''Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends!'' the man sings. And he has. The man is Art D'Lugoff, a leading figure in Manhattan's music, comedy and theater scene for more than four decades. Two years ago, landlord and financial troubles forced him to close the Village Gate, his Greenwich Village club that had become a legendary venue for jazz artists like Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, as well as comedians like Bill Cosby, Woody Allen and John Belushi. Now the spot is, odiously enough to Village traditionalists, a CVS drug store.
Since the Gate closed, Mr. D'Lugoff has spent a restless time writing his memoirs and helping to organize the International Jazz Museum, which he hopes will open in Manhattan as early as next year. But ever the impresario, he had also worked at finding a new space for the Village Gate.
His friend, Ronald Feiner, an entertainment lawyer, knew that a friend of his, Gene Wolsk, co-producer of the musical revue ''Forever Plaid,'' was looking for a cabaret space. Another friend, Peter Aschkenasy, who once owned Gage & Tollner in downtown Brooklyn and Luchow's on 14th Street, was itching to run a restaurant once again.
And the owners of Lone Star, a country-western bar and restaurant that closed three years ago on West 52d Street, were eager to rent that space. Mr. D'Lugoff, Mr. Feiner, Mr. Wolsk, Mr. Aschkenasy, and David Gentile, an entertainment-industry accountant, formed a partnership to take over the Roadhouse space and turn it into the Village Gate 52d Street. It opened last week, west of Broadway.
The partners won't reveal how much they've invested in the new venture. But at a time when the audience for a jazz club is uncertain, they are hedging their bets. They will avoid high-priced talent and emphasize promising but lower-priced jazz acts. They will also reach out to a non-jazz audience by offering pop music, as well as what they hope are appealing food and drinks, never strong points at the old Village Gate.
The opening of the Village Gate 52d Street follows by a few weeks a similar move by Birdland, another respected jazz club, from 105th Street and Broadway to 44th Street just west of Eighth Avenue. This year, two major jazz clubs in the city have closed -- Fat Tuesday's near Gramercy Park and Bradley's in Greenwich Village earlier this month.
''Jazz is taking a stab at midtown and it might work,'' said Phil Schaap, who for 27 years has hosted the jazz program, ''Bird Flight'' on WKCR-FM (89.9) But, he adds, ''You would really see me jumping up and down if there was an actual expansion of clubs, instead of just a moving around of the survivors.''
The new Village Gate seats fewer than 200. Its three-floor predecessor had a capacity of more than 900. Mr. Aschkenasy, the restaurateur, has developed a menu that guarantees that a theatergoer can arrive at 7 P.M. and be out the door by 7:45. About a half-hour later the entertainment starts.
Half the evening will be devoted to a non-jazz offering, Mr. Wolsk's production, ''A Brief History of White Music,'' in which black singers pay homage to and poke gentle fun at white musicians like the Andrews Sisters, Sonny and Cher and the Beatles.
''This is what an intimate space is all about,'' Mr. D'Lugoff said, as a performer sang a particularly soulful version of ''I Want to Hold Your Hand'' to a blushing female patron. ''It's like Shakespeare, Shakespeare in the Globe Theater, where you could see and touch the actors.''
After 10 P.M., the new club showcases dancing and jazz, but not the top-drawer artists like Oscar Peterson and Nancy Wilson, whose salaries can force club owners to charge a cover of $60 and up. ''Whoever is left from the great American pantheon of jazz I'm not going after,'' said Mr. D'Lugoff. ''We want to offer people a rich entertainment experience for a cover charge of between zero and $15 for jazz acts and $40 for 'A Brief History.' ''
George T. Wein, who runs the JVC and Newport festivals, said local clubs have largely become venues for foreign tourists, rather than New Yorkers, because the cost of a night at a jazz club, with a two-drink minimum, can exceed that of a Broadway theater ticket. ''Good food and no cover charge is the best possible way to make a club successful,'' he said.
Steve Getz, son of the late jazz great Stan Getz and a respected jazz booker, said the price squeeze was due in part to jazz bookers' unwillingness to develop talent a decade or more ago. ''The core of it is you have to show some courage and not just book the old warhorses,'' Mr. Getz said. ''You have to invest in talent and they'll come back and play at your club.''
As for Mr. D'Lugoff, he's looking forward to a time when more jazz clubs move to Times Square. ''I not only don't fear competition, I welcome it,'' he said. ''The more clubs there are, the bigger the draw we'll be. The more the merrier.''