I’m not sure how this happened but I have now been blogging about toilets in jazz clubs for three years. Those years have flown by and I’ve grown much; you may have witnessed a piece of this growth if you have been following this site closely. I started allotting just one space after the period and my views on clear and economical comma usage are continuing to evolve. I have yet to feel like I can use the adjective “killing” in an authentic way and not feel like I’m using it as a parody of the jazz musician—I think I’ve accepted that day may never come.
I checked out many venues and musicians I wouldn’t have seen if it weren’t for the need to review a new space. I met lots of people to ask for translations of “Where’s the restroom?” in their native as well as adopted tongues and am currently tweeting one a day for this month with #JT3yr to commemorate the third year. I also got to work with a great team of friends. Before Ken® was let go, he appeared in each post; you can play “Where’s Waldo?” on this site and look for him in photos up to Thanksgiving 2013.
Thanks in part to this blog, I’ve learned to harness the power of processing and uncovering ideas through the act of writing and have even been given a job as a writer/editor. On a somewhat related note, I once was attempting to type on my French friend’s laptop when I noticed that it was very difficult for me to do so because it was a different keyboard from that I was accustomed to typing English, Korean and Portuguese. I asked him why the French bother to have a different layout instead of just sticking to the QWERTY one. He replied by saying that it is a means of having power because control over language equals power. Doesn’t that make perfect sense?
In many ways, this has been a documentation of my life in New York City. I feel that I really live here now having gone through the all-too-common “That’s it! I’m moving back to LA” phase and having stayed, yet feeling no strong pull to stay despite my close friends and communities here.
This third year marks the end of regular reviews and I don’t know if and when I will blog on here again. If you think you might miss my voice, don’t worry—you’ll be able to hear it through many other outlets.
Thank you for reading, thank you for your encouragements, thank you for the curiosity. I hear the Village Vanguard has renovated their restrooms since the first review in 2012. Maybe I’ll see you there. Feel free to tweet or email me anytime. Take care and please remember to flush!
He had the same baby face, only with a full beard and long dreads, and his big eyes widened as he scanned the room and saw me sitting at one of the little tables. It was pianist Victor Gould’s gig at the new venue Mezzrow and the late set Friday was the first that I had really heard him play since we graduated from the arts high school in Los Angeles.
At the end of the night, Victor introduced me to his sweetheart as having been the student director for the vocal jazz ensemble back in high school. I had all but forgotten and was dumbfounded that this was what my classmate would remember about me nearly a decade later. What I remember about Victor was that he walked slowly and had a nut allergy but I’m sure that he has not forgotten about his allergy.
I was always amazed that he made the two-hour train ride commute each way from Simi Valley to school. I lived ten minutes away and got placed in detention, affectionately called Lunch Bunch, for being tardy every day. I thought about these things, listening to the duo and taking sips of my tea. All the musicians hanging out and the fact that my tea came in a San Antonio mug painted with red peppers and flames made Mezzrow an endearing venue and I felt moved to donate a mug to their collection.
The bathroom is located to the right of the bar with the door framed by bead curtains. If you pull the hot water faucet forward in the conventional fashion, you will get an anemic trickle of not-quite-hot water. To get an adequate flow of water going, push the cold water faucet away from you. And please press down on the tank lever to ensure that the toilet flushes completely. I heard through the grapevine that there is a secret bathroom in addition to this one.
Mezzrow is a piano room so I didn’t quite understand why it was named after a clarinetist. I looked up Mezz Mezzrow and read on Wikipedia that he insisted on being put in the colored section of the prison while incarcerated. Do you recall what happens to One-Sixteenth Black of The Mau Maus in the film Bamboozled?
Victor called standards as they went and when he called “Easy to Remember,” bassist Eric Wheeler couldn’t remember it so they segued to “Con Alma.” For the second set, a saxophonist joined them. This tenor player had a way of making you trust him through his playing—when he played out, you didn’t feel that he would abandon you for cerebral nonsense and when he played in, you knew that he wouldn’t resort to clichés. I was like—who is this guy? It turned out he was Tivon Pennicott and I was glad to catch him again at a house concert Sunday with the Smalls Monday night quinet, one of the few truly enthralling bands I’ve heard. Anyway, if you want to hear jazz piano, go see Victor Gould, go to Mezzrow.
