History Of New York’s Iridium Theater

Iridium Theater History

Iridium Theater – Photo: Brian Kachejian ©2017

Ask a teenager to name one or two members of The Beatles and you will be lucky if they can name one. Ask a teen to name the lead singer of The Rolling Stones and 99 out of every 100 will stare at you with a blank face. So, it’s amazing that a place that caters to jazz music still exists in the world of high priced real estate on the streets of New York City. However located right next to the theater continues to host the very successful School Of Rock movie turned Broadway play, stands the Iridium Theater. In 2019 the Iridium Theater still stands as one of the premier rooms to see a legend of jazz along with some great modern day jazz artists.

The Iridium Theater that is located at 1650 Broadway and 51 street in Manhattan first opened in 1994. The site’s original location was not the same as the places it stands in 2019. The current location has only been in existence since 2011. The Iridium first opened its doors in 1994 as the Iridium Room Jazz Club. The new jazz room was opened across the street from Lincoln Center at 63rd Street and Central Park West.  At the time the club opened in 1994, the club’s manager Ronald Sturm was focused on booking young and unknown jazz act that were just starting to make their marks in the jazz world. (They were probably also a lot cheaper to pay) Nonetheless the club’s opening weekend did feature the big names of jazz like Elvin Jones followed by other jazz legends such as Lee Konitz and McCoy Tyner.(1)

In 1996, the legendary guitarist Les Paul would begin performing at the club every Monday night. The Iridium club would become the home of Les Paul on a weekly basis. Monday nights are usually the off nights for musicians. The most common thing that musicians do on their off nights, is usually go see other musicians. The only problem is most musicians are off on Monday nights. So, the Les Paul Monday night cake at the radium turned out to be very successful for Mister Paul. Many legendary musicians would come see Les Paul on those Monday nights. In many instances some of them would join Les Paul on stage. Over the years , Les Paul performed on the eridian stage with artists such as Brian Setzer, Slash of Guns N’ Roses, ZZ Top;s Billy Gibbons and perhaps the greatest artist of all time Sir Paul McCartney.

Les Paul continued to perform at the Iridium jazz club from 1996 until his passing in 2009. The impact that Les Paul had on music especially from the technology standpoint influenced the Iridium jazz club to develop the ability to operate not as just a performance nightclub but as a recording studio. In 2011, the Iridium jazz club started their own jazz label. Jeff beck’s CD Rock and Roll Party Honoring Les Paul became one of the most commercially successful releases the label issued.

What sets the Iridium Jazz theater club apart from other theaters is that many artists that perform there will do a short residency instead of just all single night show. In similar fashion to the Blue Note Cafe, musical artist like Mike Stern will book themselves there for a few nights in a row. For musicians, a residency makes performing much more easier because there isn’t a need to breakdown and set up equipment like they do when it’s a single one night show. It’s also a great opportunity for fans who may witness the first show and come back every night until the performance closes. Sort of a mini Broadway run for these great jazz artists.

In 2015, the Iridium Jazz club showcased over $150,000 in renovations designed to establish the club as a place to shoot television specials for broadcast. The Iridium Jazz club hosts the Critically acclaimed public television show front and center. The show is featured such legendary artist as Joe Jackson, Kip Moore and George Ezra.

Recently, the Iridium Jazz club has been also presenting shows that cross all musical genres. As jazz music continues it’s never ending struggle for commercial acceptance across the board, the club has featured more rock artist hip hop artist country in just about any type of performer just sell out it’s club. Rent is not cheap in New York City and a club’s got to do what it’s got do to survive . The club also rents out its theater for private functions.

In the end seeing a show at the radium jazz club can be an incredible experience for the music fan. The theater only holds 180 people. There are not many places that small which you can see some of the most legendary jazz artist of all time perform. It’s like having them perform in your living room or backyard you’re right up close. Furthermore, you can order a great meal and have a wonderful glass of wine or any other spirit. And it’s all located in the heart of Manhattan on Broadway under beautiful lights and wondrous sounds New York City

(1)Watrous, Peter. “Critic’s Notebook; Jazz With Pizazz: A New Generation of Clubs.” The New York Times. April 15, 1994. Accessed June 07, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/1994/04/15/arts/critic-s-notebook-jazz-with-pizazz-a-new-generation-of-clubs.html?searchResultPosition=12.

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