At Wagner Park after work tonight to catch a couple of sets by the Latin Giants of Jazz, the 15-member orchestra best known for backing the late Latin bandleader Tito Puente.
An impromptu dance area opened up, and soon the floor was filled with couples, swishing and spinning into the late summer sunset.
Click for the video:
I grew up on classic studio films and Hollywood musicals, which probably makes me more familiar with the Great American Songbook than my fellow Gen-X and younger cohorts, many of whom associate the songs with cocktail lounges, wedding receptions, and um… movies starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Nowadays, artists like Peter Cincotti, Michael Bublé and (still, sometimes) Harry Connick, Jr. carry on the torch for a new generation… though I don’t know that their fan bases would be considered particularly youthful.
The GAS was the soundtrack of American life for more than half a century, and pre-1960 recordings abound. In this decade, Rod Stewart recorded four volumes of the Songbook, but my recommendation to those looking for a primer is decidedly more old school than Rod the Mod: Ella Fitzgerald’s Songbooks. All eight of the studio albums comprising the series were re-released as a box set by Verve in 1993.
In February, Austin won the Best Jazz Vocal Album Grammy for her tribute album, Avant Gershwin — 53 years and 16 albums after landing her first record contract at the age of 5. She harbors no ill will for her late-career recognition, though she did publicly thank Elvis Costello for knocking up “that b*tch Diana Krall” (who owns Grammys for both Best Jazz Vocal Album and Jazz Vocal Performance.)
From the stage facing the Hudson, Austin wowed the crowd with jazzed up versions of classics like “I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise,” “Funny Face,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” and “Our Love Is Here To Stay.”
The man who only lives for making money
Lives a life that isn’t necessarily sunny;
Likewise the man who works for fame –
There’s no guarantee that time won’t erase his name.
The fact is
The only work that really brings enjoyment
Is the kind that is for girl and boy meant.
Fall in love — you won’t regret it.
That’s the best work of all, if you can get it.
– “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” George and Ira Gershwin (1937)
There are few things SYB enjoys more than assisting tourists: hardly a week goes by without his proactively offering directions to bewildered-looking foreigners. German speakers, in particular, will capture his attention… as will fetching French women, as was the case with RM’s guests, whom we met at his St. Patrick’s Day soirée in Sunnyside. MB and JA were in town for just over a week, and fortunate I think to have such attentive and enthusiastic boosters for New York City at their disposal.
I crossed paths with the touring trio on Sixth Avenue, as they were heading into the MoMA to take advantage of Target Free Friday Nights when museum admission is complimentary from 4–8PM. All other times, it’s a rather steep $20, which explains this insane queue for entry.
So despite the fact that my MoMA membership card would earn me line-jumping privileges, I knew that every single one of these people would make it inside the museum eventually, and I didn’t particularly want to be there when they did. Not when I could check out the acclaimed “Design and the Elastic Mind” exhibit any other time… through May 12, anyway.
I met up with SYB, MB and JA a couple of hours later at Amazing 66, where we gave our visitors an authentic taste of Chinatown. Tonight’s menu overlapped much of the Mardi Gras meal -– with the short rib-stuffed pumpkin and steamed whole flounder the unqualified hits of the night — but in the excitement of feasting, I neglected to order the “Salad Walnut Prawns” — sorry, HYB! Afterwards, the nine of us made the obligatory post-dinner visit to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory around the corner.
After the couples took their leave, it was up to the B brothers and me to plan out the rest of our evening. The night was still young, but, as it turned out, so were our guests; JA was a couple weeks shy of her 21st birthday, which strictly limited our options. Three native New Yorkers, and not one of us could immediately think of a place to spend a Friday night that did not involve drinking, or that at least required guests to be of drinking age. Embarrassing, actually – and a testament to how very long it had been since any of us had to take such matters into consideration.
I remembered what fun we’d had at J’s birthday celebration in December, and suggested Fat Cat Billiards on Christopher, both for its live music and its low-key vibe. Under 21 welcome! The $3 cover got us into the basement saloon, stocked with pool and ping pong tables, shufflepuck and foosball (“baby-foot” in France, I learned), chess and board games galore. The women, though, seemed most entranced by the live performances, and the well-over-21 among us were more than happy to settle into the worn couches for the next couple of hours to catch the sets by The Gospel Queens of Brooklyn and one very talented jazz octet.
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