Today’s translation of “Where’s the restroom?” comes from Sheng from Malaysia. Sheng, who is ethnically Chinese, told me his Malay sucks but that he did receive an A+ in Malay class. If you trust grades to be an accurate reflection of one’s abilities, then say this —
“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 –
A few Wednesdays ago, I walked down to The Underground Lounge in below 20 degrees Fahrenheit weather, testing the effectiveness of my Uniqlo Heattech top. I stepped through the door more South of the two, marked “The Underground Live,” to enter directly into the performance area.
Excited to finally hear my friend’s brass quartet, I didn’t even mind the cold draft coming in as the door opened and closed with more people. I thawed quickly enough with body heat from the many enthusiastic audience members but it must have been challenging for the brass musicians to play in the cold.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but there was something whimsical about The Westerlies. Was it Riley Mulherkar (trumpet) and Andy Clausen’s (trombone) matching chambray button-downs, red pants and brown dress shoes? Was it Willem de Koch’s (trombone) jaunty bass lines? Was it Zubin Hensler’s (trumpet) effusive enthusiasm for the ensemble that I had heard much of? Maybe it was Andy’s rosy cheeks?
Perhaps it was the visual configuration reminiscent of a music box, only with a row of four Seattle boys similar in height, instead of a twirling ballerina. The inadequate lighting cast shadows over their faces if they stepped back and the slide of the trombone hit the frame of the red curtains as I feared, but the small corner stage was not too big, not too small and just right for The Westerlies.
Go through the door dividing the live music area and the lounge to get to the men’s and women’s bathrooms. The music from the lounge interferes with the performance when the door opens so try to avoid going in the middle of songs. I waited my turn to use the women’s restroom and found that the corners were occupied with a small sink, the toilet and cleaning supplies under a bench.
I stuck around a bit for the following group on the double bill because our men’s room correspondent substitute, Dave, happened to be playing bass with Adam Kromelow. The pianist’s original piece about his pot brownie experience augmented the high school/college basement party-like vibe of the place, with plastic cups full of beer around and the sense that the place needed folding chairs.
Miks from Latvia tells us how to say “Where’s the restroom?” in Latvian —
On Sunday, I checked out the Jacky Terrasson Trio with Burniss Travis (bass) and Justin Faulkner (drums) at the Jazz Standard. With their nuanced and adventurous playing exploring the full range of dynamics, the trio breathed new life into old standards. I was reminded that the piano trio is the perfect combination, requiring no more and no less.
My cousin, who just arrived that morning on vacation from Korea, really dug it and asked if I get to listen to this kind of music everyday. Yeah, I guess I do—I hadn’t thought of it that way, having grown accustomed to the overflowing music scene here with many options for the jazz genre alone within a five-mile radius. Things I take for granted are often notable looking from the outside in.
I was relieved that we were able to make it for the late set after an extended afternoon of shopping in Chelsea and on Bleecker Street. My cousin absolutely insisted that she buy me clothes but whether my money or not, I couldn’t justify buying a dress that was essentially a couple pieces of lace sewed together for more than my entire month’s spending budget. I didn’t resist too hard because I realized that this is her way of showing me love, not to mention that I really liked an outfit she picked out for me.
I had never been to that part of Bleecker Street, even though it is just a few blocks away from where all the jazz clubs are in Greenwich Village. Although I initially distinguished New York from Los Angeles by its mixing bowl nature of diverse peoples converging in public spaces, I’m sensing more and more that it is deeply segregated in its own way. An educator friend told me about her work with kids growing up in Harlem who practically never go outside of the immediate neighborhood. Their experience of New York must be vastly different from the foreigner here for an internship, the workaholic who makes more money than he has time to spend, and the kid who attends an Upper East Side school.
Being a tourist in the city with my cousin so far has made for a different experience, from her offer to surgically widen my eyes so that I don’t keep closing them in her photos to shopping in boutiques without looking at the price tag in true Gangnam style.
Behind an entrance framed by grand red curtains, the Jazz Standard restrooms are excellent. Though the ceiling is on the lower side in the women’s room, the three stalls are wide and the staff seemed scrupulous about cleanliness. Both times I was in there, a hostess was wiping down water that kept collecting and dripping down from the edge of the sink.
