The Universe is trying to force me to love Jazz!

The long Labor Day weekend made Sunday into a day for enjoyment, instead of just the day to get ready for work, as it usually is. Sarah, Renee and I took a trip (if you can call five blocks a trip) to The Museum of Natural History’s Human Evolution and Biology exhibit during the day and then we watched Dave Chapelle’s new Showtime standup special during the evening. But that’s all besides the point of this post.

I think the universe is trying to force Sarah and I into being Jazz fans!

After Renee headed home, Sarah and I loafed around watching TV for a bit. Eventually we stumbled onto a performance by some group I’d never heard of on the BET Jazz Channel. I’m not a huge fan of Jazz; I find most of it overly intellectual and just plain boring. In fact, the only two Jazz records I own are are the “Official Jazz Records For People Who Don’t Listen to Jazz”…Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”. I love both, but neither convinced me to run out and buy a ton of Jazz CDs or to start watching BET on Jazz. Lots of avante garde crap and new age sounding elevator music have led me to establish a strict No Jazz channel rule, except for when they show performances by Blues guys. Well, this band was different. The songs had a groove that got our feet tapping and they were tuneful enough that you could just sit back and enjoy on a lazy Sunday. Or maybe I’m just different.

I realize that that’s not particularly weird. Bear with me, this is where it gets interesting.

We hadn’t eaten dinner, and Sarah is on a Mexican kick, so we decided to head up to Cafe Ranchero. On the way up Broadway we heard music coming from a restaurant with a neon musical staff above the door. It was Cleopatra’s Needle, a Jazz restaurant that has music seven nights a week and best of all no cover. We’d somehow managed not to notice it in more than a year in the neighborhood! We decided to have dinner there and check out the goings on, thinking we’d hang out for an hour or two and head home for some more quality time with the TV.

Well, two or three hours later we were still there and still having a great time listening to the talented 20-somethings (and a few older folks) who’d brought their horns, drum sticks, stand up basses and piano chops out for our enjoyment. Each of the horn players would step up to take their turn at bat during the lengthy jams, with the rhythm section being swapped out every few songs. In short, it was a jam session…maybe something like what the beats were attending back in the fifties. There were black kids, asian kids, and spanish kids…saxophonists, trombonists, and a piano player that looked like he and the piano were having a hotly contested greco roman wrestling/staring match. There was even a shy asian young lady whose scatting could have been mistaken for Alto Sax. The music was great, and getting to see the musicians comfort with their instruments and courage in taking chances with their solos made it an awesome way to spend a Sunday. I’ll admit to having very simple tastes when it comes to music, but for whatever it’s worth those tastes were more than satisfied. That said, by midnight the energy level had dipped a bit and the crowd had started to talk over the music.

Then, from out of the crowd of horn guys waiting for their turn to burn stepped none other than Wynton Marsalis. The crowd’s energy level went through the roof immediately, and an ear to ear grin spread over my face. I’m no Jazz scholar, but this is a guy who was on Sesame Street for pete’s sake! He lived up to my expectations by playing with an emotional intensity, tone and tunefullness from a whole different league than even the talented performers we’d already heard. It was obvious to even a tin ear like myself. The effect on the other musician’s was also obvious; everyone who followed him seemed to be giving everything they had so as not to disappoint the main man.

Wynton took another solo during the last jam of the night, and after a few more choruses from other horn players the jam session wound to a close. We had just paid our bill, so we were on the way out when the MC thanked Wynton for taking the time to come down. I turned to Sarah just as the realization made impact…she hadn’t recognized him at all! “Wow”, she said, “I just thought everyone was excited because he was so talented.”

All in all a great night, especially when contrasted with the hours of junk TV we would have spent the night watching. Hopefully, I’ll remember that the next time the couch is calling me.