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Mark Heard It First

The Art of the Hang

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I attended the Jazz Congress at Lincoln Center in New York this week.  Through Corniche Travel I got a great rate at the iconic Sherry-Netherland Hotel at 59th and 5th.  Iconic is an overused word, but in this case it applies.  Built in 1927, it has been the first call hotel for a long list of show business luminaries including Sammy Davis, Jr., Mel Torme, The Manhattan Transfer and Diana Ross.  This is the view that greeted me when I walked into the suite.  It is not terrible.

Sunset in Central Park

The attention to detail at this hotel is outstanding.  In the room were a handwritten note from Hotel Manager Theresa Nocerino, a fruit and cheese plate, a very nice bottle of Chateau St. Michelle cabernet, and a tin of chocolates, which I ate immediately.

My living room for my stay at the Sherry-Netherland.  I wish it could be my living room for my stay on the planet.

That evening I saw the ice skaters in Central Park and bundled up and went down for a closer look.  I’d post a photo, but I was not pleased with the branded name on the skating rink wall.  Let’s just say that it coincided with a certain garish hotel that looms over Columbus Circle.  Still, it was fun to see New Yorkers on ice.

New Yorkers on ice.

Each morning I bundled up and walked down 59th along the edge of Central Park to Jazz at Lincoln Center.  After proper bundling, that first blast of cold air as I left The Sherry (I can call it “The Sherry” now because we are close) was invigorating and exciting.

Morning walk.

I noticed they were offering free head shots at the conference.  So I did that.  The price was right.  I have a head.  Seemed like a no brainer, so to speak.

PR welfare.  Of course I had one done.

I always glean useful information from the various panels at the conference, but I have to say the most productive and enjoyable part of it all is the hang, getting to see East Coast radio programmers, writers and artists who I rarely see, and meeting new people.  Having said that, there was a healthy West Coast presence.  Mark Winkler, Jennifer Leitham, Denise Donatelli, Judy Wexler, and Jacques LeSure were all there.  Cathy Segal Garcia snapped this photo of Winkler and me.  Honestly the most productive hour of the conference was when I latched onto Winkler and he introduced me to people milling about the lobby.  That cat knows everybody.  Latching on is an art form.  I am good at it.

The Marks brothers, Winkler and Christian Miller.  From the coast.  The art of the latch on.

Highlights for me were hearing Darlene Chan (legendary Playboy Jazz Festival producer) talk about presenting jazz on the West Coast, hearing noted radio programmer Bradley Stone moderate a panel of well known DJs about what they will and will not spin, and the Perfect Pitch sessions, where various electronic press kits were evaluated.  I enjoyed meeting Staci Griesbach, who is based in LA and pitched an interesting concept album – reimagining the recordings of Patsy Cline in a jazz idiom.  She was great fun and I think I have a new LA jazz hang pal.

The first night out I caught the A train from Columbus Circle to the Village where I heard Denise Donatelli, three time Grammy nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album perform at Mezzrow.  Mezzrow is a classic Village basement bar hang.  Denise had the calibre of accompaniment you would expect from a three time Grammy nominee – Geoffrey Keezer on piano, who also arranged her last album, and Ron Blake on sax.  Did I mention this place is intimate?  I was practically onstage with Denise and the band.  I am going to add “appeared onstage with Denise Donatelli at Mezzrow” to my resume.  I’m sure Denise won’t mind.  It was a great set of first class arrangements and musicianship.

Exquisite Denise Donatelli and Ron Blake

 

Keezer on the keys.  Brilliant.

I was very proud of my friend Jennifer Leitham who spoke eloquently on Tuesday about transgender issues in the music business.  People were riveted as she talked about the process of transitioning while on the road with Doc Severinson.  Jennifer was Mel Torme’s bassist for a decade, and has played with everybody from Peggy Lee to Bob Dorough.  Right after she transitioned in the early 2000’s I was able to book her occasionally, and she has played in my trio from time to time.  I have been proud to know Jennifer for a long time.  I worked with her when she was John.  She is a great bass player.

Panel moderator Katie  Simon (WGBO/Jazz Night in America,) Jennifer, Chloe Rowlands, and LGBT ally Riley Mulherkar.  Chloe and Riley are trumpet players with the superb brass quartet “The Westerlies.”

Tuesday night I caught the A train again and heard the gorgeous symmetry between Kate McGarry, Jo Lawry, Will Vinson, and Keef Granz. Spectacular singing! The great Theo Bleckman sat in. Bar 55 in the Village was packed to the rafters.  Now I know first hand why Kate gets so much respect among jazz fans and vocalists.  She is currently Grammy nominated for Best Jazz Vocal album.

