Lorraine Gordon, 95, Village Vanguard owner

Lorraine Gordon.

BY GABE HERMAN | Lorraine Gordon, the owner and manager of the legendary Village Vanguard jazz club for almost 30 years, died June 9 at age 95.

Gordon, who died from complications from a stroke suffered on Memorial Day, was passionate about jazz from her youth and a daily fixture at the club, at Seventh Ave. South between W. 11th and Perry Sts.

The Vanguard was opened in 1935 by her late husband, Max Gordon, and has hosted legends like John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, to name just a few.

Lorraine took over the club’s operations when Max died in 1989.

Born Lorraine Stein on Oct. 15, 1922 in Newark, N.J., she first visited the Vanguard as a teenager. As part of her early passion for jazz, she was a member of the Newark Hot Club and loved the Blue Note record label, whose co-founder Alfred Lion she married in 1943.

She would marry Max Gordon in 1949 and have two daughters, Deborah and Rebecca. Deborah is still involved in running the Village Vanguard.

Deborah said that Lorraine passed on her love of jazz to her.

“Music was always in the house,” she recalled.

This went beyond just jazz, said Deborah, as Lorraine loved all types of music, including classical and rock.

“ ‘Light My Fire’ was one of her favorite songs,” Deborah said with a laugh.

Lorraine brought her love of jazz to the Vanguard even before marrying Max Gordon, convincing him once to book a new artist named Thelonius Monk that she particularly liked.

The room at the Vanguard is famous for its great acoustics. It’s a small, wedge-shaped space that holds 123 people and has stayed the same without remodeling throughout its run from the  earliest days.

“The sound at the Vanguard is so incredible,” Lorraine told the National Endowment for the Arts, which named her a Jazz Master in 2013. “There is no recording studio that can equal it and that’s why the musicians like to play there. They can relate to the audience because of the shape of the room.”

Many albums have been recorded in the Vanguard, including some of John Coltrane’s greatest works, Lorraine noted.

Her daughter Deborah said the key to the Vanguard’s success has been the focus on the jazz itself and not any distractions related to running a club.

“Lorraine’s number-one focus was the music,” Deborah said.

Lorraine Gordon was also a political activist in the 1960s, as a member of Women Strike for Peace and protesting the Vietnam War and nuclear testing.

She was known for having a tough personality, which Deborah acknowledged was there but was complemented by another side of her.

“She didn’t suffer fools at all…said what was on her mind,” her daughter said. “But whatever her sharp edge was, was always tempered by her amazing humor.”

Deborah noted that if you stuck it out through the intimidating side of Lorraine, “you’d get that other aspect of her, which was just really wry.”

Lorraine Gordon told the N.E.A. in 2013 that in recent years some people would ask her if jazz was dead, but she said that it definitely was not.

“There’s so many people coming here to hear jazz,” she said, “so it’s hardly dead.”

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