In 1959, when the California saxophonist Ornette Coleman brought his quartet to New York’s Five Spot Café, the music ignited a storm of controversy, and spurred a struggle between old and new styles of jazz that has never quite subsided. David Neil Lee explores the debate around Coleman’s innovation in terms of its relationships to social change and issues of power within arts communities.
With its scholarly approach to jazz history’s hottest topic, The Battle of the Five Spot has won praise from the music’s most knowledgeable readers. Point of Departure’s Bill Shoemaker called it a “crisply written, illuminating analysis of one of the most pivotal events in jazz history.” Pamela Margles in The Whole Note called it“a provocative study…a heartfelt – and powerful – tribute to the creative validity of free jazz.”
First published in 2006, the Wolsak and Wynn edition of The Battle of the Five Spot has been newly revised, with an afterword by the author.
The Five Spot Café was a small, unpretentious, even shabby bar at Five Cooper Square in the Bowery, a traditionally working-class neighbourhood in Lower Manhattan. Because of its location east of the clubs, lofts and galleries of Greenwich Village, the Bowery was home to many artists and intellectuals from the village scene, some of whom would gather at the Five Spot.
The Club had a piano, which occasionally one of the customers would play, and in 1956 the brothers Joe and Iggy Termini, who had inherited the Five Spot from their father, initiated a jazz policy. They presented such modern artists as Thelonious Monk, Randy Weston and David Amram, as well as the radical young avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor. Taylor’s six-week engagement “immediately attracted a new crowd of artists, writers and members of what at that time was commonly referred to as the Uptown Bohemia. The skids went out, the sawdust came off the floor, the prices went up,” and by the end of the year the Five Spot had become an outpost, pioneering the transformation of its neighbourhood into the East Village – an eastward extension of the long-established Greenwich Village artistic community.
Review (Ken Waxman, The New York City Jazz Record, 01/06/2015)
“This is a book worth reading for its exhaustive research and the provocative ideas contained in its thesis.”
Review (Guillaume Belhomme, Le son du grisli, 26/01/2015)
Guillaume Belhomme reviewed Battle of the Five Spot in French for Le son du grisly (Nantes, France).
"Some things with words..." (Brian Olewnick, Just Outside, 20/09/2014)
"Engaging and lucidly written, without a trace of academese, it's a fascinating perspective from which to view this sequence of events, an all-too-uncommon stepping to the side and coming at an issue from a new angle. Would that this were done more often. Highly recommended."
David Neil Lee participated in a panel presented by The New School for Public Engagement on the jazz scene in the '50s and '60s, and how it parallels the jazz scene today.