The Flatiron Room

Apparently, everybody hangs out on 26th Street between Broadway and 6th on Friday nights. Passing the time with a friend, I saw five other friends while strolling around the block on the weekend. One of them was my bass-playing pal Jeff who was about to go play at the Flatiron Room. He told me our friend and guitarist Adam would also be playing and convinced me to come to the gig with his characteristic unabashed and genuine enthusiasm. So I showed up to the posh room, feeling underdressed in jeans and boat shoes.

The Flatiron Room women's mirrorThe Flatiron Room women's restroom

The Flatiron Room women's sinkThe Flatiron Room women's toilet

Even though the Flatiron Room sounded familiar and boasts live jazz nightly on its announcement outside, it hadn’t made it onto my radar of venues. The retro room felt upscale and like a solid place, not a shoddy spot covered with faux-luxurious decorations. Classic heart-shaped bistro chairs circled the tables toward the front and bottles of whiskey were visible overhead and all around.

The jazz quartet framed by the lush curtains on stage felt like an extension of the decor, a life-size piece of artwork with choreographed figures creating ambience. Or sort of like a cuckoo clock but with jazz musicians appearing for forty-five minute sets on the hour. I naturally thought of Erik Satie’s furniture music, music as wallpaper, music not to be listened to. From where I was in the middle of the venue, latching myself onto the wooden standing table inconspicuously so that I wouldn’t be prompted to order overpriced tea, I struggled to hear the band.

The Flatiron Room women's overflowing wastebasketBut the muted volume mattered not. With a gardenia over her ear, the anonymous singer called to mind images of Billie Holiday and made gestures stereotypically associated with jazz/cabaret singers. While everyone seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere, most seemed oblivious to the music. I scanned the crowd and saw that there was a gentleman that appeared attentive – it turned out he was Jeff’s dad.

For such an elegant place, the Flatiron Room had subpar toilet paper of the cheap variety. The thin toilet paper clashed with their lavish paper towels and the sepia portraits on each of the three stall doors. You can see in the photo that the paper towels were overflowing from the trash. An employee came in to tidy up the restroom while I was in there so the mess may have been because the basket does not have the capacity to hold an adequate amount of trash and spills over between cleanings. I would recommend a larger wastebasket there to maintain a neater restroom.

The Flatiron Room women's stall door1The Flatiron Room women's stall door2The Flatiron Room women's stall door3

I was giddy to find that I could take adequate pictures of the dark room on my phone using my keychain flashlight on the impromptu review and discovered that the music from the stage is clearly audible through the speakers while in the bathroom. Taking in nostalgic melodies that teetered between keys, I admired the nice wall lamps and vintage portraits with the same potential for creepiness as porcelain dolls.

Sutong, who majored in Albanian language in China, studied abroad in Albania and came to NYC for grad school, tells us how to say “Where’s the restroom?” in her adopted language, Albanian –

Ku është banjo?


Takeaways from MuseumCamp

I recently went to camp at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH) and spent several days and nights with museum professionals, arts consultants, community organizers and the like, convinced that this year’s theme of social impact assessment would have something to do with the themes I explore on this toilet blog. After breaking up into teams, each team identified a social outcome to measure at a local site in Santa Cruz. Teams tested hypotheses ranging from watching films at the Del Mar Cinema increasing civic pride for locals to people with a shared affinity in a specific artist being more likely to interact with strangers at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center. You can read about the projects here – my team project is the one with the typo that says “pubic art” instead of “public art.”

I found that many of the questions that the teams raised to formulate the hypotheses were of the sort that I think about when I review sites for JAZZ TOILET: Who is coming to these places? How is the organization serving its community? How is the community defined and who is excluded? Is this venue positively or negatively impacting the arts economy? How does the location and layout attract/repel certain populations? What relationship does the listener have to the music, to the venue?

Sleeping at the feet of the princess at MuseumCampMy head is full of questions, some seemingly too fluffy to be answered with hard data. MuseumCamp has taught me though that we can answer those questions by formulating hypotheses in response, identifying indicators, developing and using creative evaluation tools to measure the indicators, and analyzing the results.

Moreover, conversations and moments at the Santa Cruz MAH have resparked my career as an artist, which has been largely dormant in my early retirement as a resigned twenty-something this past year. Place and posture can exert great influence on creativity and I discovered the museum to be an inspired home. Feeling tired, I sat down on one of the two painted chairs in its three-floor elevator; the act of sitting in a museum elevator spurred me to think that my Brazilian Jazz duo should perform in elevators.

A term often applied to bossa nova in a derogatory fashion, it would be interesting to turn “elevator music” on its head and provide world-class bossa nova to anyone that enters the elevator. Live elevator music would be the antithesis of elevator music. If you see a person with a MuseumCamp patch on her backpack scoping out elevators in Manhattan, that’ll be me. Please feel free contact me if you have suggestions for elevators or are interested in having me in your elevator. And as they say on Craigslist, serious inquiries only.

Other than learning that the immeasurable is measurable and feeling rejuvenated creatively, I came back from camp thinking that when I grow old, I would like to be one of those people that pronounces the words humor and human with a Y instead of an H sound, just like my team mentor Paul Harder. My sister advised against it, however, and said that I would have to also pronounce the word schedule without the hard C sound so now I’m on the fence about it.

Finally, my only regrets from MuseumCamp are the following: not walking to the beach to see the seals; forgetting the proper pronunciation of the word lanyards; and not getting to meet all ninety-nine of the other happy campers. Thanks to Fractured Atlas for sending me to camp, Nina Simon and Ian Moss for being the best camp counselors and fellow campers for sharing much of themselves. Camp buddies for life!


Everybody needs a vacation.

at the beachFeeling a bit burnt-out after last month, I’ve decided to take a summer vacation and so there will not be a post for July and maybe even August. A bit of a personal update, but what’s not a personal update on here?

I’m thrilled to be heading home to California tonight for Museum Camp at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. I hear we will be learning about social impact assessment and exchanging lanyards. I’ve never done formal research in social impact and haven’t made lanyards since elementary school, so I’m sure it will be an enriching experience.

I hope that you, too, are having an enriching and enjoyable summer.


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?