It's rainy here in NYC today. The streets were quiet which can be unnerving here. I heard from MA family and FB that it's snowing, so I guess I should thank my lucky stars. It was warm even. I never looked at the temp, but I layered like it was cold and wound up sweating a lot. Lately I've been crashing at my bro's Lucas' spot in the West village. Great little neighborhood a stones throw from fun NYC activities. In recent years, I've found a great little cafe with killing coffee, so around 11, I layered up with my brand new rain coat, and set out on my short jaunt to Grounded on Jane Street. Narrow little joint with comfy zones and a small kitchen. Every table is always jammed with folks consumed with their laptops and their ear buds in. Working? Maybe. Surfing the web? Probably. Looking partially annoyed and a little stressed out. Definitely. Grabbed my soy latte and ventured back out into the rain. Around the corner is an awesome little greasy spoon called La Bonbonniere that takes cash only, and is so small you can smell everyone's order. I even had grease on my glasses from the grill I was so close. Tiny, but it has a moderately sized menu (not the 7 page monstrosity of other diners) of all the breakfast feels as well as some great classic lunch sandwiches like "egg salad with bacon" or "sliced tomato sandwich" (which is just a Vegan BLT). The egg salad was at the top of my list until I decided to go my classic greasy spoon breakfast: bacon and cheese omelette, home fries, and English muffin. I think tmrw I'll go with the egg salad...
Later in the afternoon I went on a walk about. I didn't really have a plan. I was just tired of fielding emails from the apartment and thought I should use my time more wisely than working. I slapped on the layers (and man did the new raincoat come in HANDY today), and ventured east. I was headed in the general vicinity of Greenwich Village, half thinking I would find a beanie to buy for the tour. I got to Bleeker and it started coming down, so I popped into the nearest joint for a respite, Blind Tiger, which has about a 1000 beers on tap. I stayed for one and then decided if I didn't leave then, I would be stranded for more, so I left and walked back to the apt in the West Village.
Around 715 I left the apt again determined to make the most of a night off in NYC and walked to Smalls Jazz Club around the corner. I cued at 715, the rain pouring down, until 730 when the cooky owner opened the door and let the line in.
Smalls has the smallest awning ever, barely enough to stand under. The non-descript door leads to a narrow staircase downward where on the landing, the owner, in his Elmer Fud hat collects the $20 cover. I do not envy the load in to this club. That's why I'm not an upright bass player. Oh and because that instrument is impossible. The basement venue, which seats maybe 100 is completely no frills and as Time Out NYC called it, "unassuming." Now, this assumes we have assumptions about jazz clubs... Small, dark, cozy, with a focus on the music perhaps. This club had a small bar which seated maybe 12 and bench seating for another 85-90 and standing room for 10. Do the math people, no one is getting rich. The crowd as I heard it in line was full of foreigners; I heard Spanish and Portuguese and French. I got a corner seat at the bar and started to take note... Strange, amateurish art on the wall. Some great photos. One of which, of Louis Armstrong, hung between the drummer and the bass player. Smiling down on us. Exposed pipes. Low ceiling. Brick walls. Stark lighting. Too stark to evoke any vibe. Relatively updated PA system. Tiny stage (4" riser) with enough room for the drummer and upright bass player. Scrap pieces of carpet over mismatching tiles with badly stained grout. One touch I appreciated were the mirrors, fixed at an angle above the drummer and the piano player. It gave us the opportunity to see their hands and absorb their technique. The crowd for the most part was very engaged. I witnessed folks from out of town sip their cans of PBR and then look inquisitively at the label, no doubt wondering what year that blue ribbon was awarded.
I was sitting next to a young kid whom I overheard talking to the bartender about playing music so we started up a convo about music and beyond. He's played there before and said its not the worst load in in NYC. I shudder to think. Another thing I appreciated with Smalls was that the guests were basically on top of the performers... One guest sat so close to the drummer, he could probably smell the cats after shave. Another guest was so close to the piano player that he could have whispered in his ear while stealing his wallet. Now this scenario has its advantages... We as guests get to experience the music in a much more personal way. The disadvantage is that, for a musician, you hear a lot of the crowd noise, which tonight, (and apparently this happens quite often) was quite loud... I was so surprised to hear guests chatter and the bartender making cocktails at the bar. It was so distracting. Yes, jazz should be celebrated and enjoyed and not be the music of academics and old people (as Louis's smiling picture reminded me), but this was downright distracting. People, a couple simple rules if I may.... Turn your flash off. Stop chatting with your friend! For the love of God, stop taking selfies with that annoying click of the camera, and lastly, just shut the fuck up! I didn't pay $20 to hear your bullshit chatter. I was watching the drummer, who could hear it as well, who would throw the guilty party looks during some very intimate moments. He was so close to them, he could've stuck his drum stick up their noses and I would have applauded him.
All in all a great night. Great experience. I think if I were to return, I'd sit even closer and get completely consumed by the music. I'd also bring a flask because $12 Manhattans isn't sustainable.
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