Tuesday 19th September
After truly incredible weather to start the trip, a white sky set the scene for our breakfast mission, a wander into Tribeca, in roughly the same area as last night. Warehouses sporting trendy shops was the order of the day, and we came across the first proper deli that I'd seen. This place was WIKKID - think your local store but with a massive salad bar and hot food bar right in the front door. It was time for another tourist box-tick - I ordered a lox bagel with cream cheese and took the complimentary pickle. The nice blonde lady next to me ordered the same and DJ was most impressed at me, thinking I was some kind of local. He regularly gets impressed about stuff like that.
On a brief side note, we'd been checking out the 'form' since I touched down, and I have to say we were both rather impressed. Must be all that proper food, gym culture, space to move and such...it's been a while for poor old DJ, and I had hopes for him but it just didn't happen, oh well...meanwhile, I bought a statuette of Liberty for eight bucks for my speshal frenn back in London (and y'all know where THAT got me!) at some bodgy store Downtown before I farewelled comrade DJ, thoroughly chilled from the weekend's activities.
And so it was that I was alone, a travelling experience I still feel a little unaccustomed to. I proceeded to ring the people I knew in town, and got through to Sean. As these things go, he had a solo gig that night not far from the hostel, and so I basically walked the streets until then. My first destination was 'the Village', home to almost all the clubs and the scene I was after. Starting from the Metro on West 14th Street, I wandered down Seventh Avenue in the grey afternoon, totally succumbed to the traveller's amazed daze.
A lot of the clubs I was after just seemed to appear before my eyes - Smalls, Fat Cat, Village Vanguard, SOBs. Peripheral vision would draw me to beautiful side streets, framed circular with trees and the stoops (those classic stairways leading down to the pavement). At the end of the village I headed generally westward, including Houston (pronounced 'How-ston') Street, trendy Soho, Canal Street and its plethora of two-dollar stores...
Finding myself on the Bowery, I stumbled past the Downtown Music Store, an actual avant-garde Jazz record store! There is one in the world! It's narrow rectangle comprised one wall entirely of the fruitiest stuff I'd ever seen, names I'd never remotely heard of. A find for any audiophile...
Dinner was at a pavement restaurant on Mulberry Street, central to tiny Little Italy. Dunno if it was all year around but the length of its three blocks were closed off for this crazy side show thing. Any questions about safety in New York were answered here - there was a cop on every corner and half a dozen at the end of the street.
For anyone who watches Seinfeld, my hostel on West 55th Street was directly above the Soup Nazi! Returning there before the night's hang, I fully checked out the closed shopfront (with sign saying 'Now Franchising') and tired old sign next door for Kenny Kramer's bus tour. Business ain't lookin so good dees deys...
It was mighty good to see Sean and meet his wife Echo - while I'd been entirely consumed by tourist activities, I wanted to also see some of the living, meet the people I knew there and share some of their experiences. From what I could glean from the both of them, times were difficult and it was a struggle, but they knew the reasons why they were there and they weren't about to bail.
Sean was hacking away at a solo gig the likes of which I knew all too well. The surroudings were a little schmicker than I was accustomed to, but it was the same vibe - clean, gleaming fixtures, piano herded into one corner by the chatty indifference of an audience too consumed with themselves and each other to notice. Still, like myself or any other player who's just keen to play and make a quid, Sean has an obvious appreciation of the day-job like aspect of these gigs, and as I sat and chatted with Echo, he willingly plugged away.
I bid them adieu in the next set break and headed to my next juncture, back up the top end of Seventh Avenue to the Village Vanguard. Earlier in the afternoon I nearly missed it - a tiny door with a red awning obscured from the street by scaffolding.
Paying my excessive cover and minimum for the late set, as I stepped past the cover charge guy and saw the room, the sight of the place really hit me. All the famous names and all the famous live recordings throughout the history - Coltrane, Rollins, Josh Redman et al, and a slightly nervous Bill Evans on that Sunday evening in 1961, the last time they would perform together before Scott La Faro died a week later. The room looked old, and smelled damp, but it was the original and there was no denying it.
The late set was the Fred Hersch trio with Drew Gress and Eric MacFarlane (right surname?) - a smattering of people littered the front and I took place by myself near the bar up the back. Fred's recorded work is nothing short of stellar and tonight he didn't disappoint at all. I couldn't believe how good the piano sounded, as well as the overall live sound, something which I would discover at every single gig I saw through the week.
Satisfied with the evening's performance, not wishing to bother Fred, I somehow took a wrong turn and got lost on the way out, before making my way to Fat Cat, the late night hang. There seemed to be a bandstand in the middle of pool tables, as well as much needed internet (I walked the entire island for a week and found about three cafes, all quite expensive), so I pulled up a pint of something and proceeded forthwith...and then took the late night Metro home! After 12.30 pm! Another box ticked about this place.....