I promised you guys on Twitter to start a blog about my New York trip, so without further ado, here goes! Want fast food? Click here for my tourist impressions! Phone photos you'll find on my Facebook page.
After hours of traveling I really felt like I was being thrown in a time warp when I got out of the Chambers St. subway station. Bright lights, police cars, people everywhere... Now, THIS is a city!
And so here I am, sitting in the guest room I reserved in TriBeCa, Lower Manhattan. My host, Mark Hennen, is a really nice cat who's loves pianos (he's got five of them!). The top piece is a 1906 Chickering grand piano that was the house piano of the Half Note, back in the sixties. Lennie Tristano played on this baby, and it was there when Wynton Kelly recorded Smokin' at the Half Note with Wes Montgomery... Yeah! The sound is very unique I must say, and much bigger than you would expect. Mark loves cats too.
Today, December 29, was the first day, I really could do something. In the morning some looking around, especially in Greenwich Village where all thos nice jazz clubs are. In the afternoon I went to St. Paul's chapel and the WTC. Really impressive to see what 9/11 has done to this city.
The night belongs to music and therefore I went for a set of great latin music to Guantanamera. Gerardo Contino with conguero Sebastian Nickoll, John Benitez on bass and Manuel Valera on piano... wow! Then off to a jazz club with loads of history: the Village Vanguard, for this night's highlight: Cedar Walton! He's still kicking it... what a groove! And then after hours at the Fat Cat with George Burton, a pianist who I didn't know yet, but who has a very energetic style and band.
All in all some very nice first impressions!
December 30 was a nice day for a 42nd Street stroll. Starting at the Brooklyn Bridge City Hall, then with subway 5 uptown Manhattan and out at Grand Central Terminal. This station is amazing! Just the sheer size of it is mind boggling. Then the Chrysler Building, the public library and Bryant Park, which was turned into a true winter wonderland.
I had planned to have dinner at Cornelia Street Cafe with Eva Novoa, a very musical and modern Spanish pianist, who also studied at the Royal Conservatory but now lives in NYC. Food was great and a good basis for the concert with Ingrid Laubrock, Mary Halvorson and Tom Rainey. An intense improvised music concert. Off to Smalls, where Joe Magnarelli was playing with Alan Broadbent. Smalls must be the epythomy of a jazz club, like the Vanguard. Amazing acoustics, great and cozy atmosphere... wow! The session afterwards was way too short to get onstage, so off to the Fat Cat and hit them keys!
The next day some exploring around Chinatown (forget it, Jake...) and Little Italy. If you're ever there: go to Ferraraand order a caffe latte and a cannoli... the best!
Earlier that day a little bird told me that there was something going to happen in a bar called East 11th Street Bar.Stefano Doglioni, a great Italian bass clarinet player who also studied in The Hague and had moved, was gonna go there. What a nice surprise to see that John Marshall was onstage as well! A real cozy new year's eve, and of course sitting in with the band and hearing stories (especially about Buddy Rich!), plus the proof that Americans can make some very decent beer!
New year's day I had reserved for MoMA... impressive! Not only The Scream by Munch, a whole lot of Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Van Gogh and the who-is-who in modern art, but also great photography and architecture exhibitions.
Extra fun factor: taking sneaky pictures of tourists photographing the artworks... The night belonged to great salsa music, fantastic food and mojitos at Guantanamera. I think I'm getting hooked!
Well, where do I start? She is a true piano guru, who's in the beginning of her nineties and very, very on top of her game. Sophia Rosoff is the only one still alive who has worked with Abby Whiteside, who created a unique way of how to use your body when playing the piano, not using the fingers as moving joints. After an hour, playing felt so light and as if everything worked just by itself... amazing! I got a load of new ways to practice and that's exactly what I came for. I'm very thankful for her advice and I urge all pianists who are planning to go to NYC to study with her.
After Sophia's lesson I floated off to the Met, to even get more amazed. This museum is just too big to do for a whole week! And I only had three hours... I basically went through Egyptian art, a collection of rare and old music instruments and the French impressionists.
The night was this time for Joey DeFrancesco at Lincoln Center, who played with Paul Bollenback on guitar and Jeremy Thomas on drums. After this total blast I decided to pay one more visit to Guantanamera, which is around the corner and had a nice long talk with conguero Sebastian Nickoll about his move to live in NYC.
January 3 started off with a visit to the International Center of Photography, which held an exhibition of photos from the horrible era of apartheid in South Africa. I'm always interested in war and protest photography. It makes you realize that our troubles aren't that big.
