Blue Note Jazz Festival: Michel Camilo

I sat down to dirty looks from the gentleman and lady on either side of me as I squeezed myself into a table at Blue Note. The house looked nearly packed for Michel Camilo’s first set on Tuesday so it’s not like I could have chosen to sit elsewhere but I guess they wanted to make their discomfort known. Save the occasional jab, I was able to divert my attention to the music once the charismatic pianist walked on stage.

Of the shows I have covered this month for the Blue Note Jazz Festival, Michel Camilo is the only artist whose music I was familiar with beforehand and knew what to expect. I used to listen to his solo album because it was mysteriously on my old computer but his voicings and harmony sounded crunchier than I recalled. And I hadn’t realized the incredible extent of his percussive playing until I saw him live. I think he may be one of my favorite piano players.

Look away from the reflective floor tiles at Blue NoteI figured there wouldn’t be much new information since I had previously reviewed the restrooms but I had missed at least a couple crucial attributes. The black floor tiles in the women’s room are reflective; I could see more than just the silhouette of the person in the next stall. I suggest not peering too closely into the tiles to respect people’s privacy.  It was on this visit that I also noted that the restroom doors are smaller than standard interior doors.

Upon exiting the loo, I had to wriggle through the line of fans by the green room and heard a man walking up saying, “This doesn’t look like the men’s room line.” You should check that you’re not accidentally in line to greet the musician, if you find yourself at the end of a suspiciously long men’s room line at Blue Note.

Blue Note women's sinkBlue Note women's toilet

It’s been an enjoyable but exhausting month reviewing four times as many venues as I usually do, while my routine workload remains constant. On weekdays, I go to my full-time day job, where I do bookkeeping, keep toilet paper stocked and draw flies on my whiteboard, before heading uptown to work on my indie band’s EP at night. The last session, I discovered blood on the white coconut bar I snatched out of my bandmate’s freezer, confirming my suspicion that my gums were bleeding.

On weekends, I make an extensive list of the work I need to get done for myself then do nothing but nap and run outside while thinking about grammar. I often stay up into the wee hours on Sunday nights, editing radio segments with tissue in my nostril to stop my nose running from my New York allergy, since I work faster with both of my hands free. More than one friend has applied the word glamour to the work I do but I might call it something else.

I need a vacation and while I won’t make it as far as Europe this summer, below are travel tips from my Hungarian friend Andrea, who is doing research on international law here and in the Netherlands. You should know that it is customary to exchange three kisses on the cheek in the Netherlands but only two in Hungary. Andrea also explained that while the Dutch would ask for the bathroom in a direct way like “Where’s the toilet,” Hungarians would be inclined to say something more like “Which way do I find the restroom?” –

Merre találom a mosdót?

 


Blue Note Jazz Festival: The Town Hall

The bed bug scare is real.

My friend called to say that he couldn’t meet me at The Town Hall after all, in a state of emergency after having found a bed bug in his sheets. I did some quick research on my phone while waiting for comedian/improvising musician Reggie Watts to come on stage, and learned that infestations are prevalent in places with high volumes of people going in and out, including public spaces like theaters.

The Town Hall unisex restroom

The Town Hall is a theatre with a venerable history spanning nearly a century that must have greeted an innumerable number of butts in its approximately one and a half thousand extra-plump red velvet seats. The hallways showcase framed compact discs of live recordings at the venue by Mingus, Ornette, Dizzy, and many more. And while it is not a cozy jazz club by any means, Reggie Watts commented that it felt “like a big hug” and was “not too long.”

The architectural fashion must have differed back in the early 1900’s, with random configurations of restrooms, instead of the women’s and men’s room mirroring each other as in modern halls. The Town Hall has a handful of private unisex restrooms and a wheelchair-accessible restroom on the mezzanine level and a men’s room two floors below, down the stairs from the lobby and to your right when you enter. The women’s restroom is in the middle of the mezzanine with five stalls and two sinks, and a sitting room. The men’s room has a water fountain, not found in the women’s room, in addition to the bench for sitting.