They had a separate wheelchair accessible restroom, which I hadn’t noticed in a previous visit. I wasn’t sure how one gets down the flight of stairs to access the restroom but it has been brought to my attention that the Jazz Standard has an elevator somewhere for patrons in wheelchairs.
Aza from Kyrgyzstan tells us how to say, “Where’s the restroom?” in Kyrgyz –
After an earlier round of hot cocoa at Caffe Reggio, I walked over a few blocks to the 55 Bar. Greeted by the plethora of “2 DRINK MINIMUM PER SET” signs, I dutifully ordered grapefruit juice, which came in a heavy glass beer mug with a straw. After that, I didn’t feel that I could handle any more beverages and also didn’t want to run out to the ATM to make sure I had enough cash for the tip jar so I asked to purchase a bottle of water. The bartender replied, “we don’t sell bottled water—keep jazz alive.”
Keep jazz alive. I hardly think that the two-drink minimum is keeping jazz alive. If anything, it may be elongating a slow and painful death. Sure, the minimum is allowing the 55 Bar to stay open on a month-to-month basis but sustaining jazz through an IV drip is not the answer. A fundamental restructuring of the organization seems necessary to resuscitate the jazz economy, though I’m not sure what that would look like. I thought about this between sips of ginger ale, which the bartender poured into the beer mug I was using previously. I must have contributed a few more cents into the “keep jazz alive” jar by forgoing the labor cost required to wash an extra mug. Someone please give me a bumper sticker.
I don’t mean to get dark on 55 Bar—it’s a good venue, especially if you remember to sit along the bar so that you can get a full view of the band. There’s a somewhat festive atmosphere with icicle lights strung all around and a Christmas bow and a St. Patrick’s Day clover cutout behind the bar. The walls are adorned with many posters, album covers and a charming old clock that displays the wrong time. With a case of Samuel Adams and a box of Swiss Miss in plain view, it can feel like you are in a giant pantry, decorated by Christmas lights. This may be the closest you get to understanding how the Indian in the Cupboard felt.
While waiting in line for the ladies room, I couldn’t help but peek into the men’s room to see the urinal filled with ice. I wonder what that’s about. Both restrooms are sufficient in size for one person to use. The ladies has two trash bins and several rolls of toilet paper readily available.
When I visited two Wednesdays ago, percussionist Rogério Boccato’s quartet with Nando Michelin (keyboard), Jay Anderson (bass) and Dan Blake (sax) played sets of music from the post Bossa Nova generation. In between listening to this ensemble led by the ethnically Italian percussionist from Brazil, I talked to my ethnically Japanese friend Yumi from France about her life back home and in the city. She mentioned that while she never identified as an Asian in France, she thinks about it all the time here. On the other hand, while French peers requested an explanation as to how she can be both fully French and Asian simultaneously, New Yorkers don’t require an explanation of her Asian-ness, perceiving her simply as a foreigner.
As I recall looking upon the Japanese façade of a McDonald’s in Liberdade, a subset of São Paulo, Brazil, I wonder if national sentiment and sense of identity will shift on a global level as cultures clash and merge giving birth to things like kogi tacos and cream cheese wontons. Gulli from Iceland, who is taking Rogério’s Brazilian music class in New York tells us how to say, “Where’s the restroom?” in Icelandic –
They say time flies. I blinked and ended up back at The Stone, the first music venue I checked out after moving here a year ago. I told myself last time to not return in the summer, as it gets unbearably stuffy in the small rectangular room when the noisy air conditioner is turned off during the performance. But I forgot about that. Thankfully, the weather this past Tuesday was relatively cool and the A/C was kept on for the second piece.
With my glasses sliding over the bridge of my nose from perspiration, my mind began to wander as I listened to the interaction between Pauline Oliveros (digital accordion), Susie Ibarra (drums) and Thollem McDonas (piano). I remembered the time I participated in Pauline’s workshop some years ago and the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, where I heard her play duo with laptop, wishing I had earplugs to deflect the shimmery, metallic vibrations. I remembered the electric energy of spontaneous music making with strong improvisers committed not to a specific musical idiom, but to the moment. I remembered a little piece of myself that I had forgotten.
