It was a rather unusual Wednesday. At the beckoning of a friend, I went to the theater at Union Square on a whim. Usually, I go after much consideration or guilt-tripping from my sister, who says I should be willing to endure a couple hours of a movie given the countless jazz shows she has had to sit through because of me. But as I said, this was an unusual day. A gas leak leveled two buildings in East Harlem that morning and I heard the news through my dad in LA, who relayed the message from my concerned aunt in Seoul.
I live about a half-hour walk away from the site and was unaffected. I enjoyed the movie and walked up Broadway to 26th Street with my friends to catch up at Toshi’s Living Room. Having passed by its glass facade before, I imagined it a swanky place I wouldn’t care to visit, where the kind of jazz showcased is smooth saxophone playing by blondes wearing tube top dresses. My good friend Andrea Wood was singing that night and while she is indeed blonde with a repertoire of pop and R&B-infused jazz, her quartet made up of Angelo Di Loreto (piano), Jeff Koch (bass), and Philippe Lemm (drums) presented themselves in a way that catered to audience members with all of their varying expectations.
Don’t take my word on the vibe of the venue. I’ve been there once and am only qualified to report what I observed in the restrooms on the second floor. You will see the hallway with two unisex restrooms once you turn left after going up the stairs by the adjoining hotel lobby and around the two-story fish tank. Based on their cleanliness, it seemed that the restrooms did not get frequent attention. The first bathroom was not well-maintained and the bathroom farther down the hallway had a Ricola wrapper in the sink and a Starbucks cup of dark yellow-brownish liquid by the faucet, which raised questions in my head.
My architect friends were delighted to see the sofas on the second floor lounge. Apparently, the red seats at Toshi’s are expensive pieces of furniture called Ligne Roset — just down the hall from the trash-strewn restrooms. It’s commonplace for luxury to dwell visibly with unassociated items, especially in a city like New York. This extends even to the virtual realm; while trying to read an update on the East Harlem explosion on the mobile site of The New York Times, a Cartier ad flashed on the screen before I reflexively closed it.
Gordian, the optimistic banker from Bautzen, Germany tells us how to say “Where’s the restroom?” in Upper Sorbian, which he speaks with family and friends in his hometown. I had no idea that there were three minority languages in Germany, of which Upper Sorbian is one.
Today marks two years since I published a blog post on the Village Vanguard with the same enthusiasm and excitement I have for each of my pet projects. It has been great having a platform to share my writing and I’ve been able to observe more than toilets and jazz along the way.
I noted that most readers assumed the writer to be male when I first launched this blog. I’m beginning to think about what it means for writing to be gendered and specifically what it means given that I write in English, a language without masculine and feminine nouns like the romance languages.
In the past two years, the JAZZ TOILET team has reviewed toilets in thirty-eight jazz clubs and collected translations of “Where’s the restroom?” in over thirty-eight dialects, spoken by as many as 848 million in Mandarin, as few as 400,000 in Luxembourgish, and by an unknown number in a space alien language.
Special thanks to my friends at International House for providing many of the translations, Blue Note Entertainment Group for continually reaching out, and venues to remain unnamed for taking the time to reject us. It has been an interesting two years, meeting curious people, lonely people, creepy people, and talented people.
There are shifts in the works for the year or two ahead, though you may not notice any immediate changes on the blog. Expect a comeback of the Extra Edition covering jazz-incubating locations other than clubs and revisits to venues with new information on their toilets. I still plan on one Tuesday Toilet Talk per month, though not necessarily on the second Tuesday, as my main priorities are to engage in fewer heartburn-inducing activities and invest more time in people. Eliciting shock from friends who run into me gets old fast; I’d rather be a familiar face. I also hope to become a familiar voice to you as JAZZ TOILET continues to develop.
I spent much of Saturday sick in bed, not especially wanting to head downtown to review a new venue. Thankfully, I got a text from my friend Phillippe notifying me of his regular session at Paddy’s around the corner, where students from nearby Manhattan School of Music can be found on such nights. Fueled by the Seamless delivery of sushi from down the street and a three hour nap, I threw on a coat and mustered the energy to putter over.
