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 –
On the last day of last month, I went to check out the new concert series at 61 Local in Brooklyn. Upstairs to the restaurant, the small yet open-feeling room with exposed brick walls was the perfect space to showcase bassist John Hébert with dancer Angelle Hébert. That is, except for the splinters from the hardwood floors that got into Angelle’s skin.
I was lured to the show partly because its start time at 6pm. I needed to get home early so that I could continue my online search for acceptable orthopedic sandals before retiring to bed. Granny-chic in Birkenstocks was acceptable in Berkeley and heels were fine when I was driving around LA but Manhattan has presented the impossible challenge of looking sharp while walking around for miles in gross weather.
The two bathrooms are located on the first floor past the dining area by the broom closet and a door marked “do not enter” with a skull. The ladies room had that Brooklyn hipster vibe with a mustache painted onto the mirror above the sink. A stick figure girl and boy on signs made of paper towels were pinned to each door.
Having run into the Pride Parade on my afternoon-long detour down from the Upper West Side to Brooklyn, I was reminded that the signs may not be so cute to those who don’t fit within the two-sex system. In fact, if I were intersex, those signs might induce anxiety each time I had to use the bathroom. The restaurant’s restrooms are for individual use though, so it matters less whether you identify with the anatomy depicted on the sign or not.
Sensing the synergy that I anticipated from the brother/sister duo, I was surprised to learn that they had never performed together before. Their performance was full of sonic and motor tics that gave me an indeterminable itchy sensation, similar in that way to Yayoi Kusama’s pieces at the Whitney last summer. Speaking of which, I’m going to check out this year’s hit exhibit, Rain Room at MOMA, and get on the Cronut bandwagon while I’m at it. It’s going to be a long morning of waiting in line but I’ll make sure to wear sensible shoes.
In this period of eating pastries and museum-hopping with friends, I’ve taken up Chinese to feel slightly more productive. While I don’t expect to become fluent, I’ve been enjoying learning about the culture and practicing sounds new to my tongue. ChuánXī from mainland China, who is teaching me Mandarin, tells us how to say, “Excuse me, where’s the restroom?” –
I hope those of you in the States had a relaxing Fourth of July. Since Ken® is away for the holiday weekend, I’m filling in once again and this time to rally for bidet awareness.
The last time I was in Korea, I pressed the most prominent button on a fancy public toilet to flush and ended up running away in shock when the toilet wouldn’t stop squirting water at me. Having spent a good chunk of my life in bidet-free USA, I was unaware of such a modern advancement, dating back to at least the 1700′s. In fact, I only learned while researching for this post that bidets in many countries, including France where it originated, are actually separate fixtures and not integrated into toilets, like in Korea and Japan.
Here is a SNL clip on the bidet.
“How’s everyone doing – is everyone holding their water? When there’s a long set, sometimes people need a pee break.” Ever the thoughtful one, bandleader Laila Biali surveyed the audience an hour into the last Friday night of her May residency at Subculture, a venue in its debut month. Pressing down on the piano pedals barefoot, she displayed equal freedom in her voice as she sang, joined by drummer Ben Wittman, electric bassist Chris Tarry and violinist Zach Brock.
Downstairs from the Culture Club, the new venue differs from most other jazz-presenting places in the city in that it appears spacious, clean and well-ventilated, despite its subterranean setting. The chairs set up in rows make Subculture feel like a casual small auditorium, laid-back with its industrial, urban interior design. Rather than showcase its name on the stage backdrop, the club drilled a huge sign onto the wall behind the bar, visible immediately upon entering the room.
I also noticed the name engraved into a tile lining the wall of the ladies room, along with tiles holding carefully considered images to match the overall design. The restroom is between the wheelchair accessible and men’s room in the back corner by the bar. Strangely, the door marked with a sign of a stick figure in a wheelchair had little behind it that made it distinctly accessible. It lacked the requisite grab bars, among other necessities. Essentially, it was a nice bathroom for one, instead of with two stalls and sinks like the shared women’s room.
Having just returned from a trip home to beautiful and comfortable Los Angeles, I was in a sulk about being back in this humid and congested city. Seeing that it was a pleasant night out, I decided to walk up a subway stop or two after Laila’s show. On my stroll through Greenwich Village, I ran into a couple guys who were headed to Blue Note to see one of our friends play. Another musician friend then ran into us, on his way to catch the train to Jazz Standard from the Bar Next Door. This happens in LA… never.
I’ll remember why I love New York on the days when I’m walking up to my tiny place, having to step skillfully between a giant cockroach and a condom on the stairs. Seydina from Senegal tells us how to say, “Where’s the restroom?” in his mother tongue, Wolof –
As I stood in line to enter Le Poisson Rouge (LPR), I wondered when I’ll be of the age where the bouncer only cards me to be polite. As the proverbial saying goes, time flies and I haven’t really started checking out the contemporary classical/new music scene in the city nearly a year into my resolution. To encourage myself to do so, I signed up for membership at LPR, a venue that presents the best in a range of creative music, including jazz and the avant-garde. A newly minted member, I was able to catch Rudresh Mahanthappa’s ensemble Gamak free of the cover charge and feel official holding my gray membership card with a red fish on it.
Though I hadn’t heard the saxophonist live before, I was already a fan of his incredible intensity and facility from listening on Myspace years ago. This was a high-energy music, complete with fist pounding between Rudresh Mahanthappa and guitarist David Fiuczynski and a lot of sweat from bassist François Moutin. The moppy-haired bassist had to constantly dry his head with a big towel and shook his head so much that I wondered if he felt dizzy or was losing brain cells.
Drummer Dan Weiss followed suit and had a towel around his neck by the last piece, perspiring from the abundant solos where he played the trap set more like a frame drum or tablas. The guitarist switched between two double-neck electrics to play microtonal solos also invoking a world of influences. The monstrous-looking guitars took some getting used to, even for a person easily excited by the sight of mutant strawberries.
A large venue with exposed pipes and vents overhead, Le Poisson Rouge has sizable restrooms to match its performance space. Past the photo booth and the big, cushy, grungy-looking chairs, you’ll find the women’s room to your left and the men’s room straight ahead. The women’s restroom has seven stalls, two hand dryers and a long sink with two faucets. I preferred to use the faucet on the right with trickling water rather than the faucet on the left where I ended up splashing water all over.
The dim lighting proved a bit problematic as I had to take photos on my little video camera. I did chant my mantra, “Zoom, cam, Ken®” as always to remind myself to bring my Zoom to record audio, camera to take photos and Ken® to model by the toilets but grabbed the wrong camera on my way out. I must have been just out of it that day because I also got to LPR an hour early, thinking the show started at a different time than it did .
Jovana from Serbia tells us how to say, “Where’s the restroom?” in Serbian –