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Nightlife & Entertainment: Best Live Jazz

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The Vanguard is soulful -- that's the classic," says Wynton Marsalis. "But Sweet Basil's good, too. The Jazz Standard -- that's nice. Iridium's good. I like all of 'em -- every one of them has something different."

Jazz's No. 1 booster may have a hard time choosing among the city's "big six" clubs (the others are the Blue Note and Birdland), but we're partial to the newest, the year-and-a-half-old Jazz Standard (116 East 27th Street; 576-2232). Owner James Polsky books brand-name players -- Gary Bartz, Ray Bryant, Steve Turre -- but he also brings in long-absent faces (soulful tenor Andy Bey made his showstopping comeback here) and worthy underdogs like Stefon Harris.

Monday nights, big bands take over the city's clubs, from the venerable Vanguard right on down to Small's (see below). The owners of Birdland (315 West 44th Street; 581-3080), however, take full advantage of their spacious room three nights a week. Arranger-composer Chico O'Farrill -- who wrote charts for Count Basie -- holds down Sundays with a monster outfit that includes son Arturo on piano. And Tuesdays, the Mingus Jazz Orchestra -- a brand-new offshoot of the Mingus Big Band -- explores the heady and beautiful works of the late bassist-composer.

When it comes to more intimate, cheaper clubs, Marsalis has some advice, too. "Small's is a good after-hours set," he says of the West Village BYO boîte (183 West 10th Street; 929-7565), where a modest $10 buys admission to a jam that lasts until eight in the morning. "People solo too long, but besides that, it's nice. Everybody likes Cleopatra's Needle 2485 Broadway, near 92nd Street; 769-6969. I've never been there, but all the cats love it." Downtown, Orchard Street's elegant, high-ceilinged Dharma (174 Orchard Street; 780-0313) charges a nominal admission fee for nightly sets of generally excellent, if low-profile, mainstream fare. And Detour (349 East 13th Street; 533-6212), with its tiled floor, open-door policy, and sharp young boppers, is an even cozier (and equally worthy) alternative.


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