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!

Big Disappointment Saved by a Walk in the Park

Spring has arrived and an old man’s thoughts turn to … a walk. We decide that the prospect of sun and 75 degree weather is the perfect day for a picnic in Central Park. We’ll take the subway to 79th Street, walk to Zabar’s, a well-known emporium for New York foods, get a box lunch and walk to the park for a picnic. Plan A.

While waiting for the train, we were treated to this young man prodigiously playing complex classical music on his electric piano;

This kid can flat out play! After each piece he would quickly stand, stiffly bow without expression and sit to resume playing. Sad to see such a talented young person playing for tips in the subway, but we showed our appreciation for his gifts with loud applause and money for the hat. The arrival of our train interrupted our reverie but it was a great start to the day.

We arrived at Zabar starving so we decided to eat lunch there. It’s a small place but we found seats and had a nice lunch.

Then we went next door to the Zabar market. This is the sign we saw there:

My wife and I traversed the store twice and filled a basket with about $100 worth of goodies, planning to have them delivered to our apartment later, so we could continue our plan to walk through Central Park. We asked the checker up front to confirm that they would deliver to us on West 59th Street, given the slight ambiguity in the sign’s meaning. I read it to mean that delivery was $6 but if you ordered more than $75 worth, you could get delivery free within the described area. That’s why, I thought, there was a line below the $6 Flat Delivery part of the sign.

Wrong. The checker called the manager over and, after we explained that lived one short block beyond the southern boundary described on the sign, he said “no, we don’t deliver to West 59th.” Wow, for one block, which isn’t even occupied for the most part (60th in that area is mostly commercial), they declined $100 or more in business for which we would have paid the $6 if necessary, plus the loss of all future delivery orders we might have purchased there. An odd business decision, in my judgment, but there it was.

Had it been up to me, I would have just left the basket of food and walked out, but my wife kindly retraced her steps and returned everything to its original location. We couldn’t un-slice the Black Russian bread, but they presented no argument.

Not to be deterred, we walked to and through Central Park on the most glorious day of the year so far, as attested by the massive crowds on foot and bicycle, snoozing on the grass and just soaking in the scene. We saw beautiful spring flowers.

Many people rented row boats and cruised the lake with some Canada Geese for company.

We came upon this jazz band laying down some great trad jazz tunes to a small audience of admirers;

More money for the hat. We sat in the sun and absorbed the music, then walked toward home, only to pass this scene in the Sheep Meadow:

I first I thought it was a protest march of some kind. How could I have missed that? But, no, just a lot of New Yorkers soaking up the rays and having a relaxing Saturday afternoon doing not much of anything. No rushing.

So, as puzzling as was the Zabar manager’s decision to refuse to deliver our order one extra block, our perseverance was well rewarded in other ways.  Alas, the weather forecast for Sunday is rain and 44 degrees. We shall remain upbeat, notwithstanding the cruelties of New York weather. The next day, as the saying goes, is another day.