Friday, December 9, 2011
Have to be careful here. Thursday evening, after spending a couple of hours stabbing blindly at a restaurant piano, I went to hear the master Mulgrew Miller at a club called John's Fizzy-Drink-Sponsored Jazz Room. It's part of Jazz at Lincoln Center, and is located at the top of the Time Warner building, and that's the name of the place, ok? Right...
I rocked up about half an hour before show time, and as (I thought) I had some time to kill, I went for a wander around the Time Warner Building. It's a weird location for a Jazz club- the basement houses a link in an extremely popular organic supermarket chain, let's call it Whole Foods; the ground floor consists of mildly popular and wildly expensive clothing and accessory boutiques; and the remaining three floors are as bland, echoey and devoid of humanity as the next Michael Buble Holiday album. The stores are all popular, well-known brands, and somehow manage to stay in business without actually selling anything. The only shop of interest to this nerd was Border's, but of course they closed down because books don't exist anymore.
What would be the perfect soundtrack to a soulless, antiseptic consumer wasteland like this? Jazzy Christmas carols performed unconvincingly by Wynton and the JALC crew! Piped Muzak is frustrating enough throughout the year, but a very merry Marsalis Christmas is nigh on unbearable. I soon discovered that the offending noise was emanating from regularly placed pot plants which, somehow appropriately, contained fake grass. I suspect management would have planted real grass, but were wary of the dangers of over-fertilizing.
I eventually made my way up to John's Fizzy-Drink-Sponsored Jazz Room and discovered a lengthy queue of expectant ticket-holders. I was politely ushered to a "stand-by" line, where I dutifully stood by and took stock of my surroundings. Firstly, the corridor leading to the club's entrance feels like one of those tunnels through which one boards an aeroplane; this offers the eager concert-goer the trepidation associated with impending confinement, yet none of the excitement of foreign travel. Although once inside, I did see many people take their shoes off and fall asleep after a bad meal.
I also wondered who these people were. A varied assortment of couples and groups, they could have been waiting in line for almost any popular event; certainly not hard-core jazz fans, given the number of ways they were finding to mispronounce the name of the performer they were lined up to see.
To entertain these fine folks, a TV screen was positioned near the entrance, showing constant solicitations for donations to JALC; I expect that when presented with the bill, most customers feel they're donating plenty.
Inside, the club has the feel of an up-market food court, the highlight being the enormous plate-glass window behind the stage, giving a stunning panoramic view of New York City at night. If the performance is not holding my attention, I like to imagine a human spider suction-cupping past, or a pair of inept window cleaners on a suspended scaffold, or- getting back to our airport comparison- the front of an aeroplane crashing through it, like at the beginning of "Airplane!", sending all and sundry screaming for the exits. See, this is the kind of experience you only get with live music. Support it, people.
I have serious doubts that an inspired fiery performance could take place in this kind of atmosphere, but taking that into consideration, Mulgrew and band were great. Personally, I particularly enjoyed the playing of drummer Rodney Green, and alto man Tim Green.
After this I made my way to Smalls and heard an inspired, fiery performance by trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, and called the night a good one.
Next week, New York City! Righto...