A Tale of Two Jazzes

A Tale of Two Jazzes

New Orleans is justly famous as the birthplace of jazz in America, but New York City remains the last mecca of jazz in the country. True, there are fine clubs scattered about the country in various cities, but there can be no serious question that, while diminished severely from its heyday, jazz in all its forms is thoroughly alive in the Big Apple.

A multitude of small venues are dispersed throughout the city from Greenwich Village north to Harlem. The principal clubs with major jazz figures playing seven nights a week include at least the Village Vanguard, Jazz Standard, Birdland, Smoke, Blue Note, Dizzy’s Club, Minton’s, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Fat Cat and Mezzrow. Many other spots have less robust calendars but still produce great music. Iridium, for example, still has some jazz but has morphed into rock and what passes for country music in some places.

Having said that, I must also disclose that I am not a big fan of vocal music other than what is called “pure New Orleans” (not Dixieland). I grew up in the age of the big band and club crooners like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. and, I guess, had my fill of it from watching them on early television. I have seen a few modern jazz vocalists and did not much enjoy them, while acknowledging their exceptional talent.

HOWEVER, that was before last Friday night when we were privileged not only to visit a new club, the Green Room 42 in the Yotel (yes, the Yotel) on 10th Avenue at 42nd Street, but to see the extraordinary Charlie Romo singing the American Songbook backed by an exceptional quartet that included the guitarist who, in a much earlier day, played with the Chairman of the Board himself, Frank Sinatra. Not only does Romo have amazing vocal chops, he infused his singing with a maturity and style that sounded like he had actually lived in the era when the content of most of that Songbook was created.

We know that he didn’t because Charlie Romo is only TWENTY-TWO YEARS OLD!! Truly. Romo has everything one could ask for in an exponent of the American Songbook, belting out standards like Mack the Knife, On the Street Where You Live, What Kind of Fool Am I, Unforgettable, My Funny Valentine, If I Ruled the World, among many others. Though it was a long show, his voice seemed to get stronger as the time passed. If that weren’t enough, he easily transitioned to more modern fare, like a medley in honor of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper, sandwiched between segments of American Pie. And on and on to a standing ovation at the end.

This young man is a true prodigy and will almost certainly become a national musical figure. He seems genuinely to love singing, flirting with ladies and shaking hands with men in the audience and moved with grace and style as he navigated through the audience on at least two occasions. If I sound a bit overwhelmed, that is probably accurate, rare though it may be.

Speaking of prodigies, the very next night we went to Dizzy’s Club in the Columbus Circle building that houses Jazz at Lincoln Center to see Renee Rosnes (piano) in quartet with jazz veterans Steve Nelson (vibes), Peter Washington (bass), Lewis Nash (drums) for a very different experience than the night with Charlie Romo. Pure traditional but modern jazz in the best way imaginable.

The highlight of the evening for me was Galapagos, the named song in a suite composed by Rosnes. I lack the musical knowledge to speak to the technical elements of improvisation and complex rhythms that inhabit the jazz genre, but there is no question that these four were at the top of their game last night, ending with the packed house clamoring for more. Rosnes is brilliant on the piano, mixing jazz standards with her own compositions in a well thought out mix. She seems to favor the center of the keyboard but is never trite or repetitive. Lewis Nash’s drumming, in particular, played the perfect supporting role, avoiding, as many drummers do not, the tendency to overwhelm the other players. He is “musical” on the drums in the same way as Eric Harland and a delight to hear and watch. Nash seems to be having fun all the while he is playing and that translates to the listening experience for the audience.

These two musical experiences were as different as they could be, yet were joined by a common bond of musical identity that was unmistakable. Now some twenty-four hours later, I can still see Charlie Romo reaching out to his audience through his voice and feel the polyrhythms of the Rosnes quartet fully engaged with each other in a mystifying multi-party improvisation. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Charlie Romo in the Green Room 42:

View from Dizzy’s Club window:

The image at the top of this post is the bandstand at Dizzy’s Club.

Never a Dull Moment — Year One in Review

New Years Day dawned unseasonably warm in New York City, with temperatures in the upper 50s and now the sun has emerged to add an almost festive aura to the first day of the rest of our lives. We have completed a full year in The City and thought it appropriate to review what we have done besides working and resisting [if interested in the latter, go to http://www.shiningseausa.com]. To put it mildly, 2018 was an extraordinary time for us. Here are some of the experiences we had.