After the first set I hopped in a cab to make the second part of a double header at a place on 44th called “Etcetera, Etcetera, Etcetera” to meet my friend James Gavin and hear something called “Canadians in New York,” led by Ori Dagan.  Ori is a talented singer out of Toronto, with great energy and presence.  He writes some fun, quirky material and is very entertaining.  I dug him.  He was in town to present at APAP.

Ori’s all in!  Tremendous presence and energy from the talent from Toronto.

Ori’s opening act was “Bridge + Wolak,” a clarinet/accordion duo that also hails from the Great North.  They blended classical music with jazz and pop elements and were uniquely entertaining.  After the show James and I talked with Michael Bridge about the challenges of traveling with an accordion.  Michael told us that once a TSA worker asked him if he was a writer.  When Michael asked him why he asked that, he replied, “Because you have that typewriter.”

I was fortunate to be able to stay an extra day after the conference.  Wednesday morning Theresa Nocerino gave me a very interesting tour of the Sherry-Netherland.

This hotel is impeccably maintained and Theresa and her staff chose many of the decorative elements in the rooms.

I have no way of knowing, but I am thinking this was the suite where Sammy  Davis, Jr. always stayed.  Let’s just go with that.

The view out the window of a suite looking toward the Empire State Building.  The street facing rooms have double paned windows and are as quiet as a library.

George was often on duty during my stay.  I’m not used to having a manned elevator.  When I first got on, we stood staring at each other for a moment.  Of course he was waiting for me to tell him my floor, and I was looking at him like I expected him to take a wild guess.  We had a chuckle about that.  He is a lovely gentleman, and typical of the entire staff at the hotel – friendly, helpful, with no hint of attitude.

 

George on the job.

After my tour of the Sherry, I walked around the corner to St. Peter’s church on Lexington, known as “The Jazz Church.”  The late Edmund Anderson created Midday Jazz Midtown  in 1982.  A personal friend of Duke Ellington, Anderson was a music lover who wrote lyrics for Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, and helped produce Duke’s Black, Brown and Beige concert at Carnegie Hall. Ronny Whyte, who curates the series, told me that Billy Strayhorn’s piano is housed in the church.  I thoroughly enjoyed the concert I saw there.  Hearing Mauricio de Souza’s mostly Brazilian music was like floating on a cloud.  His version of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” was particularly moving.

I’m pleased to say that I will be performing in this highly respected series on October 23rd.  A big deal for MCM in the Big Apple during his birthday week.  Many thanks to the gifted Ronny Whyte for the invitation.

 

This was during the load in for Wednesday’s concert at St. Peter’s.  By the time Mauricio de Souza performed the beautiful, airy sanctuary was filled with an attentive and appreciative crowd.  

Wednesday night I once again caught the A train to the Village.  It was the last night of my stay, and as gorgeous as my suite at The Sherry was, I was not going to spend the evening sitting in it.

I caught Vocal Mania at the Zinc Jazz Bar, hosted by Janis Siegel and Lauren Kinhan.  These are two of the most accomplished vocalists on the scene.  Janis, of course, of the Manhattan Transfer, and Lauren of New York Voices.  I was not familiar with Lauren’s singing.  She now has a new fan.  That would be me.  Her voice is agile and clear, and she knows how to use it.  Janis was in total command, spontaneous with solid musicianship.  The lady has a pretty darned good sense of humor as well.

Janis Siegel showing us how it is done.

Luminescent Lauren Kinhan.

The thing about New York is you never know who is going to show up.  Lea DeLaria stopped in and dropped a fiercely funky version of Bowie’s “Fame” on what would have been his 72nd birthday.  She took no prisoners.

Lea DeLaria popped up.  We were all glad.

As if things weren’t going well enough, Duchess performed.  Talent cubed.  These three singers are all superb, and their tight harmonies, rapport with each other, and slightly zany material are hugely entertaining.  They swing hard and know what they are doing.

Duchess.  Amy Cervini, Hillary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou.  Talent cubed.

There were other guest artists, notably the superb Brazilian singer Fleurine, who is about as authentic as it gets.  I shared a table with Tania Grubbs, the Pittsburgh based mover, shaker, taste maker, and bon vivant.  She will laugh if she sees that.  Actually she is passionate about this music and a really fun hang.  But it was getting late, and I had an early flight so after the first set  I grabbed a slice, a cab, and went back to – you guessed it, my suite at the Sherry.  Can a person be in a relationship with a hotel?  Yes, I think a person can.

The next morning I shared a taxi to JFK with Mark Winkler.  We talked with our driver Herb about the traffic, and talked with each other about the state of jazz in Los Angeles.  I don’t think Herb was much interested in hearing about jazz in LA, but no matter.

Grateful for another fantastic trip to New York.  It was really a great hang.  Onward and outward.

MCM