Harold Ross, who edited THE NEW YORKER, once wrote, “Talent doesn’t care where it resides.”  I think of jazz improvisation as a secret beautiful art.  Although the players are happy to have a receptive audience, often the audience’s inattention matters not at all, for the players are creating something that we happen to eavesdrop on. 

This was the feeling that the Beloved and I had listening to pianist Rossano Sportiello and string bassist Neal Miner last Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, at Sofia’s Ristorante (211 West 46th Street).  I had originally entertained thoughts of going there as a civilian — an ordinary listener with nothing more complicated in his hands than his drink, but the music was so quietly eloquent that I started videotaping and then asked permission of Rossano and Neal when they took a breather.

Photograph by Lorna Sass. All rights reserved. Copyright 2012.

Listening to Rossano, one hears his delicate touch, his rhythms (romping or subtle), his orchestral sense of the piano balanced with crystal-clear lines, his unerring ear for what Coleman Hawkins called “the choice notes.”  And Neal Miner embodies swinging persuasiveness.  Bass players usually get less attention than people with shiny horns.  Understandable in a way: the bass is in the lowest register and it stands to the rear of the background.  But the horn players I know admire the shape and scope of Neal’s lines and would be delighted to have invented them. 

On some of these performances, the audience is somewhat interactive.  You’ll hear someone’s comment when Rossano began to play a dreamy Liszt piece, “What is this, classical music?”  Yes, sir.  Classical and classic in the best senses of the words.  And rather than be annoyed at the people who chatted while the music was being created, I would simply hope that they went home subliminally elated by the fine loving sounds.  Maybe, with luck, someone might think, “At that bar there’s really nice background music . . . ” 

Early in the evening, a breezy optimism prevailed — even in the face of current economic reality, as the duo swung into THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE:

A Basie improvisation on I GOT RHYTHM changes that began as JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE and then went its own merry ways:

Indecision was never so pleasantly propulsive as in this UNDECIDED:

And the unexpected high point of the two sets — Liszt’s CONSOLATION # 3 in Db . . . a sweet musing exploration . . . then Rossano took a breath and turned the corner with Neal — uptown — to STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY:

And this set concluded with Tadd Dameron’s GOOD BAIT:

Talent, taking up temporary residence on 46th Street.  Beauty in the corner.  Much to be thankful for.


  1. Somebody needs to tell those yammering bar patrons that there are higher order beings in their presence. There is art being made. And that while we are sure that what they are discussing is Important, they might show some respect by holding it until they got back out on the street.
    James P.
    The Jazz Curmudgeon

  2. Dear James P.,

    Of course I empathize and sympathize — and I agree, in somewhat less acerbic tones. But might I gently suggest that although you and I and many others view the music created here and elsewhere as high art, to be appreciated with quiet reverence, it is in fact being marketed as an entertainment . . . in a place where alcohol is sold. One of the delights of an alcoholic beverage is the way it relaxes inhibitions — here manifested in loud, oblivious conversations. Were gin-and-tonics sold at Carnegie Hall, I think that the level of happy audience chat would rise in intensity and volume. But you know this. What’s the solution? If you ask the wisest jazz musician you know whether (s)he would like to play a noisy bar gig regularly or ONLY play those places where the patrons were hushed, you might be surprised at the answer. The great improvisers have a wonderful ability to focus on what is important — the music — and block out what isn’t, something we all might strive for. Until the day comes along when everyone is properly attentive, I’ll take Rossano and Neal among the talkers rather than not hear them. Cordially, Michael

  3. Thank you for your wonderful blog and for your response. At the end of the day those people – chattering or not – were out in the club on a cold night and I was not. The musicians I have spoken to concur with what you say. They seem unbothered by loud patrons and have developed noise filters as part of their skill set. Fans like me probably need to follow suit to keep the live-music experiences enjoyable.
    I remember when Gary Giddins wrote for the Village Voice in the 80’s and wondered aloud why loud patrons showing little interest in listening to the music would take up space in Bradley’s, a place with wonderful duos but only 15 tables and some bar seats. In response Bradley’s disinvited Giddins.
    And the problem will not disappear. Especially as economics forces jazz to be marketed not only as entertainment, but as background entertainment to the preferred activities of many Americans: eating, shopping, gambling, frat-partying.

  4. I was privileged to have Neal and his bass along on many small jazz group gigs in the 90s and 00s. He’s a gentleman and a scholar, besides being a swingin’ cat. 😀

    In such commercial work one is often “sonic wallpaper.” But there’s a freedom in that – we took the opportunity to play as it suited us. However, it’s lousy for raising the profile of the music.

  5. John P. Cooper

    I guess it matters where the mics are placed, too.

  6. Have you gotten a copy of Eddie Metz’s new Arbors CD yet? Rossano is the pianist, Nicki Parrott the bassist. I wrote the linernotes.

  7. Not yet — something to look forward to for four reasons! (Not Ikey Robinson’s record of the same name.) Cheers, Michael

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s