On Sunday I went to Silvana in Harlem to see my friends’ band Life Size. I appreciated the calmer, more relaxed vibe of the early evening compared to the frantic late night session I attended months ago. A Bruce Lee film played silently on the television behind the shawarma/falafel bar and dangling lamps with colanders as shades lit the room. It made sense that the ceiling was covered with colorful rugs since the venue is run by the same guy who runs the Shrine, where the ceiling is similarly covered in vinyl covers.
I headed straight to the unisex restroom and photographed their many signs. There was one that told of someone who flooded the basement by flushing a wig down the toilet as well as the more standard no smoking sign. A sign on the door said that there was another restroom upstairs on the street level so I went up to grab a cup of tea and check out the cafe restroom. While the upstairs also had a fair number of signs, it could have used another “PUSH LOCK ALL THE WAY IN TO LOCK” sign on the door like the downstairs. Without the warning, I didn’t think to double check that I had locked the door until a man flung the door open on me.
Life Size used to be a sextet but since the tenor player Frederick Menzies moved back to Denmark, it has become a quintet. Frederick’s playing had a way of catching me off guard and I’ll miss hearing him play and running into him. The group now includes alto saxophonist Brian Krock, pianist Dan Rufolo, guitarist/The Little Prince look-alike Olli Hirvonen and the bass player with a big heart from Alaska, Marty Kenney. Drummer Philippe Lemm, who has been featured on this blog more than anyone else, completes the quintet. Though he doesn’t qualify to be America’s Sweetheart as a Dutch male, I’d say Philippe has won the title of JAZZ TOILET’s sweetheart.
I had a great time especially because I sat across from Kaisa, a bassist in New York City for the year from Finland. I was eager to tell her about the few things I recently learned about Finland: the fascinating concept of Finlandization, the unbelievable-to-an-American Finnish Youth Guarantee and the origin of the hippo-like character on my muumuu, Moomin. She reciprocated by showing me the Moomin-branded xylitol gum that she brought to the States in bulk. I was elated. I hope that my asking about Moomin in every introductory conversation I have with a Finnish person will not be met as the kind of ignorance peers showed asking if I was from North or South Korea in grade school. It’s just that I am really fond of cartoon hippos.
My friend/classical violinist Lavinia sat to my left and asked me about tip jar etiquette in jazz clubs. Is there such a thing? Another friend/jazz vocalist Astrid asks us a much more contemplated, perhaps the most contemplated question, in her native language Croatian. She told me that “Excuse me, where’s the restroom?” is nearly identical in Serbian, dropping just the letter j in the word gdje.
I know that I’ve gone too long without an adequate intake of protein when I start craving hard-boiled eggs. When I felt a pang of hunger for Brahms intermezzi at a piano recital recently, I suspected that my musical diet was imbalanced. Thankfully, Thursday’s concert at BRIC House Ballroom celebrating the album release of singer Alicia Olatuja gave me the protein fix I needed.
I don’t know if it was from the air conditioning in the black box theater but I kept getting chills as I listened to Alicia Olatuja; not even the distracting lighting could detract from her gorgeous low register. Her band included her husband Michael Olatuja (bass), Ayana George and Rasul A-Salaam (vocals), Ron Blake (sax), Nir Felder (guitar), Ulysses Owens Jr. (drums), and Christian Sands (keys) looking dapper and sounding excellent as usual. Christian McBride also appeared as a special guest playing bass on a handful of songs.
I first heard and met bassist Michael Olatuja at one of the SESC centers in São Paulo with the Terence Blanchard quintet five years ago. When I caught the band again on the Rio leg of their Brazil tour, I saw Terence Blanchard’s expression change to that of a man who had seen a ghost upon noticing me sitting front and center of the concert hall. Michael, on the other hand, looked more like he had the Holy Ghost, and I distinctly recall the incredible joy with which he played. And I thought to myself at that moment that he must know Jesus.
The men’s and women’s rooms are at the back of the building, past the entrance to the ballroom and down the stairs on a lower level. There are eight stalls and four sinks total including one wheelchair accessible for each in the women’s restroom. The restroom was bright white with advanced plumbing technology like the lever that allows you to decide how much water to flush down the toilet. The motion-sensing faucet and soap dispenser worked without me having to wave my hands in front of the sensor multiple times.
In addition, the women’s room had dispensers for a product called Scenscibles® to dispose of tampons and pads in a clean way for both the person creating the waste and the person who will have to empty out the little metal trash bin later. I like to neatly wrap the used pad in the wrapper from the new pad like a burrito but if that is not an option the little pink bag would be a good backup. I’ve observed women feeling the need to be hush-hush about even mentioning the word tampon because it makes some men feel embarrassed. It would seem to be the men’s problem then and not the women’s. As one of my best friends from college says, “embarrassment is a choice.” So tampon tampon pad tampon.
Alicia Olatuja’s band ended with a catchy chorus of “Amazing Grace.” Having seen how vigilant the ushers were about seating attendees at the beginning of the show, I was already expecting church up in BRIC House and was not at all surprised at the closing song choice. To close this entry, here’s my friend Naméma from Kenya telling us how to say “Where’s the restroom?” in Swahili —
Though the Bowery Poetry Club was just one block removed from a venue that hosted the New Yorker Festival this past weekend, it appeared to be a world away judging from the audience members. Of the dozen plus people lined up to see singer Somi when I arrived, everyone was black except for two white patrons. It provided a stark contrast to the demographics of the New Yorker Festival-goers, in which I spotted just one or two black patrons in a crowd of one to two hundred people for eight events in a row. When I saw four black people walk in for the last and ninth festival event, I knew that one of the speakers that would be on stage had to be black.