Along with the Village Vanguard’s ladies stalls, The Stone’s unisex restroom provided the impetus for this blog. Located immediately behind the performance area, there is no way that you or anyone else watching the show can miss the entrance to the restroom. And with just a flimsy button lock on the doorknob, you feel as though someone might accidentally fling the door open on you, making your private potty time a part of the performance. If you obey the sign discouraging bathroom use during the performance however, you won’t have to worry about having to improvise in the hypothetical situation. Just remember to use the bathroom during the break.
I went equipped with hand sanitizer and was pleased to see that they had soap this time, $2.99 plus tax from Adinah’s Farm market across the street. Maintaining restrooms, from purchasing the hand soap and toilet paper to calling the plumber costs money and I wondered how The Stone runs. This is the only club I know of in the city that does not sell drinks and has select musicians curate shows, with all cover revenue going directly to the performers.
As I continue to publish posts, I’m starting to exhaust the more commonly found languages for the concluding audio clip. I had counted on getting Tagalog for this issue but the person eventually and politely declined. You can tell quite a bit about one’s personality just by asking if you could record him/her saying “Where’s the restroom?” Some people don’t think twice, maybe laugh then say it, while others are much more cautious. It probably doesn’t put the careful personalities any more at ease when I say it’s for a blog on toilets. Please do warn friends that play or attend jazz clubs about JAZZ TOILET so that they are not taken aback when I pop the question.
A Spanish friend told me that there are some 6000 languages in the world and that there are 4 in his nation alone. I’m not sure how many are spoken in NYC but there are certainly more than I can cover in the lifetime of this blog. Cătălin from Romania tells us how to say, “Where’s the restroom?” in Romanian —
The air thick from too many people packed into the tight space, I slowly nudged my way toward the front until I could see bandleader Christian Scott. My brain’s immediate response: “He is brave; he is wearing polka dots. He is a trumpet player.” His music was as remarkable as his outfit and fitting of the rare man who can pull off polka dots. Joined by Matt Stevens (guitar), Lawrence Fields (piano), Kris Funn (bass) and Joe Dyson (drums), the band celebrated the release of a new album the Thursday before last at Ginny’s Supper Club.
Christian Scott quickly cleared up my confusion as to whether the venue was supposed to be a listening room or a lounge with background music when he told the audience in the back to shut up. True to his outspoken personality, he continued with his piece K.K.P.D. (Ku Klux Police Department), providing the backstory and commenting on the fact that these things are still happening today. I can believe that.
While I personally only know what it’s like to be an Asian woman in metropolitan areas, I’m certain that racism toward each of the many groups on the periphery of mainstream America is real. It seems like just yesterday that kids at school were pulling their eyes back, sputtering nonsensical syllables. Oh wait. That was the other day in Harlem when a grown woman called me “ching-ching.”
Hypersensitive? You tell me.
Ginny’s Supper Club has a rather high ratio of people needing to relieve themselves to number of toilets available and shares the two bathrooms with its parent restaurant, Red Rooster, upstairs on the ground level. I hastily investigated the bathroom on the left, remembering to press down gently on the soap pump as to not squirt my shirt like last time, and noted the sparkly chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
I only glanced briefly at the framed pictures covering the walls but I assume they were supposed to be a throwback to the Harlem Renaissance. Harlem seems to be undergoing a different kind of development now, one of gentrification, as the socioeconomic makeup of the neighborhood gradually changes. The restaurant fits the face of this new Harlem, with a menu that claims to reflect “the roots of Harlem’s diverse population,” but with prices affordable to a select population.
I can’t help but feel a strange sense of irony.
Still, the recently opened venue is noteworthy in that it is under black ownership. How many jazz clubs can you think of that can say that? Or jazz anything that’s under the management of black people, who created the very genre? My sister also reminded me that a key premise to this blog, the toilet as a shared experience for everyone regardless of race or other segregating factors, wasn’t always the case. I have to thank her for providing nuanced insight into this issue’s toilet. It’s no wonder that as kids, she brought home the African-American History Bee trophy while the only shiny thing I brought home was glitter glue.
Stanley from Haiti, who works at the bar, tells us how to say, “Where’s the restroom?” in Creole –
[EDIT] Please see the comments section for a correction to an error in the last paragraph.
