I finally made it to Birdland last night. I had this block that it had to be as bad as Blue Note, plus the expense tended to keep me away. I still can’t really tell how it is because I just went to the 5:30 show, which is a little different. It’s a $10 cash cover that goes entirely to the band. They have David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band every Wed 5:30-7:15. They play 2 sets and there’s no min at the bar, a $10 min at the tables. They’ve had this gig for the past 8 years and mentioned that Birdland is the friendliest jazz club in the city. It did seem kind of friendly, and now I can conclude that the only horrible expensive jazz club in the city is Blue Note. The tables are laid out better with more room and the vibe feels better. The band was pretty good. The clarinet actually played in Louis Armstrong’s Allstars. It was very enjoyable and I have that as an option anytime I’m up there at that time, which is rare. We went to the bar and I had a delicious homemade mint lemonade for $5. Of course, it’s still midtown and a big tourist place. I mean, the cover for the regular show is usually $40, so it’s up there.
After that, we went over to Jazz Standard for Crescent Boogaloo and dinner. I don’t eat there every time I go, and when I do I often just get an app or the pie of the day, so it’s a special treat when I actually have dinner. I would have liked to have gotten there a little earlier, but we tried the subway route, which took longer. So, we were eating in the dark during the performance. Still, it was excellent as usual. I like how they now give you a page with the specials. They always said they had nightly specials, but no one ever told you what they were.
The music was excellent. It was mainly a Dr. Lonnie Smith trio, which started out pretty cool and avant-garde. The drummer was squeaking on the cymbols and Dr. Lonnie Smith was very interesting on the organ. Then, it got more grooving. After a couple of songs, they brought the great Donald Harrison out for a song. He always amazes me. He is truly fantastic and amazingly versatile. The next song they brought Nicholas Payton up, another one of my favorites. He was awesome. I will say I thought Donald brought it a little more, though. The last song had both horns and it was again great.
It was a very satisfying set.
I did decide to run down to Cake Shop on the Lower East Side for Radio I-Ching. I’d never been there. It’s pretty cool, typical of LES. The upstairs is a bakery/coffee shop with music for sale in the back. Downstairs is live music and a bar. Downstairs reminded me of everywhere else: The Delancy, The Annex, etc. I got there in time for the last couple of songs of Iron Dog. That was pretty good. It was a violin, 2 drummers, and a guitar. Radio I-Ching was awesome. I’d only seen them once at Tonic and I have a cd. It’s avant-garde, but appeals more to the masses than other stuff. They do a lot of covers their own way. Andy Haas is awesome on reeds and horns and Don Fiorino plays lots of guitar-type things. Then, they have Dee Pop on drums. It’s really a great band and I’m surprised more people don’t know about them. Dee introduced the show as being “avant-garde dance music”. Oh yeah! I know, it’s all dance music to me, but I love someone else acknowledging it. Although, I’m a little sick of being the only one dancing, so I just moved a little in my chair. I think I have to forget about that and get up again because I feel too stiff sitting there. I’ve been doing it a lot lately and it’s not as fun. I wanted to stay for the next band, since Dee said they were great, but I decided it would be better to get home so I would be tired. I left at about 10:30, at the end of Radio I-Ching’s set.
It also got me thinking about Tonic again. The last I remember, they are still looking for a new location. In the meantime, they are booking some shows at the Abrons Art Center. I got my own ideas about the Tonic people last night. I think it might work better if they don’t worry about getting a new venue and just book their shows at a bunch of LES venues. They can book the big acts at Abrons and then book the other stuff at places like Cake Shop, The Living Theatre, The Annex, etc. I mean, that room was too big for most of the shows I went to. It was often me and 5 other people, occasionally me and 20 other people, and seldomly packed. I didn’t really like it when it was packed or even a little crowded where it was hard to see. I did like the bookings and the fact that they were lax about the rules – they used to let me bring my tea in, etc. I must admit, I like the energy at Angel Orsanz and Clemente Soto much better. I think the experimental/avant-garde scene would be better off with a central booking agency that has a mailing list and access to venues than another “one-size-fits-all” venue. And, we need this in Manhattan. Brooklyn is thriving and there’s plenty of great venues out there and many more popping up. It’s a much kinder place in general. That’s just my current thoughts on the Tonic situation.