The Town Hall women's sitting room benchThe Town Hall women's sitting room

The Town Hall women's stallsThe Town Hall women's room

Like any reputable and successful jazz festival, Blue Note is presenting a number of non-jazz artists in their month-long event. The Wednesday show was produced in conjunction with JazzReach and reviewed by JAZZ TOILET so it was actually a jazz show to the third degree. Reggie Watts even sang his rendition of “My One and Only Love” and a blues, mentioning that he has always wanted to be a part of a jazz festival. It looks like he figured out the quickest path to headlining a jazz festival — don’t play jazz.

To The Town Hall men's roomWatts introduced a tune on his Nord Electro entitled Minuet in D, saying it was composed by Miles, played by Coltrane, rearranged by Cannonball, then performed by Joni Mitchell and Pat Metheny. The person behind me (mis)heard and echoed Watts by saying “[Joni Mitchell] in a bikini,” then laughed out loud, which caused me to laugh out loud. I feel that I now fully comprehend the meaning of LOL, having attended this show. What an incredible talent; I was so taken with Reggie Watts that I only thought about bed bugs thirty-seven times during his show.

Once home, I sifted through my sheets for bugs and checked my phone before rubbing my eyes with my hands. Then I fell asleep wondering if I had rubbed fecal matter onto my eyeballs.

Mario, the ukelele-playing lawyer and happy baritone from Naples in Italy, tells us how to say “Where’s the restroom?” in Neapolitan –

A ddo’ sta’ o’ bagno?


Blue Note Jazz Festival: Postmodern Jukebox

I curiously observed the audience at Highline Ballroom on Monday night as they rose to a standing ovation for Postmodern Jukebox, a band that plays modern songs with an old-timey feel. Appreciating this band required more knowledge of pop culture than I have; instead of sounding like imaginative arrangements of played-out pop hits, the music sounded like generic vintage to me, since I knew just three of the fifteen to twenty songs played and had no basis for comparison with the originals.

With a few notable exceptions, the performers presented the kind of talent that is a dime a dozen in this city saturated with the best of the best. I don’t doubt that they were more talented than they revealed, but I couldn’t tell from the thirty-second horn solos and intentionally derivative delivery to harken back to decades past. An accessible and fun show for the greatest number of people seemed to be the point though, and that they achieved with polish and finesse.

Our tech support Jack reviewed the men’s room for us since I only reviewed the women’s room in our last visit. He reported three urinals, two toilets each in its own stall, three faucets, and one washroom attendant wearing a cool hat. The restroom is well-maintained and has a clean, modern design. Jack, who moonlights as an engineer for a leading manufacturer of electronic effects and musical instruments when not saving our blog from crashing, also mentioned that Highline Ballroom has a good sound system.

Highline Ballroom men;sHighline Ballroom men's

The leader/pianist of Postmodern Jukebox, Scott Bradlee, must be a smart guy. While many jazz musicians in the city are getting by on gigs that pay fifty bucks a night, he’s likely making living wages by leveraging his viral YouTube videos. His bio says that he has also worked as musical director for Sleep No More, the most popular and trendy of the immersive theatre works in the city. That’s a good gig. Some may call it selling out but if Bradlee is committed to creating what he calls an alternate universe of popular song, then he is every bit as authentic as the jazz purist.

And while there are numerous musicians who could pull off the same act, Postmodern Jukebox is the one who made it happen, alongside similar groups like CDZA, on YouTube. From the living room to the performance stage, they have broken through our LCD monitors and are continuing their first live tour in Europe now. Our customary translation of “Where’s the restroom?” in French from Belgian world-traveler and music-loving academic Claire should come in handy on a couple of their stops –

Où sont les toilettes?