“I can’t tell with these gargoyles,” said a lady also looking for the restroom at the Bowery Poetry Club. It took me a moment to determine that each of the three doors at the bottom of the stairs led to an individual unisex bathroom. The gargoyle-like creature mounted on each door gave no indication that patrons were welcome in there but it did suit the fanciful decor of the venue. Their main entrance is ambiguous as well, marked “Duane Park” on the door.
Run by the nonprofit Bowery Arts+Science, Bowery Poetry hosts many poetry events as the club name suggests. I rarely go to hear poetry so it’s no surprise that I was unfamiliar with the venue. Considering that Manhattan is merely thirty square miles with over one and a half million people squished inside the island, there is minimal mingling among inhabitants. While class and race goes without saying, the ghettos can also be defined by niche artistic disciplines and fields.
The bathrooms had pleasant ambient lighting and plants which may or may not have been fake. The middle bathroom (pictured) that had space on either side of the toilet felt more spacious than the room to the left that had the toilet installed close to the wall on one side. There were no Halloween decorations in the bathrooms even though fake spiders and decorative skulls lined the railings and walls in the rest of the venue.
The over-sized spiders were distasteful to my coworker but the life-size sketches of the interior painted on the wall behind the small stage and the staircase from which the ensemble descended were delightful. The ensemble included Liberty Ellman (guitar), Toru Dodo (piano), Otis Brown III (drums), Keith Witty (bass), and a violinist and cellist I didn’t catch the names of backing Somi on her project The Lagos Music Salon. The audience swooned at the sight of the singer and gathered around her for selfies and autographs after the show, effectively blocking my exit as I tried to squeeze my way out between the tables.
Somi presented her connection to Lagos, her East-African roots and her American-ness in an authentic way, making concrete the smallness and enormity of the world at once. My friend and college student Derek from Hong Kong tells us in his native Cantonese how to ask the question raised all over the world —
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 —
“Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.”
I often paraphrase these words from Mary Schmich in the Chicago Tribune when discussing the ineludible influence of unique cities on individuals. Having lived in the Bay Area for several years, I know what it means to start turning soft. And now that I’ve lived in NYC for a few years, I’ve begun to catch my facial expression hardening instinctively at a passerby’s beckon.
So when a stranger offered us bananas as we passed Riverside Church at the onset of our walk down to the People’s Climate March yesterday, I refused and relented only when my friend accepted after an “Are you sure?” But by the end of the march at 34th Street and 11th Avenue, I was grabbing a homemade vegan sandwich and cookie from some lady without hesitation or a second thought.
I think my faith in humanity began to be restored during the 3.8 miles marching in the tremendous crowd. As soon as we reached the rear end of the organized march at 86th Street and started wading through the groups of people preparing banners and rallying, my eyes began to well up in the same way they can at the beauty of an orchestra or a great chorus of voices. And when the timed silence was broken by the palpable roar cascading forward — that — that was something you can’t watch on YouTube or replicate without hundreds of thousands of people.
Hundreds of thousands of people, of course, means very long lines for the limited number of toilets. There were porta potties, called “Port-o-Johns” on the People’s Climate March website, usually in clusters of two. The organizers also provided giant water coolers at a handful of locations and did an excellent job of coordinating such an enormous event. They did a remarkable job getting the word out too. It may have been because I was already looking with interest but I noticed their advertisements all over, including in subway cars and community centers.
There were many spectators for the quasi-parade: bewildered families trying to make their way across for a leisurely Sunday morning in Central Park, photographers and journalists there to report on a historical moment, and people sitting on the sidewalk in front of Upper West Side apartments in lawn chairs I didn’t know they had. I had seen cool things like a 3D chocolate printer and a giraffe robot at the annual Maker Faire the day before, but nothing came even remotely close to being as fascinating as the people at the People’s Climate March.
There were people I didn’t understand, like the woman marching in three & a half inch heels and the man who brought his bicycle along. Then there were people cashing in and selling souvenirs for an event where many of its participants are calling for the end of capitalism. It’s the kind of unsurprising and ubiquitous paradox that I still find jarring. It also brings to mind a guest with an “Occupy Wall Street” pin on her messenger bag who I noticed in the elevator at the Trump Soho. I questioned her presence there then wondered what I was doing there.
There were others still holding signs with topics unrelated or only tangentially related to the cause such as the Red Sox, ISIS and Esperanto. I requested a translation of “Where’s the restroom?” from Neil, who was holding the Esperanto sign, and learned that the restroom translates into the “necessary room” in the constructed language. It seems an appropriate translation for an international movement where toilets are vital to the mobilization.
I hope the heads of state at the climate change summit are listening. I hope future generations have the chance to experience the distinct differences between currently sinking cities, Manhattan and San Francisco.
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.
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.
But 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.
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 —
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?
My 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!
Feeling 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.
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.
I 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.
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?” —
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 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.
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.
Watts 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 —