Monday, January 15, 2007

A New York Minute

Some random thoughts about the IAJE conference and New York City in general:
  • The best word to describe IAJE is "overwhelming" (and this was said by others who are higher up the jazz food chain than I am). Nearly every hour required making a choice between a couple of cool things to see; there was no way, a la Pokemon, to catch 'em all.

  • As you may have noticed during my "typical day" post from the other day, it was hardly possible to turn around without seeing someone who's really well-known in the world of jazz (and thinking that, in a more perfect world, these musicians would have a much wider audience than they do now--more bebop, less Britney).

  • My only complaint about the conference would be that they could have done a better job of assigning certain sizes of venues to certain peformers; the Dave Liebman and Dave Pietro performances were full to overflowing, and the Jerry Bergonzi one on Friday night was so full that they had a Hotel Gestapo Guy out there who would only let one person in if another person left. Meanwhile, there was a huge ballroom in the other hotel across the street that would have held these crowds just fine. (I'll be repeating these sentiments in the online survey that they have on their site.)

  • I hadn't been to New York City since I was around two years old, and I have to say that I liked it more than I thought I was going to. The things that you always hear about the place--crowded, noisy, etc.--seemed to give a sense of vibrancy rather than chaos. Most of the people I ran across seemed nicer than I'd expected, and it was cool to see a downtown area that was open 24/7 (in contrast to Dallas, where a lot of the downtown streets get rolled up by six in the evening).

  • The sheer bigness of the place was also amazing to me--just flying into LaGuardia and seeing the mass of tall buildings on Manhattan gave a sense that we weren't in Dallas anymore, Toto.

  • My proverbial hat is off to the NYC cabbies; there were several times during my ride where I was just sure we were going to die, but everyone seemed to weave and merge rather skillfully, even with mere inches of clearance.

  • I didn't get to do a lot of the "tourist-y" stuff on this trip--the Empire State Building, Central Park, Ground Zero, etc.--but I was really glad that I got to walk through Times Square. Even though all the ads on the sides of the buildings employ an obscene amount of neon--I shudder to think what the electric bill for even one of them would be--but it certainly generates a sensory experience that's like no other.

    The lights of Times Square

  • It was rather shocking to see just how expensive everything was up there. We ate at a Friday's one time, and the entrees were a good six or seven bucks more than at home; dinner at the Olive Garden in Times Square was $70 for three of us, including the mandatory gratuity (which seemed odd for a party that small). Still, we had a great view of the action outside, and I had a $20 gift card from there that knocked the price down to a more "normal" level.

  • I actually felt rather safe walking around in the city; granted, I was rarely alone, save for the occasional trip between the two hotels, but even when I saw some less-than-savory-looking characters, there was never a just-me-and-them situation, because the streets were always full of people.

  • It was extremely cool to go to the jazz clubs; seeing the Bob Mintzer Big Band perform is something that's not likely to happen outside of New York, since the members have so many other gigs (I saw one trumpeter, Scott Wendholt, perform in five big bands during my visit), and realizing that Sweet Rhythm, where they played, used to be the legendary Sweet Basil. But the real "we walked where giants walked" moment came on our Saturday night visit to the Village Vanguard. Just sitting at those tables and realizing how many of jazz's legends had played there in the past gave everything such a strong sense of history. It also gave me a cool visual reference for the next time I listen to one of the numerous "Live at the Village Vanguard" recordings I've amassed over the years.

    The famous red awning in front of the Vanguard (this and the front door are the only parts of the club at street level; the rest is in a basement)
IAJE won't be in New York for at least the next several years, but I look forward to my next trip, whenever that may be.

He's making a list: Here's a list of the artists whom I'd really been wanting to see, but had never gotten to do so before the conference: Eric Alexander (with the group All for One), Sheila Jordan and Steve Kuhn, Taylor Eigsti, Eddie Gomez, Sara Gazarek, Ada Rovatti, Claudio Roditi, the Clayton Brothers (I'd seen them in a big band and separately at Port Townsend, but not together), the Dave Liebman Group, and John Fedchock's New York Big Band (I'd seen the latter two as guest artists with other groups, but not with their own).

Here's a list of artists who were new to me at the convention and whom I really enjoyed: Kelly Eisenhour, Anne Ducros, Roberta Gamborini, Matt Wilson's Arts and Crafts, and the Avishai Cohen Trio (that's the bass player, not the trumpet player; I'd heard his work with Chick Corea and Origin, but not anything of his as a leader).

Here are some artists whom I've seen before and enjoyed again at the conference: The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Eric Marienthal, Joey DeFrancesco, the UNT Jazz Singers, Randy Brecker, Conrad Herwig and Brian Lynch, Antonio Hart, Jimmy Heath, James Moody, Slide Hampton (the last three with the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band), Terell Stafford (with three different bands!) and Wycliffe Gordon.

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