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A 'Small' Legacy Grows

Last Tuesday night at Smalls, the basement jazz club on the tiny slice of West 10th Street just off Seventh Avenue South, singer Lezlie Harrison had just completed her set. She took a seat at the bar to warm welcomes from friends. Soon after, trombonist David Gibson assembled his quintet for a performance that was quickly stolen by the sharply articulated playing of trumpeter Freddie Hendrix. A few dozen people sat attentively in rows of mismatched chairs. Others, standing in the rear, kept up lively conversations. When pianist Orrin Evans soloed, Messrs. Hendrix and Gibson punctuated his music with horn riffs while sitting on bar stools.

For all its relaxed charm, Smalls these days is also a hub of jazz business innovation. Its website features a carefully annotated archive and live-streaming videocasts; its year-old independent music label, smallsLIVE, boasts a growing catalog of worthy recordings. Tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm's two-night stand beginning Monday will be recorded for later release. Pianist Bruce Barth's performances Wednesday and Thursday will celebrate his trio's new album, recorded at Smalls in September. Both the club's laid-back atmosphere and forward-leaning enterprise build upon a potent legacy. Were a history written of New York jazz at the close of the 20th century, the original incarnation of Smalls, from 1994 through 2003, would merit a chapter.