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Newark's Own Lorraine Gordon Remembered in Her Own Words, and in Conversation

Lorraine Gordon with Jerry Stiller at the WBGO Champions of Jazz Gala on Oct. 22, 2008

Lorraine Gordon will always be remembered for her indefatigable stewardship of The Village Vanguard, where she maintained the highest of standards. She was also a terrific storyteller — and had more than a few terrific stories to tell.

WBGO had a long and fruitful relationship with Gordon, especially during a series of live broadcasts and webcasts from the Vanguard, produced in coordination with NPR Music. (Some have been archived online, and they’re a treasure trove.) In 2008 Gordon was also honored at WBGO’s Champions of Jazz Gala, where she was surprised by old friends, the husband-and-wife comedy duo Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara.

Two years earlier, Gordon sat down in the Vanguard for an insightful and far-ranging conversation with WBGO’s Gary Walker. The occasion was the publication of her autobiography, Alive at the Village Vanguard: My Life in and Out of Jazz Time, which she wrote with Barry Singer.

The interview began, fittingly, with a complaint: Gordon was aggravated by a construction noise outside the club. But in short order she was opening up: telling stories from her youth on High Street in Newark; confessing a regret that she didn’t complete her studies at Newark Arts High; recalling her historic advocacy of Thelonious Monk; recalling the spark of her two marriages, first to Blue Note Records founder Alfred Lion and then to the Vanguard’s owner, Max Gordon.

At Walker’s urging, Gordon read select passages from the book, covering some of these periods in her wildly eventful life. She talked about her political activism, her long relationship with the neighborhood and one of her proudest moments as a booker, when the Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés finally made his debut in the club, after many political and bureaucratic hurdles.

But in the end, the conversation tellingly entered the here and now. When Walker asked what Gordon hadn’t yet accomplished in the club but wanted to, she countered first with a joke. “I’d like to have a palm there up there, and some sand, and the beautiful hot sun, and call it Honolulu for a week,” she laughed.

“No, I can’t think of anything I wanna do,” she said after a pause, “except find some people I don’t know, who may be wonderful, that I could say ‘Wow, it’s worth a try.’”