Country musicians dream of playing the Grand Ole Opry. Classical artists imagine themselves on stage at Carnegie Hall. For jazz players, the holy of holies is a far more modest edifice. A narrow subterranean room in the West Village, the Village Vanguard has absorbed sonic vibrations from the music’s greatest improvisers for more than seven decades.
East Bay-raised tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens made his debut at the venerable club in 2007 with veteran pianist Kenny Barron, and over the years he’s returned several times as a sideman with the NEA Jazz Master. But it was another thing entirely to headline at the Vanguard, performing original music with his all-star quartet. He wrote himself into the vaunted club’s annals last year in a show captured his on recently released 10th album as a leader, “Right Now! The Dayna Stephens Quartet Live at the Village Vanguard.”
Even without the recording, last year’s performance is an experience emblazoned on his memory, “something I never stop thinking about for more than 10 seconds at a time,” Stephens said from his home in New Jersey. “How many minds have been transformed in that place? I played there for a dozen years, but to lead my own group was another level of nervousness.”
The two-disc album captured his quartet with pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Ben Street, and drummer Greg Hutchinson. Stephen and the his quartet were set to return to the Vanguard (with Jaimeo Brown taking over the drum chair) for two live-streamed shows Oct. 2-3 —