Smalls Jazz Club was created in 1994 by the enigmatic Mitchell Borden. Borden, a former Navy submariner, registered nurse, philosopher & jazz violinist, founded the club with an initiative to create an environment that was conducive to Jazz Music and its culture.
Borden, who booked and managed the club, approached business from a stance of generosity rather than profit.
The original Smalls was a raw basement space and had no liquor license. For just $10, patrons could bring their own beer and come to the club at any time, day or night.
They could stay as long as they liked and often left just as day began to break.
Borden’s concern was only with the music and the musicians who created it.
Under his generous care, a culture of vibrant and newly energized young musicians claimed Smalls as their home base and began to develop their individuality in the music.
This included such musicians as: Howard Alden, J.D. Allen, William Ash, Ehud Asherie, Omer Avital, David Berkman, Peter Bernstein, Brian Blade, Seamus Blake, Dwayne Burno, Chris Byars, Shard Cassity, Dwayne Clemons, Jay Collins, Marion Cowings, Jon Davis, Sasha Dobson, Duane Eubanks, Brian Floody, Joel Frahm, Ray Gallon, Paul Gill, Larry Goldings, Ned Goold, Jimmy Greene, Larry Ham, Tardo Hammer, Roy Hargrove, Ari Hoenig, Sherman Irby, Norah Jones, Ryan Kisor, Guillermo Klein, Myrna Lake, Carolyn Leonhart, Jason Linder, Joe Magnarelli, Jeremy Manasia, Joe Martin, Donny McCauslin, Brad Mehldau, Neal Miner, Tyler Mitchell, Jane Monheit, Mike Mullen, Zaid Nasser, Charles Owens, Jeremy Pelt, Sasha Perry, Jean Michel Pilc, Chris Potter, Josh Redman, Jon Roche, Ari Roland, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Grant Stewart, Phil Stewart, Joe Strasser, Greg Tardy Mark Turner, Diego Urcola, Richie Vitale, Myron Walden, Scott Wendholt, Spike Wilner, Ben Wolfe, Sam Yahel, Peter Zak and many others.
After the events of 9/11/2001 transformed the economic landscape of New York City, Smalls Jazz Club went bankrupt in 2002. Borden then focused his energies on creating Fat Cat, a popular spot for college age people. Smalls was taken over by a Brazilian bar owner who renamed the place “The Rio Bar”, which became a dismal failure. Frustrated by his failure, he approached Borden and asked him to re-open Smalls with him as owner and Mitch as manager. Mitch agreed and Smalls was reborn in 2004. By 2007 the Brazilian owner realized that the jazz business was a poor one, decided to put the club up for sale. It was in February of 2007 that jazz pianist Spike Wilner and his friend Lee Kostrinsky became partners with Borden and sought to restore the club to its original vibrant spirit. Kostrinsky stayed on until 2011 when he decided to sell his share of the club. Mitch Borden and Spike Wilner continued to run the club until Borden’s retirement in 2019. The SmallsLIVE Foundation, a not-for-profit arts organization, was created in 2018 and played a critical role in keep the venues afloat during the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020.
Smalls Jazz Club has emerged as the top club of its kind – a throwback to another era when jazz clubs were both proving ground for top artists but also social scenes for the jazz community. Smalls Jazz Club now has an international reputation and draws fans from all over the world as a destination spot for great jazz. In September of 2014, Spike Wilner opened our second club on the opposite corner of West 10th street and 7th ave – Mezzrow. Dedicated to the great “Really The Blues” Mezz Mezzrow, Mezzrow draws its inspiration for the great piano rooms of the New York past, particularly Bradley’s.