In the afternoon I went to Queens to visit Amina Figarova and Bart Platteau. What a treat! Nice food and they shared their vision on living in NYC and how to get things done. And believe me, they do a lot!
At night we went to Smalls with the three of us for a concert I was really looking forward to: David Berkman (p), Ed Howard (b), Johnathan Blake (d) and guest soloist Tom Harrell on trumpet and flugelhorn. Now this was a concert I will remember for the rest of my life, because of its incredible intensity! After hours were cool and I finally could hit some more keys, which felt great and has me longing for more...
After a ridiculous trip, in which I felt like the starring role of a Jacques Tati movie, I finally arrived at Queens College for my second piano lesson. This time with David Berkman. I told him what things I'd like to do, and he came directly to business. How do I say this? I think I have practice material for, let's say, five years now! An enormous amount of ideas for, mostly, rhythmical practice. I'm so glad I taped it! Also his tips about composition I will take with me, and it really makes me feel like working! I went to New York to get my ass kicked, and I got what I wanted. Thanks a million, Dave! It was also Dave, who came with the idea of coming back to New York and record an album... thanks a million again!
As if I hadn't gotten enough information, I went to see George Coleman at Smoke (and had a really nice southern style catfish for dinner). George Coleman sure likes to surprise his band members (Harold Mabern - p, Doug Weiss - b, Al Foster - d), and Al Foster is such a master of finesse and creativity!
Off to the Jazz Standard, a club that is not really my cup of tea, but the concert with John Abercrombie (g), Gary Versace (Hammond), and Adam Nussbaum (d) was a real treat.
To finish the day, I went into the much dirtier and grittier Fat Cat to see Jeremy Manasia and his fellows. Me and Jeremy studied at the same conservatory back in the day, and it was a joy to hear him play!
The next day I went with Stefano and Richard Clements to the house of the late jazz patroness Nica de Koenigswarter (Nica's dream, Pannonica), where grandmaster of bebop piano Barry Harris resides. I felt very honoured to visit Barry, and was expecting lots of tips about playing piano, but it became more like a jazz party, complete with a club of Japanese fans who brought incredible food.
What a feast! Of course we made lots of music, and I will never forget how we created incredible bebop solo breaks on Stevie Wonder's "Isn't she lovely"... Who would have thought that?
It was hard to say goodbye, but John Marshall's concert at Smalls really eased the pain. He played with a true bebop quintet , which was followed by the jam session led by Philip Harper, who had me play two tunes. What a ball and really nice cats! Not to mention the one and only real Smalls cat, who was lying on the piano all the time I played...
And then it was January 6, and the feeling came to me that I would have to leave this fantastic city in two days. So off to see the Brooklyn Bridge and then to the Guggenheim museum to treat myself to a massive amount of black and white paintings, drawings and sculptures by Pablo Picasso.
I always had a soft spot for his work, but here I was in Picasso heaven! The museum itself is a work of art too, and sometimes you don't know where to look.
That night The Bad Plus were playing at the Village Vanguard. For some reason I had never seen them before... Amazing players!
And then it was Monday, my last whole day in the Big Apple. I promised myself for years that I would to go see the Vanguard Orchestra play at the Vanguard on a Monday night, but first it was time for coffee with pianist Jeremy Manasia, and we had great fun talking about our conservatory days and all the stuff we’re doing at this moment. Really cool that he will come to Holland next spring with Ellister’s Smalls NYC project.
After loads of coffee it was time to go all the way up Rockefeller Center to make some nice pictures o NYC from above. The cool part of it is that you don’t have to wait for a long time, and that you’ll get the Empire State Building on your picture as well.
A nice deja vu followed, with Eva at Cornelia Street Cafe and then on to a set of Roberta Picket solo piano at smalls en the Ari Hoenig Quartet with Tivon Pennicott (sax), Gilad Hekselman (g), and Orlando LeFleming (b). Hoenig is such a creative monster of a drummer, but alas, the Vanguard was calling me.
The orchestra’s performance turned out to be the perfect final concert for my trip. What a band, what a groove, what incredible dynamics, what a sound... big wow!
After that, back to Smalls to hit the keys for the last time during this holiday!
The last day turned out to be a very sunny day, so I took my camera with me and went on the Staten Island Ferry. A final stroll through Little Italy again and then it was time to say goodbye to Mark and his cats and pianos, and to one of the world’s most inspiring places I think there is.
In France they say: “Partir, c’est mourir un peu.” And I found that’s absolutely true, but... I’ll be back soon! I’d hereby like to thank everybody who made this trip such a joy for me.