The band consisted of Philippe Lemm (drums), Alex Goodman (guitar), and Sharik Hasan (keys), with many others sitting in. Seldom crossing paths with my music friends these days, I was instantaneously happy to see them and glad for the chance to be present. Though I’ll never have a shortage of friends between the non-musicians that want me to perform at their weddings and the musicians that find me resourceful, it’s good to hang out with people, even if only to exchange a few words and accompany them as they buy beef jerky and milk on the way home.
With its combination of bar games and live jazz, Paddy’s made me think of a tiny Fat Cat, only much more favorable because I could hear the music, save the occasional interruption from the skeeball machine, and didn’t feel suffocated by the crowd, even though it’s only a fraction of the size of the dive bar downtown. Beer brands and logos cover a great area of the bar, and even the mirrors in the men’s and women’s bathrooms.
The two bathrooms outfitted with sinks, toilets, trash bins and various dispensers, all in black, were well-lit and neither disappointed nor exceeded my expectations. Each red door is clearly marked with the letter corresponding to the words, ladies and men. The space is small and uncomplicated in its configuration so you should have no problem locating the restrooms.
Sharik, who hails from India, is fluent in English, French, Urdu, and Hindi. Philippe speaks Dutch, English, and likely German. And it’s possible that Alex speaks French since he’s from Canada. I learned that the Hindi translation of our key phrase is identical to the Urdu translation “Bathroom kahan hai?” from the last issue. Sharik tells us another way to ask “Where’s the restroom?” in Hindi –
We pick up where we left off last year on the jazz/cabaret scene heading downtown to Metropolitan Room. Excited to finally get to see Annie Ross of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, a vocalist I had idolized in my teens, and shivering from the biting cold, I rushed inside and was seated at a small table a week ago from today. Red velvet cake with tea seemed appetizing but I ended up ordering two drinks instead after the waitress clarified that the two beverage minimum excluded desserts and literally meant beverages only.
My worry that I would have to bother parties on either side of me during the show to go to the restroom after taking in so much liquid was unfounded; the slim glass cup for tea didn’t hold much water and the other drink, which had a curious taste of having been juiced from oranges about to go bad, was filled with mostly ice. Though outfitted with elaborate chandelier lamp shades and glittering decorations, it became apparent that the venue was penny-pinching in other areas. It’s the difference between thick, soft toilet paper and the kind you have to roll double the usual amount; all things being equal, the quality of paper is the real indicator of luxury in a place.
Follow the signs downstairs to visit the men’s and women’s restrooms. I try to avoid going on the heels of the show for fear of a long line out of the women’s room but I was relieved to find it empty. Take note that there are three toilets in a row, even though with the handleless door closed it can look as though the middle stall is bolted shut. There are two sinks clearly visible and well-illuminated by a row of dressing room light bulbs.
Jimmy Wormworth (drums), Neal Miner (bass), Warren Vaché (cornet), and Tardo Hammer (piano) accompanied Ms. Ross through an entertaining set of classic standards. She charmed and spoke her way through songs, able to engage me more than singers with accurate pitch but little character. Maybe that kind of charisma is just something that comes with experience, age, and legendary status. I wonder what it would have been like to hear her in her youth, back when she had the limber voice that made “Twisted” a hit.
I had been meaning to go see Annie Ross at Metropolitan Room since I moved to New York. Now that I’ve crossed that off my bucket list, all that remains is Monday night at the Village Vanguard and the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Maybe I should have a longer list.
Ali from Lahore in Pakistan tells us how to say “Where’s the bathroom?” in Urdu –
With the Great American Songbook as the soundtrack, I visualized the rabbits painted behind the bar in animated motion about the park, kayaking in a lake, hunting with a shotgun, and napping on a bench. These depictions of leisurely rabbit life in the city by Ludwig Bemelmans covered the antique gold-brushed walls, the columns surrounding the baby grand and the lamp shades on the tables. Served by a bartender suited in one of those red bellhop uniforms with gold buttons while taking in the place abuzz with patrons, you could feel the same kind of high experienced as a child on a carousel, but with the adult option of booze.