Blue Note Jazz Festival: Sergio Mendes

Any doubt I had about seeing Sergio Mendes at B.B. King Blues Club over the last-minute lineup of Brad Mehldau and Christian McBride at Blue Note evaporated as the ensemble sambaed through classics from Tom Jobim, Dorival Caymmi, Baden Powell, Gilberto Gil, and Chico Buarque. A pop concert for the masses who lived through the bossa nova craze of the 60’s, the music, not to mention the artificial fog and row of singers sparkling in sequins, spoke louder than the monstrous plate of pit smoked meat nachos in my face. It channeled the energy of the venue Caneção in Rio, where I once saw the MPB star Simone sing, and brought a piece of Brazil to the heart of Times Square.

The audience could hardly contain themselves. In fact, one lady in the front kept getting up to dance, doing what we all wished we could do. It was almost like an involuntary reaction to the infectious joy that spread throughout the room and when given permission, the crowd eagerly rose to their feet for the hit Brasil ‘66 single “Mas Que Nada” and moved along to the rhythm, despite the limited space between tables.

The group came back on stage for not one, but two encores, and Sergio Mendes even signed a CD a fan handed him before walking off the stage for the final time. More than the fact that I actually wanted to hear encores after an hour of music, I was struck by the generosity of Mendes and his band.

Joining the 9-piece ensemble was a rapper from Oakland wearing a tee that read “Hello New York.” It may be a ploy to appear modern and edgy, but the timeless music didn’t benefit from his rap-singing and beatboxing and I don’t think anyone was there to see him. Still, his name was H2O and you can’t have JAZZ TOILET without H2O. Aside from him, there was another toilet reference gracing the stage. One of the backup singers, Katie Hampton, is known for having sung a Fresh Step cat litter jingle.

BB King Women'sBB King tiles

The women’s room hadn’t changed noticeably since our last review and had the same colorful floor tiles I admire. My friend Luciana from Minas Gerais in Brazil reviews the phrase “Where’s the restroom?” in Portuguese with us. It should come in useful if you’ll be at the World Cup kicking off this week in São Paulo.

Onde é o banheiro?

 


Shrine

The Delicioso Coco Helado carts have returned; summer is here once again. I grabbed a cup of coconut from a cart on 125th Street before turning up Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard to hear Anne Boccato sing with Gianni Gagliardi (saxophone), Quentin Angus (guitar), Bam Bam Rodriguez (bass), and Jay Sawyer (drums) yesterday. Fitting for a place called Shrine World Music Venue, each band member hailed from a different country, with the repertoire consisting of jazz and Brazilian music.

Arriving in between sets, I got to work right away documenting the two restrooms. Go down the stairs under the restroom sign that emits red light and you will see a door marked ladies on your left and a door marked men on your right. The light switch for the ladies room works the opposite of the standard way; press down to turn on the light and up to turn off. The light switch is conveniently illuminated when off so that you can find it without fumbling in the dark.

A metal basket visibly filled with toilet paper hangs in the corner, putting any concerns about running out of paper to rest. And if you had to sit for a while, though I wouldn’t sit on those toilets without seat covers, you could pass the time looking up at the vinyl record sleeves on the ceiling. They also cover other areas of the venue, leaving gaps where the sleeves were poorly aligned and empty 12”x12” spots where albums might have been before falling off.

The Shrine restroom doors

The Shrine restrooms

Anne’s dad and percussionist, Rogerio, clapped along rhythms from the audience, while his daughter sang and played caxixi at times. The father-daughter connection was pretty cute and reminded me of how I miss my dad. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a pilot just like my dad. When I became a teenager, I wanted to become a psychologist so that I could argue using jargon against my dad, who was then pursuing graduate studies in counseling. Now that I am old enough to be classified as an adult, I realized that I have become a writer, just like my dad.

The Shrine ladies' roomThe Shrine men's room

I checked out Anne’s brother’s senior show at Cooper Union a couple weeks prior and have heard Rogerio play many times in the past. Now I just have to go to Anne’s mom’s art show and I will be an official Boccato family groupie. Either because I have nearly achieved groupie-status or because they are a wonderful family, the Boccatos gave me a ride back home from the Shrine.

