The Art of the Hang – Notes from Jazz Congress

For the second year in a row I attended the Jazz Congress at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York this past week. Thanks to Corniche Travel, I scored a great rate at the iconic Sherry-Netherland at 59th and 5th, and was given a suite with a city/park view. This is what I saw through the window when I walked into the suite at dusk.  This is not bad.

Sunset over Central Park

This hotel can genuinely be called iconic – an over used word, but in this case it applies. Built in 1927, it has been the preferred stop for show biz luminaries through the years. I have it on good authority that it was the “go to” for Sammy Davis, Jr,, Mel Torme, The Manhattan Transfer, and Dianna Ross. It has only 50 available rooms, and the rest of the units are permanent residents. This was my living room for the stay. I wish this was my living room for my stay on the planet.  The personal touches and attention to detail at this hotel are outstanding.  I was greeted with a hand written welcome note from Managing Director Theresa Nocerino, a fruit and cheese plate, a very nice bottle of St. Michelle cabernet, and a tin of chocolates.


My digs.

After dark I saw the skaters in Central Park, and bundled up to go down and get a close up look. I would have posted a picture except for the branded name on the wall of the skating rink. It is a name that is all too familiar these days and I’d rather not give it any more attention. Can you guess the name it shares with the garish hotel that looms at Columbus Circle?  Still, it was fun to watch New Yorkers on ice.

Each morning I bundled up and walked 59th across Central Park to Jazz at Lincoln Center for the conference.  It was about a 10 minute walk, and I have to say that with the proper bundling, that blast of icy air as I left the lobby of the Sherry (I can call it “the Sherry” now, because we are so close) was invigorating and energizing.

After getting my lanyard and tote bag full of jazzy goodies, I noticed they were taking free head shots.  So I did that.  Hey, the price was right. I have a head.  Seemed like a “no brainer,” so to speak.

I always glean nuggets of useful information from the various panel discussions, but the greatest thing about the Congress is the hang itself – seeing old and new friends, and connecting with some East Coast radio programmers, writers and artists I just don’t get to see often.  That being said, there was a strong contingency of West Coast people there, and it is always great to run into Mark Winkler.  Cathy Segal-Garcia snapped this shot of us.  Judy Wexler was there, as were Denise Donatelli, Jennifer Leitham, and the great guitarist Jacques LeSure.  It was great to see my new East Coast pals Mary Foster Conklin, and Tania Grubbs.  Also cool meeting John Bishop of the Ballard Jazz Festival in Seattle (my Second City.)  Honestly the most productive part of the congress for me was when I latched onto Mark Winkler for an hour and had him introduce me to people.  That cat knew everybody.  Latching on is an art form.  I’m good at it.

The Marks Brothers from the coast – Winkler and Christian Miller.  Me latching on.  

The first night I caught the A Train to the Village and saw three time Grammy Best Jazz Vocalist nominee Denise Donatelli at Mezzrow.  Mezzrow is a long, narrow, classic Village jazz hang, a real listening room.  Denise had them packed in.  Her backing was the calibre you would expect from a multiple Grammy nominee – Ron Blake on sax and  Geoffrey Keezer on keys, who also arranged her latest record.  Did I mention this club is tiny?  I was practically onstage with Denise.  I have updated my resume to include “appeared with Denise Donatelli onstage at Mezzrow.”  I’m sure she won’t mind.  It was a wonderful set of world class arrangements and musicianship.

Denise Donatelli, Ron Blake.

Keezer on the keys.

I was very proud of my pal Jennifer Leitham, who spoke at the conference on Tuesday on transgender issues in the music world.  After Jennifer transitioned in the early 2000’s, I was able to throw some gigs her way at Chaya Brasserie and she worked in my trio from time to time.  I have known Jennifer a long time, and worked with her when she was John.  She is a great bassist.  People were amazed to hear her stories about transitioning when she was with Doc Severinson on the road.  She was Mel Torme’s bassist for a decade, and has played with everybody from Peggy Lee to Bob Dorough.

Moderator Katie Simon (WBGO/Jazz Night in America), Jennifer, Chloe Rowlands and LGBT ally Riley Mulherkar – Chloe and Riley are fantastic trumpet players in the lauded brass quartet The Westerlies.  

Other highlights of the conference for me were hearing Darlene Chan discus presenting Jazz on the West Coast, and hearing Bradley Stone moderate Jukebox Jury.  Also I found the Perfect Pitch session, where the panel discussed various electronic press kits, very helpful. I  enjoyed meeting LA based singer Staci Griesbach, who presented her interesting album concept for the panel. She is reimagining the recordings of Patsy Cline in a jazz idiom.  I think  have a new LA jazz buddy.

