As 2020 ticks on, I find myself daydreaming about being in JFK, my bags checked, the TSA pat-down concluded, walking towards my gate, knowing that soon I will be on a plane for an eagerly-anticipated jazz festival. Then the emotional mist clears, and I think, “Not yet, even if one is announced,” and I turn my thoughts to the local scene.
This is my local scene: the suburban apartment complex where I’ve lived for sixteen years. I no longer apologize for my nesting impulse, for the fact that I haven’t driven anywhere since March 24 (yes, I do start the car weekly) and that I spend hours in a triangular rotation of computer – kitchen – bedroom. This is as close as I can get to having a bosky dell, a garden, or a backyard, and it’s a consolation. And in this landscape where virus numbers often rise and rarely dip, it’s a good place to spend time.
I also love the song commemorating the pleasures of nesting. You may think of that vintage composition in connection with Al Jolson or Billie Holiday, but the lovely strains I prize happened right in front of my face, ears, camera, and heart on Thursday, March 12, 2020 — the last song of the last set of music I experienced in New York City (at Cafe Bohemia on Barrow Street) — a performance that, to me, would still have been transcendent had the circumstances been mild and predictable.
The noble improvisers here, the official uplifters, are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Josh Dunn, guitar; Sean Cronin, string bass — with delightful visitors Kevin Dorn, drums (wire brushes and snare, to be exact) and Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar:
Why are tears forming in my eyes? They aren’t from despair, but from the effort necessary to sustain hope.
As for The Backyard, masked-and-prudent visitors invited. Transportation’s up to you, but I can provide iced drinks, unhealthy snacks, bathroom facilities, and gratitude. Two days’ notice, please. If I’m out, Maisie will take the message.
The place where it all happened, and we are hopeful these joys will come again. Thanks to Mike Zielenewski, Christine Santelli, and Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, blues and jazz had a cozy nest here.
These days, I find myself moaning and growling more than usual, and I think I am not unique. So here is moral musical empathic support.
The blues — Victoria Spivey’s DETROIT MOAN — in living color, rendered with great conviction by Mara Kaye; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet and mutabilities; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Arnt Arntzen, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass — at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, on October 24, 2019.
I hope you don’t find Mara’s line “I can’t eat beans no more,” that culinary lamentation, too personally relevant.
And if you are not Facebook-averse or -phobic, visit Mara’s site: she and guitarist Tim “Snack” McNalley have been holding at-home-West-Coast-Saturday-recitals that I know you will enjoy. A sample, here.
For those of us who are paying attention, this is a scary time. But when Jon-Erik Kellso suggested with polite urgency that we might want to join him and the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet on Thursday, March 12 — it seems a lifetime ago — I stuffed a produce-section plastic bag in my jacket pocket (it took a few more days to find gloves) took a half-empty commuter train, got on an even more empty subway, and walked a few quiet blocks to this place, the home of restorative music and friends since last September: Cafe Bohemia at 15 Barrow Street, New York City.
We sensed that the huge dark doors were closing, although we didn’t know what would follow (we still are like people fumbling for the light switch in a strange room full of things to trip over). But music, artistic intelligence, soulful energy, and loving heat were all beautifully present that night. I hope that these video-recordings of these performances can light our way in the days ahead. And, for me, I needed to post music by people who are alive, medically as well as spiritually. So here are three inventive performances from that night. Subliminally, the songs chosen were all “good old good ones” that can be traced back to Louis, which is never a bad thing.
YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — perhaps the theme song for quarantined couples and families? — with the world’s best ending:
Honoring another savory part of Lower Manhattan, CHINATOWN:
And the oft-played ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, here all bright and shiny with love. Everyone in the band lights up the night sky, but please pay attention to Sean Cronin playing the blues in the best Pops-Foster-superhero-style. This venerable song is often played far too fast, but Jon-Erik kicked it off at a wonderfully groovy tempo, reminding me of Bix and his Gang, and the Benny Goodman Sextet of 1940-41:
If, in some unimaginable future, a brave doctor leans over me and says, “He shouldn’t have gone into the city on March 12, you know,” my lifeless form will resurrect just long enough to say, “You’ve got it wrong. It was completely worth it.”
Bless these four embodiments of healing joy, as well as Christine Santelli and Mike Zielenewski of Cafe Bohemia, too. And here are three other lovely performances from earlier in the evening: I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, WILLIE THE WEEPER (he was a low-down chimney sweeper, if you didn’t know that), and the MEMPHIS BLUES.