As is well known, New York is a “walking city,” meaning that one walks to get most places. And walk, we did. Personally, I averaged 1.8 miles per day. Other data from those walks:

2,356  – Dog poop/pee avoided (there are bazillion dogs of every description here and few places to “go” but the sidewalks and streets, so they do)

242 – Days with unpredictable/unpredicted weather events

            17 – People who asked me for directions

    14 – Number of times I gave accurate directions

      3 – Number of people never heard from again

Other experiences:

DANCE COMPANIES

Continuum Contemporary/Ballet – see https://autumninnewyork.net/2018/06/18/ballet-bryant-park/

Paul Taylor Dance Company

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – Wife takes ballet lessons there

BALLETS

American Ballet Theater’s Firebird & AFTERITE

New York City Ballet’s Jewels

New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker

BROADWAY & OFF

Miss Saigon

Waitress

Band’s Visit

Book of Mormon

My Fair Lady

Avenue Q

King Kong

MARCHES

Women’s March

Families Together

March For Our Lives

JAZZ

Cyrus Chestnut

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Bill Charlap

Chris Potter

Warren Wolf

SF Jazz Collective

OTHER MUSIC

Brandon Niederauer

MUSEUMS/ART

Photoville Brooklyn

Whitney

Natural History

Jerome Robbins at Lincoln Center Library

EVENTS & OTHER STUFF

High Line

Oculus & One World Observatory

U.S. Open

National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey

Chelsea Market

New York City Marathon

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

Ferry around Manhattan

Mets baseball game

Yankees game

Central Park Zoo

New York Botanical Garden

Central Park Zoo

Feast of San Gennaro

Christmas Lights/Windows/Rockefeller Center Tree

Street Fairs – several

Movies – several with reserved seats!

Stephen Colbert Late Show

Extras in a short indie movie: “Howard,” not yet released – see https://www.facebook.com/HowardTheMovie/

FAVORITE RESTAURANTS
Bricco – neighborhood Italian, small, quiet, great food

Greek Kitchen

SURPRISES

Mandarin Duck in Central Park

Lots of visits from out-of-town friends

This morning we walked in Central Park again and mused about how it felt like spring. Obviously we were intoxicated by the warmth. The crowds were small, likely because the one million people who spent New Years Day and night in Times Square were at home and unconscious. So it goes. We look forward to this 2019 with optimism – there is so much left to do. We hope to see some symphonies and other purely musical performances, and, of course, more ballets.

Happy New Year!

A Story for the Season … & All Seasons

I can’t shake this story from my mind and, considering the season and everything that is going on, I must share it.

I recently visited a doctor in New York City for a follow-up to an earlier consultation. Not unexpectedly, there were patients sitting in the waiting room so I knew it might be a while before I was seen. I always have a book with me for such situations.

As I read, I happened to glance up and notice across from me a younger (30-something, I’m guessing) woman slumped sideways in her chair, obviously dozing. I continued reading but my attention turned to the young woman again when my doctor unexpectedly emerged from the back and approached her, quietly calling her name. The young woman did not react; she was “out cold.” The doctor, realizing the woman was deeply asleep, walked over to her, reached down and gently took each of the woman’s hands in her own. She did not pull or poke. She massaged them gently while speaking softly to the woman. This did the job of waking her, and, after a few moments to collect herself, they walked together into the back, the doctor asking her some question I didn’t catch.

I sat there for several minutes, reflecting on what I had seen. I was moved by it in ways I didn’t, and still don’t completely, understand. The power of witnessing the simple gesture of care and sensitivity took me by surprise. Then, my turn came; I went back, visited with a nurse to take the required “vitals” and waited in a room to see the doctor who came in very shortly.

After some small talk, I told her that I had witnessed what she had done, how gently and sweetly she had awakened the young woman. The doctor responded with “I’ve known her for years and she’s very special.” I said, “you are special, doctor. Doctors generally don’t do what you did.” She thanked me, somewhat embarrassed, I suspect, and we moved on.

I still often think about that simple gesture of kindness that, in most other circumstances I have witnessed over the years, would have been treated quite differently. The way my doctor chose to awaken her patient has stayed with me as an extraordinary example of how natural kindness can work with remarkable power. As I reflect on the scene, as vivid to me like it just happened, and as the holidays come on, it stands in vivid contrast to our national political life that is dominated by rancor, conflict and fear. We’re all trying to experience the holidays in a good way, and likely most of us will succeed in the end. And ‘will’ is the right word, because it feels more like an act of will than a natural thing to do at this time of year.

Part of the power of the doctor’s act was, I think, that it was so natural, so spontaneous. I am virtually certain she did not mull it over first; she just naturally reacted to the situation with humanity and compassion. That young lady is lucky, as am I, to have a doctor with such instincts for kindness. It’s a lesson we all need to learn and re-learn, especially when the times we live in are so burdened with acrimony and lack of concern for those in need of a helping hand. I suspect I will always have that image in my mind and hope to remain aware and grateful for its reminder of what is possible.