I felt as though I was on vacation, searching for my grandfather’s whisky among the bottles of spirits and daydreaming as the Loston Harris Trio played. I met Loston last month on Veteran’s Day, which happened to coincide with the Korean Pepero Day. We chatted in between sets and he asked about my Thanksgiving and whether I had a place to go for the holidays. Incidentally, last Tuesday when I saw him at The Carlyle was National Roof Over Your Head Day. I guess every day is a holiday with Loston.
Make a sharp left after you step out of the bar to find the restrooms to your right. The door painted with a top hat and cane was significantly wider than the door painted with a profile of an androgynous head and a long neck with a visible Adam’s apple. I figured that the slimmer door led to the ladies room because I had the hat and cane door as a point of comparison.
Of the four stalls in a row, I first tried the one to the far right but moved one over to the left after seeing that the toilet was not fully flushed. The second from the right was missing a hook to hang my bag so I ended up using the one to the far left with double coat hooks, since the other unexamined stall was occupied. Though the paper towels held up to hotel standards, the thickness and quality of toilet paper disappointed. The restroom had Kleenex® brand tissue and four soap pumps for three sinks. You will likely have to flush more than once because the water pressure is weak.
Loston Harris (piano/vocals), who was joined by Gianluca Renzi (bass) and Ian Hendrickson-Smith (tenor sax), continues his three-month residency at Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle through the final night of the year. He’s a true gentleman.
Alyssa from Luxembourg tells us how to say “Where’s the restroom?” in Luxembourgish –
Readers, I am thankful for you and wish you a wonderful holiday season with family and friends. While unable to return home to LA this winter, I am grateful for technology that allows me to stay in touch. Now that my whole family is on FaceTime, my dad can point out blemishes on my face without having to see me in person, taking care of much of the ritual of the family gathering online.
In this Thanksgiving post, we say thanks to KMac, as he steps down from the men’s room correspondent position he has dutifully held since our inception. I am proud to say that he is moving on to bigger and better things, leaving New York to fill the drum chair in the Navy Band. Look out for a special issue in the next year, when we visit him in DC.
Before he left, KMac gave me a book by Ben Ratliff titled The Jazz Ear: Conversations over Music for what he called my journalistic aspirations. I, in turn, got him something for his sartorial pursuits because he kept telling me about how cool he plans to dress when off-duty. It’s just as well that we are parting ways because clearly, we have different priorities.
Farewell Petty Officer KMac – we salute you or whatever it is they do in the navy.
And Ken® – you’re fired.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Promised “spooky surprises” from pianist Glenn Zaleski’s “Halloween” Trio, I went despite the knowledge that Glenn would not be wearing a pumpkin costume. Other than sporadic onomatopoeic sounds from drummer Ari Hoenig and a spooky arrangement of Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning,” the trio did not deliver on its promise; however, it did surprise with an inventive performance of “All The Things You Are,” a rare arrangement in that the audience did not emit a collective groan at the song being covered yet again.
Bassist Matt Clohesy completed the trio, bringing his years of experience playing in rock bands for kids, having opened for the likes of the Jonas Brothers and possibly even Miley Cyrus in the nation’s capital. Hailing from Australia, he is one of the trailblazers of the string of fine bassists from down under on the New York scene today. And Glenn – he confided that he sometimes uses the women’s room at Smalls because it’s like heaven compared to the men’s room.
The bathroom at the Jazz Gallery’s new location on Broadway felt homely, in a bare bones kind of way that was epitomized by the outlet on the wall opposite with a strip of black over it and a handwritten sign that said, “SPARKS WERE COMING OUT OF THIS OUTLET. PLEASE INSPECT.” An extra roll of heart-shape embossed household toilet paper rested on the toilet below the shelf with packs of industrial paper towels. A separate closet housed the toilet so that a person could use the adjacent sink even if the throne is occupied and a greenish drape covered the storage area across from the water closet. Though I read that there were two public restrooms, I only noticed the one.
