I stopped by WBGO this month to see if the green fluff ball guy I made was still where I dropped him off in the studio. I left him there back in 2013 and would see his googly eyes looking back at me at each of my regular visits for months after. I was a bit disappointed that he had disappeared but was glad to know that the place was being cleaned at least once and maybe even twice a year.
I was also impressed to see that producer Simon Rentner had tidied up his office space, a room that I could hardly stand to look at before with its overflowing piles of CD cases and stuff. It was great to see that cleanliness had made it onto the agenda in this time of transition for the jazz radio station. One of the changes is the long-time host of The Checkout Josh Jackson moving to a station in Virginia, passing the torch to Simon.
I used to do work for the show and before I started editing segments remotely, I would go to the station regularly on Monday nights after my day job. When Simon introduced me as the intern one evening to host Awilda Rivera she replied with an incredulous “mmm-hmm.” It’s possible that says something about what she thinks of Simon. It’s also possible that she made assumptions about me. I’m beginning to understand beyond the obvious why my parents plead with me not to stay out late. Though I conduct myself with integrity, I’m likely to be framed as a scheming tart because I’m a young woman. To further illustrate, when a woman I know was kidnapped, more than one person responded asking if the kidnapper was very handsome.
There is an art gallery, which is essentially a hallway with paintings hung on the walls, but what I really recommend you check out is the women’s restroom on the second floor. Whoever curates the signs in the restroom definitely has a voice and a penchant for color-saturated pictures of flowers. I always look forward to using one of the two stalls so that I can read the two signs posted on each door reminding ladies to deodorize and check that the toilet has completely flushed. As with all great art, it has become a source of inspiration and pushed me to put up a similar sign at my office. Now I find the toilet fully flushed more often than before but it hasn’t been a complete success. Do you think I need to add clip art?
There is a restroom on the ground floor for on-air and production staff with a radio tuned to WBGO. Switching the light on used to interfere with the radio signal but I noticed that this issue had been resolved, possibly as a result of the new corner placement of the gadget.
New Jersey used to feel like a state distinct from New York before I started going to Newark for WBGO. I have since accepted it as the sixth borough of the city and have become fairly skilled at taking NJ Transit and PATH. Back from a period of exile in Princeton, my once-again Manhattanite friend Gokul tells us how to say “Where’s the restroom?” in Malayalam. It seems he has nearly forgotten how to ask in his mother tongue so it’s a good review as he goes home to Kerala in South India before plunging into his new job in Stamford, Connecticut.
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 introductory conversations with Finnish people will not be met as the kind of ignorance peers would show in 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 —