“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 –
Having presented my ticket to the guy at the door, I became thoroughly confused when he informed me that the show had already happened a week ago. I showed up for the show scheduled on Sunday the 13th but learned after some reiteration that the present day was actually the 20th. Sheepishly, I asked him for a description of the lineup for that night and went in deciding that there was likely improvisation involved in one of the Balkan bands.
I’ve been daily poring over a hand-drawn calendar posted by my bed in an effort to focus and live with clarity the first months in the new year. And yet, I failed to make the connection between the date of the show and the numbers on my calendar, showing up an entire week too late. My brain rebels against my meticulous, detail-oriented nature once in a while, resulting in hilarious situations like the time I showed up for my flight a couple hours after it departed and the time I headed to the wrong airport altogether.
Actually, upon hearing what I later learned was coined “Balkan Psychedelic Jazz-Rock” from a band named Choban Elektrik, I was glad for the serendipitous turn of the night. I seldom go to concerts where I don’t already know who’s playing but I enjoyed the energetic, danceable music of the group consisting of violin, voice, drums, bass and Nord/guitar/accordion.
The multi-instrumentalist leader of the group mumbled something between songs but I couldn’t decipher what he was saying and was bewildered as to what they were playing and who they were. This may be how a casual listener at a jazz concert feels. It’s important to make clear announcements from the stage, making no assumption that the audience has any depth of knowledge in the matter presented.
This venue presenting world music, jazz, funk and more has one men’s room and two women’s rooms. The women’s room to the left is only about half the width of the one to the right. The sink hangs slightly over the toilet in there, making it cumbersome to use so I recommend that you use the more spacious bathroom to the right. They both had large, modern hand dryers. I only got a peek into the men’s room and saw that they had bar stools stacked up in the corner by the entrance. The Drom has awesome restroom signs that they’ve clearly put some thought into.
Eva from the band sang convincingly in Turkish and Romanese, even though she speaks neither. She mentioned that the Drom is run by Turks and directed me to an employee who could translate our key phrase for us in Turkish. Ilker tells us how to say, “Where’s the restroom?” –
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 among 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 life of this blog. Cătălin from Romania tells us how to say, “Where’s the restroom?” in Romanian —