Feel Like Going Home


“Birdland had great people but it was like going to a theatre. Jimmy Ryan’s was like going to a nightclub. And the Five Spot was just like going home.” (Dan Wakefield)

Most of us probably share the sentiment of going to a hangout in our formative years that felt like home. Home for me was (is) Porgy & Bess (jazz) and the defunct Snugly (rock) down south in The Netherlands. What writer Dan Wakefield calls home happened to be the legendary jazz bar The Five Spot in the Bowery in New York City in the late ’50s. Situated at 5 Cooper Square, the little place was nothing special. Which made it very special. Every jazz fan knows the stories about the eponymous Thelonious Monk concerts with John Coltrane and the controversial performances of Ornette Coleman. About the records: Monk, Eric Dolphy, Kenny Burrell, Pepper Adams & Donald Byrd… all “At The Five Spot”.

The Five Spot, run by the Italian-American brothers Frank and Joe Termini, existed before 1956 and after 1962, when it was relocated to St. Marks Place. But the years 1956-62 sealed its reputation. Initially a hangout for Bohemians and poets, the Terminis started programming jazz at the advice of French horn player David Amram. First up was Cecil Taylor and his uncompromising developing experiments. Finally, Thelonious Monk put it on the map in 1957. I stumbled upon the June 2020 radio show Night Lights by David Johnson on WFIU in Indiana. David Amram and writer Dan Wakefield reflect on their associations with the Five Spot Café. Read here.

And at the tail end of the article, there is the link to the Bedford/Bowery article
Definitely a New York hang by Frank Mastropolo from 2014. Enlightening memories of bassist Buell Neidlinger, alto saxophonist Charles McPherson and French horn player David Amram.


(Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane and bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik; Thelonious Monk with Sonny Rollins, drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik; Five Spot Café at 5 Cooper Square)

(Charles Mingus with pianist Horace Parlan; Charles Mingus with Charles McPherson and Pepper Adams; saxophonist Ken McIntyre)

(Don Cherry & Ornette Coleman; tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin in the audience; and the highly unusual Bowery sight of Thelonious Monk and jazz maecenas Baroness “Pannonica” de Koenigswater)

The Five Spot Café finally closed down in 1967.

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