Jazz has come to Gallagher’s Steak House in Manhattan for the first time.
The Broadway establishment, which opened in 1927 as a speakeasy during Prohibition, has seen its fair share of celebrity patrons, from theater actors to sports figures to gangsters. It has been a popular after-Broadway-show hangout for most of its history, and has maintained strong ties to the Broadway and Times Square art scenes.
However, up until August of last year, the venue had not hosted live music before. Marlene Brody, current owner of Gallagher’s and widow of former owner Jerome Brody, decided to use her connections with Schenectady’s Empire State Youth Orchestra to bring live jazz to the venue. Trumpeter and 18-year-old Coxsackie native Rhys Tivey got the job, and now leads a quartet at Gallagher’s every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.
“Mrs. Brody had been involved with the Empire State group for a number of years, supporting it, and she met Rhys through that,” said Gallagher’s spokesman John Cirillo. “She felt that the 52nd Street area has always been a great jazz area in New York, and she wanted to make that type of commitment in New York to showcase jazz artists, future greats, at Gallagher’s.”
And for Tivey, in his second year as a music student at New York University’s Steinhart school, these paid gigs give him weekly performing experience in front of a receptive jazz audience.
“It’s a really fantastic area to have an enthusiastic audience of musicians and fans, stuff like that,” Tivey said. “Overall audience reaction seemed really good — some nights we have people moving from one room to another to come hear the music. Generally, it’s invigorating to play for an audience that is listening; it definitely brings the level of the music up higher.”
Brody first approached Tivey about the gig earlier this year. She had seen Tivey perform at a few of his concerts with ESYO and also knew his mother.
“When she decided to introduce music to Gallagher’s, she knew my playing and knew what to expect, so she wanted to try and have me bring in some music,” Tivey said.
He soon assembled a band of his classmates from NYU, including guitarist Kirk Schoenherr, 25, drummer Nick Anderson, 26, and bassist Spencer Zahn, 21. The group stays firmly rooted in the jazz realm, tackling classics from the American Songbook.
“Right now, definitely, especially for the setting we’re bringing to Gallagher’s, The Miles Davis Quintet from 1963 to 1967 — that group of musicians is one of the biggest landmarks in jazz interaction,” Tivey said of his inspiration behind his own group, which goes by The Rhys Tivey Quartet for now.
Tivey first picked up the trumpet in the fourth grade at Greenville Elementary School. A music program at Hartwick College in Oneonta the following summer helped develop Tivey’s interest in jazz.
“I got to mingle with a lot of really older musicians and get a sense of music outside the small, elementary school setting — out there in the real music world,” Tivey said. “It’s just kind of fortunate that early on I got further out. One of the reasons why I stayed on the music track was that earlier on I began to go to these summer camps and see and hear the older musicians, get a sense of what better music was than ‘Hot Cross Buns.’ ”
He joined the ESYO in eighth grade, becoming part of the smaller Repertory Orchestra. A year later, he was in the Jazz Ensemble, followed by a three-year stint in the main orchestra.
Besides being his first true professional performing experience away from school, Tivey’s time with the ESYO also included a European tour through Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany during his last year performing with them.
“One of the venues in Prague in the Czech Republic, the Dvorak Hall, one of the symphonies there — it’s this huge, mind-blowingly large hall,” Tivey said. “I remember just coming out of the ranks of the stage — and after being in a tour you’re just going through the motions sometimes; you aren’t paying attention to the little details. I walked onto the stage and cocked my head up, and was just blowed over by the enormous size of the theater — the reverb would go on for four, five seconds. It was a massive sound.”
Grateful for ESYO
The experience performing with the orchestra, to this day still the largest group of musicians Tivey has played with, helped develop a sense of economy and sensitivity that still shapes his playing today.
“In a larger setting, you’re a smaller part to a greater whole, so you have to pay attention to how your part fits and create a really subtle balance with everyone else,” Tivey said. “There are all sorts of ways in which you have to meld the sound into everybody else’s sound. I can’t really imagine my playing without ESYO.”
Over the years, he was also exposed to the large quantities of classical and jazz music that the orchestra tackles — anything from Ludwig van Beethoven to Igor Stravinsky.
“As a trumpet player, you have to rest a lot — there are lots of times where you just sit back and don’t play,” Tivey said. “So for 80, 90 percent of most songs, at a certain point it became an opportunity for me to sit back and hear these other musicians playing.”
But the musical influences don’t just stop at jazz and classical. Tivey, who also counts Radiohead and Tom Waits among his influences, has also been performing with experimental blues-rock band Electric Black in underground rock venues on the lower East Side of the city.
“I’ve kind of been mingling with some nonjazz people, and I really enjoy doing that,” Tivey said. “I try not to limit my performance scope to just jazz or classical.”
SHowing some Initiative
Those who remember Tivey from his ESYO years aren’t necessarily surprised that he’s landed a paying gig in New York City. Even back then, he had shown a strong drive with his musical projects, forming a jazz quartet made up of ESYO members that recorded a CD early this year.
“I think he’s certainly shown some initiative in this area,” said Sara Torrey, development and marketing specialist with ESYO. “Last year as an alumnus, he helped put together a quartet to be the entertainment for our gala last November, so he’s shown some initiative in terms of getting other musicians, young musicians, together.”
Gallagher’s has plans to continue the live performances indefinitely. Right now Tivey is in charge of coordinating the musicians, but Cirillo said he hopes Gallagher’s will become a musical hot spot in the city.
“There’s been a great reaction from some of Rhys’ followers, as well as the public who came for the first time and were delighted with the music,” Cirillo said. “We’ve had some returning visitors. We’re trying to build it as a piece of Gallagher’s — the real goal is for Gallagher’s to become a steppingstone for young artists.”