Located in an old building in the Flatiron District, the space surprised a couple visitors with its fifth floor instead of basement level occupancy and boasted unusually high ceilings for a space that functions as a jazz club. A music student sat in the modest foyer of the building to direct people up the elevator, while practicing guitar surrounded by his macbook, music stand and space heater. That doesn’t seem like a bad gig, considering the difficulty of finding a practice room in this city.
With the exorbitant rent in Manhattan, it makes economical sense for the Gallery to share the space with a church, incidentally called Gallery Church. There are a number of churches hosting jazz events from St. Peter’s Church to Neighborhood Church of Greenwich Village, but the Jazz Gallery’s concerts differ in that they are run independently of the church supplying the space. Glenn runs concerts in an alternative venue too, along with his girlfriend/violinist Tomoko and invisible cat Stella, presenting their peers and the most promising young jazz artists in the cozy setting of their Brooklyn apartment.
Jenny from Thailand tells us how to say “Where’s the restroom?” in Thai. If you’re male, make sure to change the last word to say “Hong nam yoo nai krab?”
If there’s one thing I wish more jazz concerts had, it’s an arc governing the performance that unites the sequence of songs into one cohesive piece. With the exception of a few consummate performers, musicians tend to play one song after another, prefaced by some generic introduction that ends with “I hope you enjoy it.” That usually gets me thinking, “I hope this is the last song.” While every concert certainly does not need to be planned according to the golden ratio, I would appreciate the band making an intentional choice about the way their performance flows, instead of defaulting to a linear, static model.
John Scofield’s Überjam Band, whether by default or due to the nature of the music, upheld the jazz tradition of stringing tunes together with Avi Bortnick (guitar/samples), Andy Hess (bass), and Tony Mason (drums) on the first day of autumn. Scofield’s mouth opened and moved, as if he were singing and not his Telecaster, wailing through guitar solos and providing contrast to the ambient and at times hypnotic mood of the long set. My friend Adam informed me that Scofield has been using the same Ibanez for decades and only parted with the guitar for the Überjam album/tour. Albeit untouched, the Ibanez was displayed on stage, likely to fulfill an endorsement deal.
I looked around to the bar in the back and to the dance floor in front of the stage, where a small but growing crowd stood, many holding up phones to record video and take photos. I looked across the cramped communal table into the clueless libertarian eyes of my men’s room correspondent KMac and wondered how we are able to be friends and work together. Truly, JAZZ TOILET is an equal opportunity employer.
I put KMac to work in photographing the men’s room at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill while he complained that I’m a tough boss. I’ve been called worse.
The men’s room had two urinals and two stalls with toilets, one of which is wheelchair accessible. The women’s room had four stalls with one wheelchair accessible. The photos were taken before doors opened so they do not show the lotion and candy that the bathroom attendants maintain for tips, like in its sister venue, Highline Ballroom. B.B. King’s genial Drew showed us the bathrooms in the two dressing rooms backstage as well. The larger dressing room’s bathroom had bigger square black floor tiles instead of the colorful little ones in the other three. All were clean.
The venue is located in the heart of Times Square, half a block away from the subway station and across the street from Madame Tussauds wax museum and Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Odditorium. Their dress code discourages shorts, though it didn’t seem like it would matter, and the conscientious waiter discouraged us from ordering the fried green tomatoes, which we ordered anyway.
Moses from Malawi translates “Where’s the toilet?” into his country’s common language, Chichewa –
“Ten dollars and ID,” interjected the lady brusquely, as to not interrupt the conversation she was having with her friend on the steps of the entrance to Nublu. I surrendered what she demanded and stepped into the place. Standing on an enclosed square base with each side only as long as the width of an average American front door, I felt as though I was already in the venue’s restroom. I tried one of the doors that made up three of the four sides and pulled back the heavy curtains to enter the East Village club four Fridays ago.