After having gotten lost inside Macy’s and having been accosted by a large, unruly dog on my walk down 6th Ave., I almost passed the place when I turned on my heels at a sound that registered as jazz, to see a plaque that said “Next Door.” I hurried inside and balked at the sight of the cave-like room, until the polite waitress seated me in a corner. Then, I pondered if I could touch the ceiling and why the table was sticky.
The clearance must have been 6’10” at most. I know this to be a fact because a guy who said he was between 6’7” and 6’8” nearly scuffed the ceiling with his hair. I gradually settled into this dark, cozy room and tried to look like a normal person, having vichyssoise with a side of bread. Unfortunately, I couldn’t suppress my smirk at the sight of two of my favorite boys playing music. The group was led by Benny Benack III, who is usually a trumpeter, sometimes a singer, and always a ham.
“I’ve had too much ham today,” said Mark, refusing pizza that Benny offered him. Mark Whitfield Jr. (drums) also declined chocolate mudd cake. He does like cranberry ginger ale, dolphins, Duke Pearson’s ballad “You Know I Care” and purple.
Benny is a self-proclaimed legendary ping pong champ, avid golfer, former high school junior varsity baseball player, fantastically imaginative yarn spinner and the ultimate middle school sleepover talent. And that’s just in his own words, from an unsolicited interview. I think we can safely add narcissistic to his list of traits.
Raviv Markovitz (bass), the only one without a generational suffix in his name, rounded out the trio. I hadn’t met Raviv before this but I quickly gathered that his name backwards is Ztivokram Vivar and that he roots for the Red Sox and likes watching Sports Center. Also, according to other sources, he is the sweetest guy ever and can rattle off a long list of chick flicks to watch, if you’re in the mood.
You may be wondering why this matters. Why does it matter that Coltrane loved to eat sweet potato pie? Or that Miles Davis wore Brooks Brothers suits? When these twenty-somethings just barely of drinking age step into their roles as the next jazz legends, you can say that you heard it here first.
There is a bathroom each for women and men at the Bar Next Door, down an unlit and narrow hallway (see the first photo). A very fat person would not be able to squeeze through to get to the bathroom, nor a would a very tall person be able to fit under the ceiling. Being a short and petite person, I was able to make it to the women’s bathroom at the end of the hall. It was similarly dimly lit and grungy, but not without flourishes, like a nice round mirror and an advertisement for tarot readings by Janet.
Benny did tell us how to say, “Where’s the restroom,” in what he claimed passed for native speech in France. Not because I was incredulous, but because I’m a good journalist, I cross-checked the information with Lucas from France. I learned that it should be “Où sont les wc,” not “Où est le wc,” but will give Benny the benefit of the doubt and include his French below, followed by that of Lucas. Perhaps his translation is some local variation on Canadian French.
“Green, black, orange or chai” said the server, to which I replied, “No peppermint?”
Having read that peppermint tea could relieve me of my newfound allergy symptoms, I settled for orange with some disappointment, as I watched singer Theo Bleckmann at Highline Ballroom. I happened to sit myself down at a table with the bassist’s wife, and she welcomed this Cali girl to New York, the city of extravagant pollen count.
New York, the great equalizer. A city where both young and old, rich and poor, can be found on public transit, sniffling and suffering from itchy eyes. As the train doors closed on the Cathedral Parkway station, I turned to catch a glimpse of two-time Grammy nominee, Gerald Clayton, walk by blowing his nose.
The men’s and women’s room sinks are connected, below on either side of the dividing wall. There are four stalls, a small table with an assortment of lotion and fragrance, a dingy clear plastic chalice full of hard candies and a lady waiting to turn on the faucet, pump soap and offer you a paper towel, hoping to be reciprocated with a bill in the tip jar. There was a man on the other side of the sink to fulfill the same role, as if in a mirrored, alternate universe, though whether the men’s side also had a mini fragrance bar or not is a mystery.
A woman walked into the crowded restroom and asked, “Are you in queue?”
Just one word can give you away.