This should be obvious, but people under stress might forget to look at “the larger picture,” that others have a hard time also. I’ve created this post for free, but what follows isn’t about me or what’s in my refrigerator. The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining you. How can you help them and express gratitude? Simple. Buy their CDs from their websites. Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar. Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say. Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry.
Spiritual generosity means much more than a whole carton of hand sanitizer, and what you give open-handedly to others comes back to your doorstep.
A few night ago, I was witness to a glorious expression of personalities and an explosion of sounds. The “Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet,” which appears regularly on Thursdays at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, was that night led by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (as usual), with Scott Robinson, magic man, playing tenor saxophone, taragoto, and a new find from his basement, an “adorable” little Eb cornet. With them were Joe Cohn, guitar, and Murray Wall, string bass.
The evening’s music was characteristically rewarding and varied: a first set of SONG OF THE WANDERER, SUGAR, INDIANA, ROCKIN’ CHAIR, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, I FOUND A NEW BABY, and CREOLE LOVE CALL. In the Bohemia audience, appropriately, were members of the Pilsner Jazz Band, who had just appeared at the Kennedy Center (more about that below) and were enthusiastically responding to the band. I don’t recall if Jon-Erik asked them what they’d like to hear (the act of a brave person) but someone suggested ROYAL GARDEN BLUES and that began the second set.
A word about ROYAL GARDEN BLUES — which has a lovely pedigree, because the song (with lyrics) by Clarence and Spencer Williams, possibly just by Spencer, refers to the place King Oliver played, later the Lincoln Gardens. It’s a century old, if we take as its starting point the unissued recordings pioneering bandleader George Morrison made of the tune.
We all have our favorite versions, from Bix to the Goodman Sextet to Tatum to Louis, and as I write this, another’s being created. But since it was taken up from the Forties onward by “trad” groups — define them as you will — it’s one of the three songs played nearly to a crisp (the others are MUSKRAT RAMBLE and STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE). Too many formulaic renditions in my history have caused me slight flutters of ennui when someone suggests it. But not with this quartet. After a gentle ensemble start (I missed a bit due to camera rebellion) this performance escalates into a wonderfully friendly joust between Jon-Erik and Scott. Quite uplifting, with every tub securely on its own botom, seriously cheering
I felt like cheering then, and I do now. See what happens when you leave your house to confront the music face to face? More about the notion of leaving-your-house, at least temporarily, here.
Beauty awaits us, if we just look for it.
And just because this title was the first thing that came to mind when I thought of this post, here’s an evocative jazz artifact:
Postscript: here’s the Pilsner Jazz Band at the Kennedy Center, Jan. 27, 2020:
Here is some beauty for us — by Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Josh Dunn, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. They created this quiet marvel and many others on November 21, 2019, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, one flight down, a place where beauty is invited to make itself comfortable on a regular basis.
BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL always makes me think of Herschel Evans, so much a part of the 1938-9 Basie band. His short life is a model to us — not that we should die so young, but that we should make beauty, make its creation our goal, and thus be remembered decades after we are no longer on the planet. You could substitute “love” for “beauty” and still be right.
(I also think of Ruby Braff and Sammy Margolis, but they are another story — although branches from the same lyrical tree.)
Thanks to Danny Tobias, Dan Block, Josh Dunn, and Tal Ronen — people who send us love notes of the best kind — and to Christine Santelli and Mike Zieleniewski, who make evenings like this at Cafe Bohemia possible.
Beauty doesn’t send out event-postings to let us know where it’s going to be next, but it’s been showing up with great regularity here, Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, in Greenwich Village, New York City.
Ricky Alexander and friends brought some Beauty only recently.
Ricky Alexander with Adam Moezinia at Cafe Bohemia, by Michael Steinman
Ricky, tenor saxophone and vocals; Adam Moezinia, guitar; Daniel Duke, string bass; Chris Gelb, drums, had a gig there on Friday, November 22, 2019, to celebrate the release of Ricky’s CD, STRIKE UP THE BAND.
Here are two performances from that evening; first, a bouncy TEA FOR TWO:
At the close, the quartet was joined by one of my great heroes, Dan Block (and Ricky’s hero also) joined the group for a tender searching STARDUST that continues to resonate in my heart:
Any attempt to explicate or categorize that STARDUST would be an impiety.
I’m going to keep following Ricky Alexander — he’s on a CD release tour, with a gig in Washington, D.C., Wednesday night, at Twins Jazz, 8 PM, details here, and I certainly will be at Cafe Bohemia regularly. (First table on the left, nearest the stage, and if the music isn’t playing — whether live or courtesy of HotClub NY — that’s Matt Rivera and his magic discs — you’ll see me checking my camera or chatting with the very friendly staff.) Thanks to Mike Zieleniewski and to Christine Santelli for the wonderful endeavors and the welcoming atmosphere. Another NYC jazz club advertises itself as “New York’s friendliest,” but for me Cafe Bohemia takes the prize.