New York Holiday Lights

New York City can be a magical place at times and the winter holidays are one of those. Last week we visited the shopping district on Fifth Avenue and walked to the Rockefeller Center to view the large Christmas Tree that, according to the ever reliable Wikipedia, a tradition dating to 1933. The same source says that about 125 million people visit the tree every year. A large percentage of them were there the night we dropped by. You can see some of them in the photos that follow.

We also viewed many of the decorated windows and exterior decor in some of New York’s “finest” stores..Those picture follow as well last set of photos are the illuminated “stars” that hand in the atrium of the Time Warner Shops at Columbus Circle and periodically change color. I hope that in these troubled times these photos will spread a bit of joy.

The last photo is of the socks that I absolutely do not want to own and will not wear under any circumstances so fuggedabowdit.

 

Mystery Mandarin Duck in Central Park

Some time back a Mandarin Duck mysteriously appeared in Central Park, joining the other ducks in the Duck Pond and attracting hordes of photographers and others crowding the shore to see him. He is an extraordinary creature and my wife and I were fortunate to see him up close today. At first he was far away under a bridge but then swam straight to the gaggle of photographers near us and then swam right up to where we were standing. No one knows how he came to be in the park but he/she is likely the most popular visitor this year and maybe ever.

A Trip to the Zoo

Central Park has a zoo of its own. It’s not the largest zoo around these parts, but it’s pretty interesting that such a place exists in the center of New York City. Last week we visited the place, camera in hand. The bird house and the snow leopards were probably the most interesting, the place was fun throughout. You can do the whole thing in an hour easily with time for a snack in the shop on the premises. Here are some photos. If you go, be aware that the birds in particular are very active so don’t stand around under them for long. If you know what I mean, and I’m sure you do.

PS- the bird in the featured photo at the top is a pidgeon.

 

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade – Part 2: Parade

As reported in the previous post, and against all reason, we went into the cold night air to look at a bunch of balloons moored with giant nets, in anticipation of one of the world’s most famous and enduring public spectacles: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

So, with the temperature hovering around 20 degrees F and winds of unknown but predicted seriously dangerous to people and possibly the balloons, we left home with high hopes. Our apartment building is almost exactly .25 miles from Columbus Circle around which the parade was reputed to pass on its way from the Upper West Side at West 77th Street to its destination at 6th Avenue and West 34th Street where sits … Macy’s Department Store. More about Macy’s in a future post.

Understand that the Macy’s website should be/must be the most precise and authoritative place to find information about the parade. It said that there was “no public viewing” of the parade at Columbus Circle. Yet, when we arrived there, hundreds or thousands of people were arrayed around the police barricades set up to keep viewers from interacting with the parade. Concerned that the police might clear the area at any time (“no public viewing”), we set out to find a place from which to watch and take some photos.

Aha! You can’t cross most of the streets in the area. They are blocked up with more barricades. The City of New York must hold an inventory of literally thousands of these gray aluminum contraptions that they haul out for every disruptive event in the city (they occur on average every week somewhere – street fairs, parades, protest marches, etc.). Anyway, keep walking away from the parade route to find a place to cross the street to find a place to watch the parade. We arrive finally in the middle of a crowd stacked up on 7th Avenue with a view of sorts of West 59th Street, the path of the parade after its circumnavigation of Columbus Circle.

From this place we could indeed see the giant balloons as they passed, although the band members (biggest bands in the world, comprised of seemingly hundreds of performers) could only be seen only if they were wearing tall hats or playing tubas. We also encountered my favorite kinds of people with whom to watch a parade. Some of them had camped out there since well before the parade started and left their folding chairs open so as to prevent other people from standing there. Others, including a particularly tall young man to my right, believed they could not be out on the streets of New York without a full backpack of … something. Every time this young man turned to speak to his friends behind him, his backpack collided with me. He never noticed this until I decided to stop being pushed aside and stood my ground. Still, he did not seem to notice that now he could not just swing around whenever he pleased. He actually had to turn his head. Victory was mine!

Meanwhile, the parade continued and we saw a lot of wonderful, gigantic balloons being pulled/handled/managed by teams of many people holding cables/ropes as best they could. The predicted wind did not seem to be a major factor and the crowd was so packed together after a while that their collective body heat effectively fought off the 21-degree air.

After more than an hour of this, we decided that coffee was in order, so we left to find same at one of the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts shops on West 57th, then repaired toward Columbus Circle to return home. However, by now, for reasons not clear, a large percentage of the crowd had left the Circle and we were able to watch the last quarter of the parade there. This included the Grinch balloon, the Singing Christmas Tree and, of course, Santa Claus and his reindeer at the end. So, below is a gallery of photos that I hope you, who had more sense than we, will enjoy from the warmth of your post-Thanksgiving holiday.

I actually do recommend that anyone in New York City at this time of year should make the effort, and it will be an effort, to see the parade. Once may well be enough, but it is indeed a spectacle to remember.