Saturday marked the US release of Theo’s Kate Bush CD, with Henry Hey (keyboards), Caleb Burhans (violin/guitar/vox), Chris Tarry (bass) and Ben Wittman (drums/percussion). I have seen him perform in various configurations from solo to as a member of John Hollenbeck’s large ensemble, and this band now rivals his duo with Ben Monder as my favorite. The music, already engaging from beginning to end, benefited from the colorful changing lights, fog machine and giant disco ball on stage. I would avoid the place if you are prone to epileptic seizures.
Even though their calendar includes Chick Corea and Robert Glasper, Highline Ballroom is not a strictly jazz venue. Then again, Theo Bleckmann is not a strictly jazz singer. Nor is this a blog about jazz.
Theo was responsible for creating the space alien language in the movie, Men in Black, and he tells us how to say, “Where’s the restroom?” below —
This blog was largely inspired by my first visit to the legendary Village Vanguard. I had gone last October for the opening night of Fabian Almazan’s album release show and just returned this weekend for the Mark Turner Quartet.
There are two tiny stalls with just enough room for the toilets in each. They are smaller than those little closets converted into an extra shower/toilet/sink in Korean apartments and smaller than ones on aircrafts. My short legs somehow fit in there but if you’re average height or taller, I’m not sure that you could sit on the toilet. The stall would have been way more functional if they just made one larger stall (which would still be a small stall), rather than two claustrophobic ones. I would avoid using the restroom here. But they did have large mirrors and sinks with soap so it’s great to wash your hands. I’m a bit frustrated because the photos above don’t really give you a sense of how cramped they really are.
The men’s room correspondent, Kevin Mac, gives us the inside scoop on the male bathroom. The stall seems a lot more spacious than the ones in the ladies room. Plus, as KMac mentioned repeatedly with a tinge of awe, Elvin Jones shat in there. I did not know that “shat” was even a word, and the past tense of a vulgar word at that, until I looked it up just now.
Fabian Almazan’s show back in October featured his trio with string quartet. I would sit near the back and not on the side, close to the stage, so that I could get a better balance and hear the entire ensemble next time. When I met Fabian a few years ago, he told me to look down for graffiti on the red line between 86th to 96th if I’m ever in New York, and used the red candle on the table as a mnemonic so that I would remember. Funny—I didn’t know then that I would be living here, going on that very metro line regularly.
Mark Turner’s quartet of Avishai Cohen (trpt), Joe Martin (bass) and Marcus Gilmore (drums) is already a blur in my mind but I recall that it could be described as sounding somewhat meditative and the openness of the sax/trpt harmonies, without a comping instrument, was beautiful.
We had some time to kill before the show and didn’t want to be out in the rain so we got gelato across the street from the Vanguard. It’s the best gelato I’ve had! I also went to Smalls that night so I’ll make a post on that later this week. And now, here’s how to say, “Where is the restroom?” in Portuguese. Click the link below to listen to the phrase —
This Sunday was the four-year mark of the launch of JAZZ TOILET so I thought I’d write a TUESDAY TOILET TALK for old times’ sake. I’m currently living in Seoul to study the Korean traditional 12-string gayageum. Since it’s relatively close by, I hopped over to Hong Kong on Wednesday to meet up with my friends Molly and Jerry and we checked out Ned Kelly’s Last Stand, an Australian-themed pub known for their nightly live jazz.
The restrooms are located in the back of the venue, past the stage and through the door marked TOILETS in English and Cantonese. The women’s room has two stalls and one sink. As for the men’s room, Jerry told me there’s a trough-like urinal and probably a toilet though he wasn’t sure. The back area with the restrooms had miscellaneous items including aprons and gas tanks.
I kept forgetting what city I was in during my brief stay in Hong Kong. It felt like I was in a generic metropolitan city walking among towers and high-rise buildings, save for the bamboo scaffolding. We shopped at Muji and Uniqlo, had tea at Mandarin Oriental and stayed at the Sheraton—this could have been our itinerary in a number of other cities on earth. Of course, we went to local shops too but sometimes I felt as though I was just in Chinatown.
The way up to Victoria Peak was distinct with bits of tropical-looking foliage juxtaposed against urban concrete and steel. I had been reading about the recent night market protest and the missing booksellers but that part was invisible to me as an American tourist.
