Jazz is back on 52nd Street
New York City, New York
From the 30s into the early 1950s, If you flagged a taxi in NYC and asked to be taken to “The Street,” you would be driven, without giving a number or an avenue, to 52nd Street. There were so many Jazz joints and clubs along 52nd Street, it also became known as “Swing Street.” Many jazz greats including: Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Louis Prima, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald, Marian McPartland, and many more played almost nightly and easily would perform in more than one club in any given month. It’s from this street that the bebop tune called “52nd Street Theme” by Thelonious Monk became a live jazz standard.
Club Bonafide, located at 212 East 52nd Street, is bringing music back to 52nd Street with the same open, embracing attitude. Co-owner Richard Bona views Club Bonafide, as a vehicle for reigniting an openness within venues both by doing away with exclusivity clauses and by looking to instill a more genre-blind booking. In this way, Bona hopes to encourage a celebration of live music and an environment of collaboration that he views as crucial to building a scene. “Charlie Parker was performing on 52nd Street every night,” he notes. “And that’s part of what made him great. The artists have to be able to perform, and it helps no one if a great musician can only play in New York at a major club maybe three times a year.”
Bona views the club as an opportunity to present an improved business arrangement for performing artists. “As musicians we are missing something,” he explains. “We compose, we write and we create music, but when it comes time to sell it, we give it to someone else. And if we do that, we own nothing. This has been bad for us: costs have tripled and quadrupled since I came to New York 21 years ago, but salaries for musicians have not gone up. I went to a club to see a friend release his record and I found out that he had to pay $600 to even play in the club! When I saw that, I thought ‘Why must every cost go up, but artists’ fees go down?’ So I considered how we can get out of that, and I decided to create a club where the musicians can make money playing, where they can sell their CDs and get 100% of the revenue. I want to do something different and I believe we can run a club where everybody can make money.” Hot House Jazz Magazine
Club Bonafide is owned by world-renowned, Cameroon born musician Richard Bona, and restaurateur Laurent Dantonio. Richard is well known for sharing the stage with several of the most accomplished artists in the scene, including Pat Metheny, Harry Belafonte, John Legend, Mike Stern, George Benson, Branford Marsalis, Chaka Khan, Bobby McFerrin, Herbie Hancock, and more. The New York Times wrote of Richard: “Like many African songwriters, he sings lessons and parables. The language of his music is less specific; it draws on pop and jazz from across Africa, the Americas and Europe. His songs assume a virtuosity so complete that it only has to whisper.” Laurent owns two restaurants in Brooklyn; Santos Anne offers a Mexican-French fusion cuisine and Pates et Traditions is a casual Gallic corner café with a South-of-France-focused cuisine.