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 12-string zither 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 —
“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 —
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.
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 —