In the same way I’m given chopsticks to have salmon salad in Seoul, I’m sure there were local subtleties affecting even the most Western of things, but I was too preoccupied to notice. After milk tea and Ned Kelly’s Last Stand I spent the night in the bathroom with abdominal bloating like I’d never seen before until flatulence and diarrhea relieved me of my fear that I would explode. Molly tried to assure me that people don’t spontaneously explode but my mind started running through the lyrics of a song I learned in high school vocal jazz ensemble titled Spontaneous Human Combustion describing instances of people doing just that.
Hong Kong is truly a global city. After I ran out of barf bags, my Korean expat vomit went into a chocolate boutique bag from Bangkok provided by the hostess at a Japanese tapas place. Also, I heard jazz in many places, not just Starbucks; jazz music seems to be the auditory signal that a place is deliberately sophisticated and international.
The live jazz at Ned Kelly’s Last Stand was nice, a throwback to the music of Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five. Guitarist Aki who doubled on piano and banjo told me he has been in the Ned Kelly’s band for 18 years since coming to Hong Kong from the Philippines and others have been there longer, like 30 years. That is a long time. He tells us how to say “Where’s the restroom here?” in Tagalog —
“It’s like a white person playing kayagŭm.”
Driving back from a show at a LA jazz club where the musician took care to identify as a Black American Music (BAM) artist, my sister and I were conversing about the performance when she drew a parallel between a white person playing jazz and a white person playing kayagŭm, the 12-string Korean zither.
Flabbergasted and absolutely incredulous, I yelled back that it’s not the same thing; white people can’t play Korean music without internalizing the essence of the music stemming from the lived history and sense of Han that Koreans collectively harbor from hundreds and hundreds of years of oppression under invasions from neighboring superpowers and colonialism. But it’s different with jazz!
“How is it different?” she asked.
I tried to formulate my defense but began to realize that there wasn’t much to say. There was a time when jazz too was folk music, music rooted in a history and struggle, music that belonged to Black Americans. The difference is that Korean traditional music still very much belongs to Koreans whereas jazz has been appropriated to the point where I can forget about its origins if I’m not relentless about reminding myself. It’s pretty scary that I’ve been schooled in jazz for over a decade from my beginning at an arts high school to graduate school in a prestigious jazz program and had trouble seeing past a shallow revisionist account of jazz history.
Sure, we laughed in jazz history class about Paul Whiteman, the white man who was hailed as the “King of Jazz” back in the 20’s, but there was no real discussion on the politics of race and power and its influence on the music. Even when trumpeter Nicholas Payton started writing about and coined the term Black American Music on his blog, I understood his points on an intellectual level but didn’t care enough to thoroughly re-examine my paradigm.
I see now that this is not about jazz vs. BAM but about something that needs to be in the greater public discourse and has been with the much-publicized feud between Azealia Banks and Iggy Azalea. When my sister and I got home from the show, we grabbed In-N-Out and stayed up watching the interview below in which Azealia Banks articulates why she has a problem with Iggy Azalea, the self-described “runaway slave master,” becoming the face of rap/hip-hop. The segment on “cultural smudging” starting at 8:35 might be the best jazz history lesson I never received.
In Azealia Banks’ own words:
“Just in this country, whenever it comes to our things–like black issues, or black politics, or black music or whatever–there’s always this like undercurrent of kind like a f–k you, there’s always like a f–k you all ni–as, like you all don’t really own sh-t, like you all don’t have sh-t, you get what I’m saying?”
“So this little thing called hip-hop that I’ve created for myself that I’m holding onto with my dear f—ing life, it’s like, you know, it just feels like it’s being like, like snatched away from me or something.”
On the history of slavery and the lack of reparations:
“At the very f—ing least you owe me the right to my f—ing identity and to not exploit that sh-t, you get what I’m saying? Like, that’s all that we’re like holding onto, like hip-hop and rap.”
I think Azealia Banks must be one of the sharpest minds in popular culture. Fully aware of the long history of white people’s appropriation of black people’s creations and accomplishments as their own, she is vigilant about making sure that her genre doesn’t suffer a fate similar to jazz. I see now why Nicholas Payton wants to distance himself from jazz and be associated with Black American Music, a name that makes its origin clear.