Upon returning home, I hung out with a few friends including Adeyemi from Lagos in Nigeria, a soon-to-be data scientist who loves to sing Frank Sinatra. Ade gave me the translation of “Where’s the restroom?” in Yoruba and explained that literally translated, the phrase means, “Where is the defecation room?” I think I want to start saying that in English.

E bo ni ilé igbonsè wa?

 


Caffe Vivaldi

I had more than a couple hours to kill before the 9pm set at Caffe Vivaldi last Thursday so I walked down from Penn Station as slowly as I could and wandered around the Village, eventually walking into Mamoun’s. While I typically avoid grimy places that are not jazz clubs, I frequent the restaurant in its East Village location because it makes me happy to sit there with falafel and hummus in hand, listening to Umm Kulthum or songs that are reminiscent of hers. A Middle Eastern music class I took on a whim in college introduced and deepened my appreciation for that music. I imagine jazz appreciation courses have much the same effect; they cultivate listeners who otherwise would have no connection to the music.

The West Village Mamoun’s had no seating and played some kind of Middle Eastern electronic fusion that I didn’t care for. So I went back outside and rambled past familiar venues like 55 Bar, LPR, and the Cornelia St. Cafe before ending up at Caffe Vivaldi. Upon observing the raucous crowd inside through the storefront, I hesitated to enter and circled the block once more to gather the necessary stamina. Come to think of it, I may have unconsciously been harboring adverse feelings from my last time at the venue when I was greeted with turd in the toilet.

Soon after the prior band wrapped up, the Marquès/Stinson/O’Farrill Trio began playing with their special guest, saxophonist Laura Andrea Leguia. Nodding along to another’s solo, Laura attempted to replicate the look of constipation favored by many a jazz musician but her face was much too pleasant to properly do so. It’s likely that she at least had the musical attributes of a jazz musician down but I couldn’t tell because there was too much competing for my attention. The guy sitting across from me started hum/singing another song complete with hand choreography, a car alarm went off outside, and patrons conversed loudly over their gluten-free pasta. Without knowing it, I too joined the crowd, yelling over the music to chat with my new friend across the table.

Caffe Vivaldi women's toiletCaffe Vivaldi women's room

Caffe Vivaldi is not always so chaotic. When I visited on a Sunday afternoon for a classical duo that time I found the present in the toilet, it was quiet and more of a listening room than a rowdy restaurant. There is one women’s room and one men’s room, both painted with reddish stripes.

GOP grapes?Caffe Vivaldi payphone by restrooms

The MSO Trio is comprised of Albert Marquès (piano), Walter Stinson (bass), and Zack O’Farrill (drums). Their website states that their music is “born of nights hanging out, eating lunch together, playing risk” and guarantees that you won’t merely hear a piano trio playing compositions if you listen to this trio. I don’t know about lunch but this much was true — I didn’t hear a piano trio, compositions, or anything over what essentially became dense white noise. It’s a good thing the jolly pianist Albert gave me a copy of their album because I have no idea what they sounded like.

Albert, who is from Barcelona in Spain, also gives us the translation of “Where’s the restroom?” in his first and native language, Catalan –

On és el lavabo?


Toshi’s Living Room

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.

Toshi's left-side restroomI 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.

Toshi's left-side restroom sinkToshi's Living Room restrooms

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 such a metropolis. 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.

Toshi's right-side restroom for your handsToshi's right-side restroom toilet

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.

Hdźe je nuznik?


Two-Year Mark

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.

The other toilet that started it all.

The toilet that started it all.

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.


Paddy’s

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.

Paddy's ladies sinkPaddy's ladies tp dispenser

Paddy's ladies trash binPaddy's ladies toilet

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.

Paddy's mens roomPaddy's ladies room

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 

Toilet kidar hai?


Metropolitan Room

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.

To the Metropolitan Room restroomsThere exists a middle stall.

Metropolitan Room women's toiletMetropolitan Room women's

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. I’ll think about making a longer list.

Ali from Lahore in Pakistan tells us how to say “Where’s the bathroom?” in Urdu –

Bathroom kahan hai?