Until our paths cross, if they were meant to, let the Beauty sink in. It might be all we have.
Before there was this — the official opening of Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, one flight down — on October 17, 2019:
there was this, a warm-up for the club, a “soft opening” on September 26:
Glorious music from Mara Kaye, singing with the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band — totally acoustic — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass. I posted other performances from that evening, here — but here are seven more beauties for your consideration, mixing blues by Memphis Minnie, the Smith ladies, and of course Lady Day.
Mara, of course, is herself, which is a damned good thing.
I GOT TO MAKE A CHANGE:
WANTS CAKE WHEN I’M HUNGRY:
YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW:
A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT:
Now, even more good news. Cafe Bohemia is perking along beautifully — on November 21, I was there for a wonderful quartet session by Danny Tobias, Dan Block, Josh Dunn (new to me and a wonder), and Tal Ronen. “Beyond the beyonds!” as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says. And on the 22nd, I heard and admired Ricky Alexander, Adam Moezinia, Daniel Duke, and Chris Gelb, with a glorious appearance by Dan Block for two numbers. All night, every Monday, my dear young hero Matt “Fat Cat” Rivera, who knows things but is not compelled to flatten people with facts, spins wondrous 78 rpm discs of the real stuff, and he reappears before and after sets on Thursdays. The HOT CLUB, you know.
And on December 5, our Mara will be celebrating her birthday at Cafe Bohemia, so if you weren’t there for the prequel, you can make up for it in the near future.
It will be a birthday party where Mara and friends give us presents, you know.
Here is the Cafe’s Facebook page, and here is their website.
Wonderful music has been happening and continues to happen downstairs at the Barrow Street Alehouse on 15 Barrow Street, the hallowed ground of Cafe Bohemia. Here’s the first part of the splendid music created on October 24 by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal; Jared Engel, string bass; Arnt Arntzen, guitar, banjo, vocal.
You’ll find so much to admire here: brilliant wise polyphony, hot and sweet soloing, respect for melodies and the courage to improvise. Beauty is there for those who can listen without preconceptions. And they swung from the first note of I DOUBLE DARE YOU:
Then, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, with or without comma:
Something memorable from the pen of William H. Tyers:
Evan offers the verse all by himself, gorgeously:
When I grow too old to take the subway, I’ll have these sounds to remember:
Cafe Bohemia is also offering a variety of musical pleasures, including sets by trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and a rare session by the two sons of legendary jazz bassist Jymie Merritt — keep up to date with their schedule here on Facebook. Their website is still in gestation but will be thoroughly informative soon.
I will have much more from this band, and Jon-Erik will be back at Cafe Bohemia on November 14 and several more Thursdays in December. And — if that wasn’t enough — Matt Rivera will be creating his own clouds of joy by spinning 78s before and after: see here for the full story. The Hot Club is fully in operation Monday nights (by itself, which is wonderful) and alternating with the live music on Thursdays.
Thanks evermore to Mike Zielenewski and to Christine Santelli, aesthetic benefactors who are making all this joy possible. M.C. Escher would be happy to know that glorious sounds scrape the clouds even from the basement of 15 Barrow Street. S0 find your gloves and that nice scarf Auntie made for you — the one you never wear — and come join us.
New York City is full of vanished landmarks: one checks the address of what was once a place both sacred and thriving only to find that it is now a nail salon or, even more common, that its facade no longer exists: it’s now luxury apartments or university offices. But resurrection, however rare, is possible and delightful. The “new” CAFE BOHEMIA, thanks to the labors and vision of Mike Zieleniewski and Christine Santelli, is one of those urban(e) miracles.
There will be divine music there on Thursday, October 24, featuring Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Arnt Arntzen, and Jared Engel as well as the Hot Club. Tickets here for the 7:00 show; here for the 9:30 show. And for those who “don’t do Facebook,” tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite.
Now . . . .
and another view:
LIVE MUSIC for sure. And there’s also Fat Cat Matt Rivera’s HOT CLUB, which I’ve written about here.
But let’s go back to some of that LIVE MUSIC, performed on September 26, before the Club’s official opening — a delightful all-acoustic jazz and blues evening featuring Mara Kaye, vocal; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Brian Nalepka, string bass. Incidentally, only people who regularly attend live-music events know how rare “all-acoustic” is, and how pleasing.
