New York, New York: Music in the Big Apple


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All photos provided by Alyx Howarth

…the way to recognise a visitor in New York is that they’re the ones looking up all the time.”

Mike Evans, Waking up in New York City, 2003

New York, New York: The Overview

A city like none another, New York encompasses a flair of breath-taking sophistication and a rich cultural history that stretches for centuries.

With enriching diversity from block to block, the musical history of the city is simply pioneering in the development of jazz, punk and rock.

Ever since the creation of Tin Pan Alley and the dominance of jazz clubs with Birdland and Roseland that littered 42nd Street – allowing jazz to flourish for decades – to early-punk signs of CBGB and Max’s Kansas City – New York and music has never been one without the other.

Now, with Radio City Music Hall at the Rockefeller Centre to the giant of Madison Square Garden, it has amassed some of the greatest – and largest – music venues in America.

With a thriving and enriching environment that has such a diverse sense of culture, it’s music history is just as emphatic as it’s marvellous cuisine and its masterful approach to the Arts.

Among a sprawling city lies a dormant stretch of green that has gorgeous park walks and landscapes that are intertwined with these emphatic rising skylines. Below?

Below, are the loud and bustling ‘no-nonsense’ New Yorkers who certainly have their hand in asserting the precept of the city that never sleeps.

It ultimately envisions the perfect big city – and has been done across 21st Century popular culture.

From Taxi Driver … Guys and Dolls …. to ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ …. to even Batman’s Gotham City … it always seems to be the immediate relevancy to anything popular in anything.

Every single nook and cranny is intriguing, and makes you want to believe you are in the next Hollywood blockbuster.”

Alyx Howarth, New York visitor, 2020

And right in the underbelly of the city, lives and thrives a music world like no other.

From Gershwin’s 1920’s Manhattan, 42nd’s Swing Street and to CBGB’s underground rock and punk scene, New York has an incredulous history of music that covers the biggest array of music genres in any American city to date.

New York, New York: Swingin’ on the Streets

Birdland Jazz Club
Roseland Ballroom
Swing 46

For the visitor, New York City is still just about the best place in the world to hear jazz.”

Mike Evans, Waking up in New York City, 2003

The key section of 52nd from Fifth through to Seventh Avenue, was the critically-acclaimed accolade of ‘Swing Street’, a true epicentre that represented the centre of the jazz universe in the 1940s. And, despite many clubs closing, jazz has always had, and always will, have a permanent place in the cultural life of the Big Apple.

The sheer jazz frenzy scale that littered the surrounding blocks was phenomenal. From the furious ‘cutting sessions’ to compete between one another to the colossal experimental elements, it created greater opportunity for new music to be created within the world of jazz. With the sign of ‘Swing Street’ showing the only indication of where once was, the popular clubs of Birdland Jazz Club, Roseland Ballroom, Swing 46 and Smalls are the only ones to prevail to remember such a tender moment in the cities’ history.

Of course, modernity has caused refurbishments to surge throughout New York, with the grandeur of the smallest of jazz clubs being swamped in the shadows of sprawling mirrored skyscrapers and convenient, fast-food takeaway cuisines that seem to be apparent on every block.

Of course, it will never be the same again – but you can be sure that it will never be forgotten.

And this musical history of New York City, first of all in jazz and popular songwriting, then rock ‘n’ roll, folk-rock, punk, new wave and all the other intertwining genres that were thrown up by the popular music revolution that took place through the 20th Century, is very much one that has happened on the street.”

Mike Evans, Waking up in New York City, 2003

New York, New York: Eclectic Early Punk Days of CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City

Max’s Kansas City

The Bowery was, to repeat, a drab, ugly and unsavor(u)y place. but it was good enough for rock ‘n’ rollers. the people who frequented CBGB didn’t seem to mind staggering drunks and stepping over a few bodies.”

Hilly Kristal, CBGB Owner, 2003

We cannot discuss the music scene in New York City without talking about the punk superiority of CBGB and Max’s Kansas City.

With punk and rock bands literally queuing for a spot at the established venue throughout the ’70s, CBGB became the prime venue in launching the punk revolution (“we didn’t call them punk, they did after”), with The Ramones and Television taking a residency position in ’74, the punk scene in the City could not be controlled. Soon enough, this frivolous chaotic scene got people talking, and it was across the pond in London before we knew it.

Of course, with the anger of the youth ultimately caused the rise of iconic collectives like the, The Sex Pistols and The Clash.

Throughout the late ’70s, as punk began to rise to dominance in the youth of the repressed, CBGB acclaimed a kind of presence and status that only a few music venues can share the same feeling. It was always worthy – and still is, mind – of a visit for any tourist in New York.

Over the years, hundreds of bands have had the pleasure of fronting CB‘s small stage and sharing a status of playing at such an iconic venue. And not just upfront basic punk either – CB fronted many new experimental genres from new-wave to folk-punk since the 80’s, as we delved into the lavishes of experiencing new complexities to music.

New York, New York: The City So Nice, They Named It Twice

Above all else, New York never continues to amaze me. Amidst criticism of the city appearing as fake and overrated, I don’t think any negative view or opinion will deter me from visiting one day, trawling through the long overhaul of music venues and record stores that I have feverishly scribbled down, ever since my missus arrived back singing nothing but praises about The Big Apple.

Better get saving then, eh?

New York, New York: Some Venues Worth Mentioning

The Knitting Factory – A unique evolution of the club that is based more around the genre of avant-garde jazz but is familiarly known for it’s ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ performances that vary each night.

SOB’s – West of SoHo, Sound of Brazil pioneers popular trends from Latin and world music into a borough of New York.

Village Underground – Off of Sixth Avenue, Village Underground delivers an eclectic mix of major-name rock, soul and country-rock acts.

2 responses to “New York, New York: Music in the Big Apple”

  1. Alyx avatar

    Yaaay! Love this, can’t wait to go to New York with you! 🍎


  2. Alyx avatar

    Yaaay! Love this, can’t wait to go to New York with you! 🍎


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