We had a big birthday over the past weekend — my husband’s 50th — and I surprised him with a trip to New York to hear some jazz. We live in a small town. At home, our weekend evening entertainment consists mainly of going out to eat. When our kids were younger, and dining out alone together happened once or twice a year, those dinners were a major occasion. They were special and rare. Now that the kids have their own lives, my husband and I find ourselves at restaurants thinking, welp, here we are again.
So last weekend we went on a trip where our evening entertainment wasn’t to sit at a table and eat. Instead, we had music: two jazz clubs and Hadestown on Broadway. On my husband’s birthday, we had 10:30pm tickets to see Ezra Collective play at Blue Note in Greenwich Village. Since the show started later than our usual bedtime, we grabbed pizza at Song E Nepule in the West Village, then coffee and cheesecake at the bar of a packed restaurant further up the street before heading over to Blue Note to get in line for a good seat. It was a chilly night and we watched the Village pulse as people spilled out of restaurants and bars and queued outside of comedy clubs. We were pretty close to the front of our own line, and when the doors opened at 10pm, we selected seats not right up next to the stage, but about 15 feet away. We were packed shoulder to shoulder at the little two-top tables pushed together to make as efficient a use of space as possible.
The show itself was possibly the most joyful musical experience I’ve ever had. Because the club is small (200 seats), and we were so close to the musicians, it was intimate. We were all part of an experience together, rather than just watching someone perform on a stage. Because we were so close to the musicians, I could watch them interact with each other, watch how in sync they were, how despite making music through five separate bodies and five separate instruments, through the music, they were one body. They communicated without words, just eyes and music and giant smiles. And that’s what filled me up the most: how much fun they were having. It was obvious they loved what they were doing, they were completely present in that room with each other and with us, making music was playful and fun and a delightful surprise each time one of their bandmates soloed, and their joy was infectious. They’d watch each other and feel each other’s vibe and burst into happy open-mouthed smiles. I listened to an interview recently with the actor who plays Roy Kent on Ted Lasso, and he talked about sport. He said “I think sport is there so men can say I love you without saying I love you.” As I watched Ezra Collective make music together, I thought, they are saying I love you without saying I love you.
Saturday night, we went to a different kind of jazz club. Where Blue Note was bumping, and everyone on their feet at the end, and the music high energy and loud the night we went, and the club is at street level and has windows and tables and seats 200, the place we went Saturday night, Smalls, is a tiny basement jazz club with seating capacity for 74. We had tickets for a 7:30 set with the Jean-Michel Pilc trio, with Jean-Michel on piano, Ari Hoenig on drums, and François Moutin on the upright bass. We stood outside an unobtrusive, beat up door with a beat up sax above it and a tiny awning that said “smalls” as we waited to go in, and when the door did open, we walked down a set of stairs into a small room with maybe 6 rows of 10 metal folding chairs. We sat close to the piano, ordered martinis before the set, and listened to the hum of everyone talking. The drummer was there tuning his kit when we sat down around 7, and the bassist and pianist showed up about 5-10 minutes before the set began. At 7:30, Pilc was smiling at what I assume was one of his friends in the corner, put his finger to his lips and quietly said “Sh, sh, sh,” and the room went silent.
I don’t know how to describe the experience. I can’t describe the experience. Every person in the room was riveted to the music, which felt like it was being birthed in that space, in that moment, and as witnesses to it, we as the audience were part of its making. The only sounds besides the music were the quiet shaking of a cocktail shaker under the bar or the spritz of the bartender opening a beer. We were rapt. For an hour I was transported, I don’t know where and I don’t really care. All I know is I was moved to tears and I don’t know what they did to make that happen. I definitely felt awe that night.
On Sunday, our flight was at 9pm and we had to check out of our hotel by 11:30am, and I knew we’d be fried and tired of walking after three days in Manhattan, so I got us matinee tickets to see Hadestown, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and of Hades and Persephone, at the Walter Kerr theater. Our son had gone to NYC with some friends over his spring break, and they went to see Hadestown, and he loved it and said it was one of the coolest things he’d ever seen, and he wished he could see it again. So on Easter Sunday, after happening on Radio City Music Hall, and Rockefeller Center, and throngs of people in Easter hats outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and a walk through Central Park among the flowering trees and tulips and daffodils and horse-drawn carriages, and after sitting in Times Square and eating hot dogs and falafel, we made our way over to the theater and saw Hadestown, where a trombonist and other musicians were on stage with the actors, and where we got vocals and a story in addition to the music, and where we got to sit in a really cool theater, and where I cried at the end because I didn’t know it would end that way.
In addition to all the music, we also experienced about a million other things, as seems to happen on a visit to New York City. You can’t walk a block without seeing something iconic. We stayed near Washington Square in Greenwich Village, which meant we got to walk through the park every time we went anywhere, and experience its vibrance day and night.
4 thoughts on “NYC for the weekend”
I had no idea that you like jazz!
I love this phrase:
A friend of mine in college recommended Smalls to me when I went to NYC in 2000. I saw a big band there on a Monday night, and sat about 3 feet away from the saxophones. I was visiting NYC with a friend from Germany, and we stayed at a youth hostel in Harlem. He wasn’t feeling that well that night, so I went by myself. It is more fun to enjoy a concert with a friend, but I am glad that I went. When I went they did not have a liquor license, so it was bring your own beer or flask, and you could order soda or juice as mixers. I was only 20 so I couldn’t buy alcohol yet though.
I have just been thinking about blogging about concerts I go to, because my memory is pretty hazy now about most of them.
Last May I drug the whole family to see Nate Smith and Kinfolk in Rotterdam – a couple work colleagues joined us as well. I was a bit worried that it was a bit too out there for most people, but everyone enjoyed it. I would highly recommend seeing him.
I had not heard of the Ezra Collective before. I just checked them out and I really like them. Thanks for exposing me to them. I see they are playing in Rotterdam in July. I smell a return visit 🙂
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If you have the chance to see them, I’d definitely recommend it! I couldn’t stop smiling the whole time and after the show. Their energy is so fun. They filled me up.
Such a lovely write-up, I felt like I was there. I’m working on a theory of sound and vibration and what happens in a shared space, I think there’s something pretty special.
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It definitely felt different being in an intimate space where the music was being created right there in the room. I felt connected with the sound and the people and something sublime that I’ve not felt in larger venues or listening to recorded music.
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