Tuesday night  I enjoyed 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 why Kate gets so much respect in the jazz world.  She is Grammy nominated this year in the Best Jazz Vocalist category.

After hearing great Kate and company, I cabbed it over to a place on West 44th called Etcetera, Etcetera, Etcetera to join my friend author James Gavin and catch Ori  Dagan in a show called “Canadians in New York.”  Ori was down from Toronto to attend APAP and do some gigs.  I have seen many of Ori’s videos, but had not heard him live.  He is a talented guy, a very fun performer who writes some quirky originals.  Totally dug him.

Ori’s all in.  Great energy!  The very entertaining Ori Dagan.

Opening for Ori was the evening’s other Canadian element, “Bridge + Wolak,” a talented clarinet/accordion duo.  Jim and I talked with Michael Bridge after the show about the challenges of touring with an accordion and dealing with airport security.  Michael told us he was asked by a TSA worker if he was a writer.  When Michael inquired why he asked that, the TSA worker said, “Because you have that typewriter.”

The gifted Canadian duo “Bridge + Wolak” blended elements of classical, jazz and pop music into a very fun set.

I was lucky to be able to stay in extra day after the conference. On Wednesday morning Theresa Nocerino gave me a very interesting tour of the Sherry-Netherland, and showed me various room and suite configurations, all beautifully appointed.

I have no way of knowing for sure, but I like to think this was Sammy Davis Jr’s favorite suite at the Sherry-Netherland.  Let’s go with that.  

This is the view from a room in the Sherry, through the double paned window looking toward the Empire State building.  These street facing rooms are completely quiet.


George on the job.

George was often on duty in the elevator. Not being used to a manned elevator, the first night I walked in we stared 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, very friendly and typical of the entire staff.

After my tour at the Sherry, I hiked 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 at the church.

I’m very excited to share that I will be performing at this highly respected series on Thursday, October 23rd – a big deal for MCM in the Big Apple.  So grateful to the wonderful entertainer Ronny Whyte for the invitation.

This shot was taken as the band was loading in for Wednesday’s Midday Jazz Midtown concert.  By the time Mauricio de Souza’s  trio started, the sanctuary was filled with an attentive, appreciative audience.  I enjoyed the concert immensely, like floating on a cloud of Brazilian music.  Mauricio’s take on “Ave Maria” was particularly beautiful.

My suite at the Sherry was certainly fabulous (I never get tired of saying “my suite at the Sherry”) but I was not about to spend my last night of the trip in the rooms.  I caught the A train to the Village once again, this time to Zinc Jazz Bar to catch the Vocal Mania show.  That night was 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 am happily familiar with Janis’ singing, but Lauren was new to me.  Lauren Kinhan now has a new fan.  That would be me.  Her voice is spectacular and she knows how to use it.  Beautiful.  Janis Siegel brings a deep musicianship, connectivity and humor to her work.  I was especially impressed by her reading of Marian McPartland’s “Twilight World.”

Janis Siegel showing us how it is done.

Lauren Kinhan, luminescent at the Zinc Bar.

It was spectacular to see the amazing trio Duchess perform live.  Talent cubed.  Their close knit harmony is spot on – three great singers who know how to blend.  They swing hard, and have a good natured, at times zany approach to some fantastic material.  Hugely entertaining!

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

The thing about New York is you never know who the heck is going to show up.  Lea DeLaria was in the house and got down with a fierce reading of Bowie’s “Fame” on what would have been his 72nd birthday.


Lea DeLaria popped up at Vocal Mania.  We were all glad.

The supporting band was, of course, superb – pianist Addison Frei, bassist Luques Curtis, and drummer Vince Cherico.  There were other surprise guests, most notably the brilliant Brazilian artist Fleurine.  I shared a table with Pittsburgh power broker and bon vivant Tania Grubb (if she sees this she will laugh.)  But seriously Tania has a real passion and commitment to this music.  She is a talented singer and a fun hang.

I grabbed a slice, a cab, and headed back to my suite at the Sherry.  (See, I never get tired of saying “my suite at the Sherry.”)  I caught a flight out early the next morning and shared a taxi to JFK with the aforementioned Mark Winkler.  During the ride we chatted with Herb our driver about the traffic, and with each other about the LA jazz scene.  I suspect Herb was not really interested in hearing about the LA jazz and music scene.   But that’s OK.

Grateful for another fun and productive working vacation to the Big Apple, and excited to return this October for my show at St. Peter’s, The Jazz Church.  Onward and outward.