— Nicholas Payton (@paynic) February 10, 2015
I can already hear some responding by saying “hey, it’s all about the music”—it must be nice to have that kind of privilege, to not have to acknowledge the issues. I’m willing to guess based on past experience that some of those same people would jump on the chance to profit from the injustice suffered by the communities of color under the guise of bringing the matter to attention or something like that. Here’s a good rule of thumb: it’s not okay to appropriate someone else’s suffering for your profit.
I’d like to point out one more thing that you may or may not have noticed. I’ve gone to over fifty jazz-presenting venues in New York City in my three years of reviewing bathrooms for this blog. Guess how many of them were owned by black people?
Here’s one more quote from Azealia Banks on the upcoming awards that are supposed to represent artistic excellence in hip-hop, among other categories:
“When they give these Grammys out, all it says to white kids is–oh yeah you’re great, you’re amazing, you can do whatever you put your mind to. And it says to black kids–you don’t have sh-t, you don’t own sh-t, not even the sh-t you created for yourself. And it makes me upset.”
It makes me upset too.
“You better watch out, you better not cry. You better not pout, I’m telling you why. Coca-Cola’s coming to town.“
It took a moment to catch the error as participants sang at the annual holiday sing-along I was leading. After clearing up the confusion, we started the song again only to have my friend from South Africa make the same mistake. I understood why he conflated the two considering the great and global extent to which the contemporary Santa Claus has become synonymous with Coca-Cola and the beverage company’s history in appropriating and streamlining Santa’s look.
So then what are the implications for a jazz club that was funded by Coca-Cola and bears its name alongside the trumpeter’s? Much like the soft drink, I know what to expect from Dizzy’s each time. It’s a good place to suggest to friends who want to check out a jazz club without risk of finding the music or the restroom offensive. The two unisex restrooms at Dizzy’s can be found by walking along the left wall of the club. Pictured below is the bathroom on the right side.
Accompanied by Dion Keith Kerr IV on bass and Kyle Poole on drums, pianist Emmet Cohen led his trio with an unusually delicate touch on the keys, reminiscent of Bill Evans. I noted again on the Black Friday show as I did the first time I heard Emmet play that he doesn’t fall into the usual jazz piano camps. Not only does he sound different, he also has an odd manner of wearing Ray-Bans indoors, which I’ve noticed when I’ve run into him in our school elevators.
Speaking of which, you’ll take an elevator up to the club by pressing a button that says “PUSH BUTTON TO JAZZ” from the far right wing of the first floor. From there you can go to any of the venues that Jazz at Lincoln Center operates. If you are taking the train, keep in mind that Jazz at Lincoln Center is not at 66th Street – Lincoln Center but at Columbus Circle – 59th Street instead.
Aside from the the jazz venues and the many shops, two of the most popular attractions at Time Warner Center are the bigger-than-life statues of a naked man and a woman. Standing tall in front of each set of escalators in the middle of the plaza, they seem to attract many passersby who want to stop to pose for photos. And during the holiday season, glowing spiky stars hang above and all around them to create a festive mood. There is a lot to see in New York City during this season but I’m really glad to be home for Christmas this year.
I’ll be going to the block party at my neighbor’s house tonight to make amends for last year when my dad took a large bath towel for the ornament gift exchange. My mom has also been feeling bad that we’ve put up no decorations when our Buddhist neighbors have strung lights so I figure the least I could do is show up to their party with a gingerbread man ornament.
I was able to catch Rasmus, a journalist from Denmark who was in Egypt for the past year, on holiday in New York City. He gives us this issue’s translation of “Where’s the restroom?” in Danish —
Thanksgiving is here once again. This year I would like to share a holiday greeting from Crescent the Chromatic Bear.
I imagined the bear over a recording of Coltrane’s Crescent while still enrolled at Manhattan School of Music, hoping that he would catch on as the mascot of my master’s degree class. MSM would do well to have a furry creature for a mascot because its red M does nothing to cultivate allegiance to the school from students and alumni. My undergraduate institution had a mascot named Oski and I still closely identify as a Cal bear and feel deeply grateful to Berkeley. And need I mention the difference between the way people view Herbert Hoover who got a dam named after him and Teddy Roosevelt who got the teddy bear?
Press the bear’s nose below to hear his message.
Apologies if the video is blocked in your country. If you are celebrating Thanksgiving in the States, I hope today provides some respite from the chaos and darkness in our world and that you enjoy the time with friends and family.