With bassist Joonsam Lee and drummer Sangmin Lee leading their respective trios, their sets were collectively billed a “K-Jazz” night. While Joonsam played an arrangement or two of Korean folk songs with keyboardist Glenn Zaleski and drummer Ari Hoenig, there was little that distinguished the music as specifically Korean. Sangmin Lee’s trio with “Big” Yuki Hirano on keys and Randy Runyon on guitar featured tight rock-based grooves, similar to the first trio in its loud, organ-shaking amplification.
Seeing my buddy/JAZZ TOILET tech support Jack confused about the K-Jazz label, I explained to him that the night was billed as such because there are Koreans involved. On a related note, a Jordanian friend was raving about food she had tried at a popular Korean restaurant somewhere in Egypt, citing the duck in particular. I informed her that we don’t eat duck. It’s possible that less fortunate souls without Korean friends walked out of that restaurant or the show that night, not knowing duck from Korean fried chicken or “K-jazz” from the Korean tendency to claim things their people do, both good and bad, as their own.
I went down the stairs behind the bar to go to the restroom with old Nublu posters plastering the walls and profanities covering the door. It had everything one would need, though the hand soap was difficult to locate, hidden in the shadows inside the large sink. I came back up and was staring at the door at the top of the stairs when I noticed that it said “WC” among the layers of stickers. I opened the door to discover another unisex restroom with the same red glow and cool graffiti.
The venue was filled with the smell of incense and Butch Morris relics, including a large photo of him with his index finger up that seemed a popular photo backdrop for visitors. How did he host his conduction sessions in this club with its disco ball, rowdy people and noise? He was adamant about vocalists not using microphones in a conduction workshop I had the opportunity to participate in before he passed. With so many legends in the jazz community passing away recently, I’ve been feeling more of an urgency to check out the remaining masters while they are still around.
Vinh from Vietnam, a country similar to Korea in its Cold War involvement and its American nail salon workers, tells us how to politely ask “Where’s the restroom?” in Vietnamese –
Swinging standards resonate through the walls, providing the best acoustics of any jazz spot restroom I’ve visited. On the bluish green walls hang a couple miscellaneous pieces of art that look like they might have been found at a garage sale, but the music playing as you take care of business has class. Though the trash can’s rusting exterior is uninviting, the toilet handle’s weighted action and sink faucet’s retro charm are agreeable. Reach higher than usual to turn the doorknob, and step out of the restroom to come face to face with the band.
Harlem’s newest jazz venue, Shell’s Bistro felt like an old neighborhood hang even though the demographics inside the place looked more racially diverse than outside. Several blocks North of the main street, it didn’t seem like the venue would turn up as I walked by a deli and a school. And yet, there it was protruding from the bottom level of a residential building, next to a possibly shuttered thrift shop.
I learned that tourists visit each Thursday, as they did the past Thursday, occupying the front half of the small restaurant. If I were coordinating the tour, I would recommend the Village Vanguard or Smalls for the compulsory jazz component of the New York experience. But Shell’s Bistro also checks off the Harlem category and welcomes guests with its cluttered but cozy atmosphere, reminiscent of Wally’s in Boston. The tour group left around half past eleven, whisked away by the guide who said to the bartender as she left, “excuse me, you need some towels for the bathroom.”
The bartender was kept busy through the night, with tasks ranging from a take-out order for pie to a request to put some jazz on when the band went on break. Instead, he put on a live recording of Sade on the television in the back corner. I only recognized the singer with certainty because I’ve been watching her music video “When Am I Going to Make a Living? on replay last week. The song’s message seems relevant as I continue to contemplate this paradoxical life of unemployment, reading leisure articles on my new macbook air and making plans to go eat delicious goods with friends on my iPhone 5. Then I think about my dad growing up in developing South Korea, with nothing but tree bark to eat for sustenance. He used to mention this when I would refuse meat, recalling wistfully the difficulties the tree bark caused for his bowel movements.
I’d be willing to check out this place again; I’m curious about their red velvet waffle and it’s only a thirty minute walk East from where I live. The musicians seemed friendly though leader/bassist Curtis Lundy hardly said anything during the sets except to yell out instructions to drummer Chris Beck while pianist Paul Odeh soloed.
Sunsila from Nepal tells us how to say our usual phrase in Nepali –