Wednesday, April 8, 2015

5 Spot

Quintessential New York is Frank O'Hara's poem "The Day Lady Died," with its bouncy, urban "I do this, I do that" listing of the poet's day and then the last, heart-stopping lines:

"I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing"

Years ago, I tried to find the original site of the 5 Spot. I ended up at a bar inside the now demolished 35 Cooper Square, mistakenly thinking it was the right place. There was no Internet back then and I had little to guide me. Now there's a Wikipedia page for the 5 Spot and this site, 5 Spot Artifacts, put together by the daughter of former owner Joe Termini.

The original 5 Spot was at 5 Cooper Square, between 4th and 5th. It was a favorite place for many painters and poets, including Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Larry Rivers, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg.

It was demolished and a second 5 Spot opened on the corner of St. Mark's Place and Third Avenue in the 1960s.

Billie Holiday died in 1959, so it wasn't at the second Five Spot that O'Hara leaned on the john door and stopped breathing.

The second Five Spot is now a pizza place and some open-street shops that sell hats, sunglasses, and marijuana paraphernalia.

"Tea," as it was known in the jazz scene. "Reefer" and "Mary Jane." Billie Holiday loved it. But she probably never smoked it through a bong attached to a gas mask.

P.S. Happy belated birthday to Billie.

Thelonious Monk and Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter get into her Bentley outside the Five Spot cafe, New York, 1964. Photograph: Ben Martin/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images


onemorefoldedsunset said...

Kenneth Koch was at the Five Spot that night too. He was reading his poetry, accompanied by Mal Waldron, who played piano with Holiday in the late fifties. Holiday was banned from singing at bars that served drinks, due to a heroin conviction, but when she showed up to meet Waldron, was persuaded to perform.

Koch recalled the performance:
"It was very close to the end of her life, with her voice almost gone, just like a whisper, just like the taste of very old wine, but full of spirit ... Everybody wanted her to sing. Everybody was crazy about her."
(from City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara, by Brad Gooch)

WKCR is in the middle of a weeklong tribute to Billie Holiday. It runs through Friday, and today is the second day of non-stop Holiday recordings. The station always runs a tribute to her on April 7th, but this one's extra special.

Anonymous said...

More wooo wooo...everyone's a critic and everyone knows all.....

Anonymous said...

An esteemed jazz panel discusses the Five Spot:

laura r. said...

i passed that corner many times in 1964. look @ the difference.

chris flash said...

On that bill might have been Maxwell Bodenheim, who was murdered with his wife by a drifter in their Third Ave apartment just a few blocks away....

Anonymous said...

Here's a photo of Billie's best pal, Lester Young in front of the Five Spot Cafe, 1958:

Andy Reynolds said...

God, I love this post! Time machine, please!

Walter said...

Thanks for that picture, Jeremiah. That's a classic.

Michael Simmons said...

How does one explain the concept of soul to semi-humans whose hearts have been replaced by microchips?

Thank you Jeremiah -- you give us hope -- the real kind, not political bitcoinage.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this...I would love to see more photos and hear more stories about the place!

- East Villager

Anonymous said...

A great photo of the place in 1957:

- East Villager

TONYPRO said...

thats T Monk and the jazz baroness in her bentley 1964