BLACK SHEEP BLUES:
For Billie, I WISHED ON THE MOON:
Also for Lady Day, NO REGRETS:
“How sad I am,” with a grin, for MY MAN:
I’ll have more music from this night, also from October 17 (Evan, Andrew Millar, Felix Lemerle, Alex Claffy) but I urge you to tear yourselves away from those electronic devices and visit the Cafe on the 24th. It’s tactless to remind people but necessary that clubs, concerts, and festivals need actual human attendees (what a thought!) to survive. So . . . see you there!
You might be walking along Barrow Street, on the Bleecker Street side of Seventh Avenue South (all this conjecture is taking place in Greenwich Village, New York City, New York, the United States); you could look up and see this sign.
You might just think, “Oh, another place to have an ale and perhaps a burger,” and you’d be correct, but in the most limited way.
Surprises await the curious, because down the stairs is the sacred ground where the jazz club Cafe Bohemia existed in the Fifties, where Miles, Lester, Ben, Coltrane, Cannonball, Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Pettiford played and live sessions were recorded.
Here’s the room as it is now. Notice the vertical sign?
This isn’t one of those Sic Transit Gloria Mundi posts lamenting the lost jazz shrines (and certainly there is reason enough to write such things) BECAUSE . . .
On Thursday, October 17, yes, this week, the new Cafe Bohemia will open officially. This is important news to me and I hope to you. So let me make it even more emphatic.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17, THE NEW CAFE BOHEMIA OPENS.
That is as emphatic as WordPress permits. I was there on September 26, for the club’s trial run (more about that below) and I was delighted to find very friendly staff, good food and drink, pleasing sight lines and a receptive crowd, so it was a nostalgic return to a place I’d never been.
But back to current events. On this coming Thursday, there will be two shows, an early show at 6:45 and a late one at 9:30. These shows will be, as they say in retail, “value-packed”! Each show will feature wonderfully entertaining and enlightening record-spinning of an exalted kind by Fat Cat Matthew Rivera, bringing his Hot Club to the Village on a regular basis, AND live jazz from the Evan Arntzen Quartet including guitarist Felix Lemerle, string bassist Alex Claffy, and drummer Andrew Millar. Although the Bohemia hasn’t yet posted its regular schedule, their concept is both ambitious and comforting: seven nights of live jazz and blues music of the best kind.
Buy tickets here for the early show, here for the late one. It’s a small room, so be prepared. (I am, and I’ll be there.) And here is the Eventbrite link for those “who don’t do Facebook.”
If you follow JAZZ LIVES, or for that matter, if you follow lyrical swinging jazz, I don’t have to introduce Evan Arntzen to you. And if, by some chance, his name is oddly new to you, come down anyway: you will be uplifted. I guarantee it.
But who is Matthew Rivera?
I first met Matt Rivera (to give him his full handle, “Fat Cat Matthew Rivera,” which he can explain to you if you like) as a disembodied voice coming through my speakers as he was broadcasting on WKCR-FM a particularly precious musical reality — the full spectrum of jazz from before 1917 up to the middle Fifties, as captured on 78 RPM disks.
It isn’t a dusty trek into antiquity: Matt plays Miles and Bird, Gene Ammons and Fats Navarro next to “older styles.” Here’s Matt in a characteristically devout pose, at Cafe Bohemia:
and the recording (you’ll hear it on this post) that is the Hot Club’s theme song:
About two weeks ago, I visited the Fat Cat in his Cafe Bohemia lair and we chatted for JAZZ LIVES. YouTube decided to edit my long video in the middle of a record Matt was spinning, but I created a video of the whole disk later. Here’s the nicely detailed friendly first part:
and the second part:
and some samples of the real thing. First, the complete WHO?
DEXTERITY, with Bird, Miles, and Max:
and finally, a Kansas City gem featuring tenor player Dick Wilson and Mary Lou Williams and guitarist Floyd Smith:
Cafe Bohemia isn’t just a record-spinning listening party site, although the Fat Cat will have a regular Hot Club on Monday nights. Oh, no. When I attended the club’s trial run on September 26, there was live jazz — a goodly helping — of the best, with Mara Kaye singing (acoustically) blues and Billie with the joyous accompaniment of that night’s Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass. Here’s their opening number, ST. LOUIS BLUES:
The first word Mara utters on that video is “Wow,” and I echo those sentiments. Immense thanks are due owner Mike Zieleniewski and the splendid Christine Santelli as well as the musicians and staff.
See you downstairs at Cafe Bohemia on Thursday night: come over and say hello as we welcome this birth and rebirth to New York City.