: New York City’s Best Kept Secret

An Interview with John Roche

Screenshot (46)

Smalls Jazz Club Approach in Building an Online Community

Jazz is much more than just music for old people; it’s a swagger, a culture, the anchor of a generation. If you’re ever in the village, stop by 183 West 10th street. From the moment you crack open the door at Smalls, you get that authentic sense of romance, fun, and soul that is unique to New York. For a few bucks you can sit within arm’s reach of world-class talent and even chat with them at the bar when it’s all over. Bring a friend, bring your kid, bring a special someone, all are welcome at Smalls. I sat down with Jon Roche, manager at Smalls Jazz Club, to discuss Jazz, romance, and how music effects the next generation.

Q: You’ve had some giant names play in your little club: Pat Metheney, Roy Hargrove, and even Norah Jones. Why does so much talent flock to Smalls?

A: When the club first opened, no one went there, but even then we paid the musicians well. The club was losing money the first few years, but the musicians respected that. Eventually, famous acts from all over the world stopped by to play.

Q: Do you have to be a hardcore Jazz fan to have fun at Smalls?

A: No way! A lot of people think they don’t like Jazz until they’ve heard it in the right scenario; Then, they almost always love it.

Q: Do younger people get up and play?

A: In a jam session you can see anyone play; in fact, in the last jam session we saw an 8 year old play piano, he was great. You also see a lot of teenagers and even people in their 60’s, we get a wide variety of musicians.

Q: Smalls has a romantic setting, do you see a lot of dates there?

A: Absolutely, we see a lot of people meet up or just go on dates. Jazz and romance go hand in hand.

Q: Whenever I go, I see people of all races and ages, care to elaborate?

A: Jazz was an African-American art, but now it’s played all over the world. The point is, Jazz brings people together through the common language of the music.

Q: There are plenty of clubs in New York, why Smalls?

A: The environment, we actually welcome you in. A lot of clubs wanna be tough on you at the door, they wanna charge you full price; you gotta buy your drink tickets up front and pay for the second act. They don’t wanna get to know you….

Q: Smalls Live?

A: It’s our recording company, we have a little over 20 bands, and record them right there in the clubs. We sell them online, in the clubs, and even in stores overseas.

Q: You can buy whole albums (no matter the size) for 7 dollars, right?

A: Yeah, online. It’s a little more for a hard copy.

Q: The web site is very interactive, you can listen to the club’s massive archive of performances, and even live stream some of the players there. Why do you give so much away for so little?

A: The whole idea of Smalls is “higher quality, for less.” From the beginning, we only had a 10 dollar cover charge and allowed people to bring there own drinks. Customers could drink all night and listen to some great music for next to nothing.

Q: How has Smalls affected your community?

A: Smalls is a community unto itself, a community for musicians, but a community for local people too. The center of it is jazz, but there is a lot of circle of friends.

By David Guillaume

photo credit: Jazz Saxman Garner Thomas via (license)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *