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Thursday, December 08, 2011


Your NYC Holiday Jazz Vacation

You've got two weeks of time off to burn before year end, and as a devoted musings follower, you've wondered what's so great about this New York jazz experience, so you decided to plan out a vacation in the Apple, and though you know there will be great food and the tree in Rockefeller Center and New Year's Eve, the main idea is to immerse yourself in the jazz club scene and decide whether it's for you or if it's just a defect in the Redwave personality. You know it's going to be a tad expensive and so pennies have been saved and a mid-price midtown hotel room reserved(maybe even the new Intercontinental across the street from Birdland), though mid-price in Manhattan sounds palatial anywhere else, especially during the holiday season. But now that's a sunk cost, so let the fun begin!

You'll fly in on Friday, the 16th, take a cab to the hotel, dump the stuff (OK, you can take a moment to unpack and actually hang up the clothes people will see) and then, as per RW's instructions, get to Birdland and pick up a Hot House. Or better yet, you can rely on the below guide to where to go on your jazz vacation!

Actually, it's your good fortune to have picked one of the greatest weekends in recent NYC jazz history to start your tour. Among the headliners this weekend are the venerable yet still spry legendary drummer Roy Haynes, and three outstanding pianists, Cedar Walton, Danilo Perez, and Bill Charlap. And trombonist Wycliffe Gordon is leading a group uptown. Better get busy.

No reason not to start at Birdland, New York's friendliest and my personal favorite jazz club. And no better way to start your tour than with the early show there (reservations all but a must, unless you get there early and grab a seat at the bar), the Birdland Big Band led by Tommy Igoe. Their first set starts at 5:15 and they will play until 7. You will hear two sets and wish for two more. Believe me, no other big band ever sounded like this. The Birdland Big Band consists of Broadway pit players who are absolute pros and love to unwind a bit before their regular gigs by playing some jazz. But this jazz is funky, or its Latin, or its brassy, or its balladic, but it's always sublime and driven by the drummer/leader Tommy Igoe. There will usually be a guest star too, often a guitarist or a percussionist. There will always be a full house, and this is a house that Tommy just owns.

Meanwhile, you will be served by friendly bartenders and waitresses, dressed tastefully in black (as is the band), and all seem to be enjoying the music as much as the customers do. You might as well have dinner while you're at it; order the catfish or the authentic Cajun style seafood gumbo or jambalaya. For something lighter, the catfish strips, fresh cut vegetables, or the crab cake sliders are recommended. There is no beer on tap, but the Brooklyn Lager is a winner, and the half bottle of Savignon Blanc is a value buy.

Since you're tired from your travels, you had thoughtfully reserved a table seat for Roy Haynes and will stay right there for his first set. You won't be sorry. He's a living legend, and he'll have three very good young players with him to complete his working quartet. At some point, Roy is likely to get up with his sticks, prance around the drum set, and then play the seat of his chair for a while. You won't believe how great a chair can sound in the hands of a master. When the set's over, listen to the announcement to see if you will be allowed to remain for the second set without a new music charge. Since it's Friday, you will probably have to leave, and then it's decision time. There's always bed if you're out of gas, but if you've got the energy you can take a cab ride or walk over to the Setai Hotel on Fifth Avenue and go to Bar on 5th and catch Antonio Ciacca's last set in one of NYC's most intimate and comfortable settings. If you really dig pain, take a cab to Small's for the Steve Davis Quintet and the after hours group. You can sleep in on Saturday.
Saturday afternoon would be a good day to go to Rockefeller Center and see the tree and get that out of your system. Then it's a case of who to see. Personally, addicted as I am, I would start off at Jazz Standard so I could have a barbecue dinner and see Danilo Perez Trio's 7:30 show. The pulled pork sandwich is usually a good choice. This is a decent size room but you have to watch the sight lines. Actually, the area up near the bar is not bad. Then I'd get a cab uptown to the Lenox Lounge to see Wycliffe Gordon's 10:30 set. Gordon is one of the top trombonists around, but lately he has been playing more and more trumpet to very good effect. He is also a great singer/entertainer in the Armstrong tradition. If for some reason, you can't get a reservation for Wycliffe, go to the Kitano Hotel on Park Avenue and see trumpeter Jeremy Pelt playing with the Mike DiRubbo Quintet. This is a very small room but the wine selection is to die for, and the music sounds just great there.

For Sunday, there are any number of places to have jazz brunch, including the Kitano where the Tony Middleton Trio plays in the Garden Cafe or even Docks, the seafood eatery. But the hot ticket Sunday night is to go downtown to the Ear Inn on Spring St. and see trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars.

For Monday, the 19th, it's back to Jazz Standard for the Charles Mingus Orchestra. Chances are, you will be allowed to stay for both sets for one music charge. If not, there's always Bar on 55th where tonight, you've got Ayako Shirasaki. Tuesday, the
20th will be a perfect night to go to Sofia's in the Hotel Edison and enjoy the unique show that is Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. This would be a good night to wear your dancing shoes. Vince plays arrangements from the 20's and 30's and you will be amazed at how much you will enjoy them. There are always guests too. You might want to eat early somewhere else, since the food at Sofia's is very pedestrian Italian. For carnivores, I recommend Keene's Chophouse on 36th. You can walk off dinner getting to Sofia's if the weather is decent. If you're still not sated, take a cab to Dizzy's in Columbus Circle or to Small's in the Village for an after hours set.

By this time, you should be a converted jazz fanatic. But there's a long way to go and some of the best is yet to come. For Wednesday, the 21st, I would go back to Birdland for Freddy Cole's quartet. It's the best night to stay for both sets, and Freddy, like his brother Nat King Cole, is a terrific pianist and very entertaining, though no one could sing like Nat and Freddy's singing style is quite different. The 22nd is your night to go to the Vanguard and see Cedar Walton. You'll need a reservation. The Village Vanguard is a decent size room with classroom seating in the middle, and strange side seating as well. I like to sit at the bar, where the sight line is only so-so but I don't feel so claustrophobic. Treat yourself to a restaurant meal, for which you will have time since the first set is at 9 PM. If anyone at the Vanguard offers you a hamburger, check the expiration date - they haven't served food in decades. If the weather is good and you decide to walk to the Vanguard, that's fine, but be prepared for some street scenes that might never occur in say, Des Moines.

The 23rd ushers in another weekend, and I would definitely reserve a seat in tiny Smoke up on Broadway. Take the 1 or the A train and you will find yourself in a very nice West Side neighborhood, with great bars and eating places. Smoke is just terrific, a very nice bar, tables to enjoy the music and good food; in summer, they open the window and let the folks on the sidewalk share the sounds. Tonight, you will have the extreme good fortune to hear a John Coltrane Celebration featuring veteran Harold Mabern and house tenor Eric Alexander.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are those rare nights when many of the clubs are closed. You can go to Dizzy's and see Wes Anderson's Sextet's Holiday celebration, but I would rather just relax and eat at the Kitano and enjoy a set or two by trumpeter Tom Harrell and Kyoko Oyobe. Harrell is one of the true oddballs of jazz, but a great talent. You'll still be able to make it up to St. Pat's for midnight mass. On Christmas, the Bar on Fifth is one of the few spots playing jazz, and I would go there to hear another set or two by Antonio.

Your last week in New York will be memorable, especially if you have a reservation for Wynton Marsalis at Dizzy's, easily the most beautiful club in New York. Besides the simple but lush appointments and comfortable table seating, there is a fabulous bar and a spectacular picture window behind the bandstand overlooking Central Park. After Monday night with Marsalis, you might as well continue with the outstanding trumpet playing of Jeremy Pelt at Smoke on Tuesday. Wednesday the 28th, a special Birdland treat is lined up. The early show at 5:15 will be the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band led by David Ostwald, whom you have read about in this space many times before. The headliners will be none other than Tommy Igoe and the Big Band. You will want to see them again, this time playing a headline gig. It really doesn't get any better.

On the 29th, I would want to catch the early (7:30) show at Smalls featuring pianist Ehud Asherie. He is a silky smooth player with classical chops who ferquently plays with Dave Ostwald on Wednesdays. For the 30th, Jazz Standard is likely to be fun. The show is Richard Bona: Mandekan Cubano. You've got lots of choices for New Years Eve, but you might want to experience Times Square and forego the jazz parties. However, I'd be inclined to try to get a reservation at one of the two Kitano parties, preferably the one featuring Joe Locke. Of course, if I could see the Big Band at Birdland again...

By this time you'll either love jazz or hate it. My guess is anyone who could approach this schedule would just be completely hooked. Exhausted, broke, but hooked.

Regular Musings readers know that rallies are for profit taking, and we have been doing just that. On 12/1, we sold 200 shares of ADPI at 18.81, closing out the IRA position in anticipation of selling the rest of our shares at the $19 takeover price. We paid 5.20 for these on 12/17/07. On 12/2, we sold 100 shares of (XEL) the old Northern States Power, at 26.20. We paid 15.78 on 5/17/04. Monday, we sold 700 shares of FSII from the IRA at 3.07. We paid 2.04 on 9/17/11, an unusually quick turn. Yesterday, we sold 100 shares of Fastenal (FAST) from the IRA at
41.80. We paid a split adjusted 19.52 on 6/26/06. The market tanked today, so we'll be back to the buy side tomorrow.

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