m. show not knowing exactly who would be playing. Already this is a huge difference between the classical and jazz concerts. Arriving early, we decided to eat some dinner at a restaurant called Arturo’s right down the block from the club. As soon as we walked in, our first sight was a set of musicians and a singer playing live free jazz music for the restaurant patrons. The band included an upright bass, a piano, and auxiliary percussion instruments and a male singer. They stuck to jazz standards for the most part but being that we were at an Italian restaurant we got a generous helping of Frank Sinatra.
The musicians really set the tone for the entire establishment. Everywhere you looked, even though there were animated conversations happening, it seemed that all the crowd was in time with the music. Needless to say when we left the restaurant, we couldn’t help but feel swept away by the entire New York jazz experience. The ambiance continued inside of the Zinc Bar. The club itself was a small, very intimate setting, with a banquette and small tables on one wall and a long bar on the other. The band was positioned at the end of the bar facing out towards the entrance.
The lighting was minimal save for a few candles and colored lights. There was a two drink minimum at the tables whereas the classical concert reserved the drinking to coffee at intermission. The crowd is sparse in the beginning but grows to a full bar towards the end, which we find out is a result of the main head-liner playing at 11p. m. Ron Affif. But we had very little regrets seeing this first band, the Alexis Cole Trio. The trio consisted of a singer, Alexis Cole, Ben Stivers on the keyboards, Bill Pace on the upright bass, Ryan Scott on guitar, and Greg Ritchie on drums.
The lead singer would introduce all of the songs before they were played unlike the classical concert where listeners relied on their programs to inform them of the upcoming pieces. The first song they played was by Bob Marley and one of my favorite tunes, “Redemption Song”. The song was faster than Bob Marley’s version and in the middle, Ms. Cole transformed her voice into many different instruments as she scatted her way to the final chorus. In this song, and in every song where the band was involved, each instrument had their own chance to “scat” and improvise on their respective instruments.
After each musician finished their solo, the audience was encouraged to clap which is in stark contrast to the classical concert where the audience did not applaud in between movements. The second piece was an original composition by the keyboard player, Ben Stivers, called “East of the Sun” and again featured all members of the band. I found my feet really tapping to this tune and I really enjoyed the piano solo. It had just the right rhythm and well-balanced solos that I never felt bored. The third and fourth songs were by Thelonius Monk and unfortunately Ms. Cole never mentioned the names. Ms.
Cole almost took a back seat in these songs and really let the musicians go to town. The solos were intricate and involved seemingly removing the musician from the room and into his heart and mind. The listener couldn’t help but be totally transfixed. I also felt that in this section the bass player really took the most risk rhythm wise and possibly might have made a mistake. I say possibly only because if he did make a mistake, he recovered so well it’s possible we were just imagining things. The fifth song was by Billy Strahorn called “My Little Brown Book” which Ms. Cole introduced as a song about regret. This tune was only
for the singer and the keyboards and was extremely intimate. One really got the sense that Ms. Cole was trying to give you something. The sixth song was another original and by far the most experimental. It started slow and soft and grew into a myriad of sounds with the guitar player playing with certain pedals on the floor. The more they played and the more she scatted I couldn’t help but feel like I was caught in a windstorm. It culminated into what sounded like a disorganized jumble of chords and solo material but somehow ended up right back at the original melody and rhythm. It was impressive to say the least.
For their last song they decided to take a request from the audience and after much heckling from the crowd it was decided that they would end with “My Funny Valentine” which the keyboard player had arranged in G minor and in 3. It was an interesting take on an old standard and done in a beautiful smoky tone. It was really a nice end to a perfect New York jazz experience. As different as classical and jazz are, I couldn’t help but feel that jazz had at least drawn on the basics of classical music. Start with a melody, make it your own, and then tell your story. I feel that music will forever enrich my story.