Now THIS is a city. Not just a city. THE city. One of my new Big Apple acquaintances summed it up neatly: in New York, you get a sense of what is possible, of the pinnacle of human achievement. Musically, artistically, architecturally, financially, if you’re kicking ass and taking names, you’re doing it in New York.
Case in point: I came to New York to catch up with old primary and high school friend Matt Jodrell. Matt’s a bit of a musical prodigy. He plays world-class trumpet and piano, he’s toured around the world with all sorts of famous people, and he’s in New York to study a Masters at Juilliard on a full scholarship. We played in bands together all through school, and I idolised him because he was so goddamn good. He introduced me to jazz when we were 11 (yes friends, you can blame him). Anyway, Matt was top of the tree back in Australia. He came to New York, and in his words, it’s a kick in the ass, because all of a sudden there are a hundred other guys and gals who are just as badass, all competing for the same gigs. There are dudes busking on the subway with 3 bucks in their hat who are world-class!
The flipside of this over-achievement and excellence is that New York is a very hard and competitive place to live. And expensive to boot. I stayed with Matt and his two musician housemates – Mike and Nico – for the first 4 days in their little apartment in Astoria, Queens. These are the best musicians of their generation, but they’re hardly living a life of luxury. But they were extremely hospitable and generous, and it was great fun hanging out and talking music, drinking beer, eating curry, watching baseball, and making pancakes for breakfast.
Matt making curry
I was also lucky enough to hear some amazing jazz hanging out with these guys. Not only did I get to hear them mucking about on trumpets in the apartment (a treat in itself), Matt got me into Dizzy’s to see Stefon Harris
, an incredible young vibraphonist and composer. I also went to see Matt play in a big band at Smoke Jazz Club the other night, the first time with his awesome new horn, after he had his previous trumpet mugged from him on the subway earlier this year. The band was killer and so was Matt; it was real special to hear him play again after all these years. Also, the four-cheese pasta was delicious.
You can’t really avoid music in New York. In some places, it even grows organically on the buildings!
I caught up with Irishman Tiernan – who I had met in Dublin in September – for lunch last Sunday. After eating, he showed me along the water on the lower east side, then we made our way to the new Highline Park, an old dis-used section of elevated subway line which has been converted into suburban parkland. It’s a brilliant idea; a couple of miles of thin green oasis winding its way through downtown Manhattan. When we got there, this band was setting up on the narrow fire escape on a building opposite the park. Pretty soon, they were playing some fine funk and soul for the gathering crowd in the park. They were called Chicken Gravy.
I also got to check out some great local bluegrass and swing at a place called Banjo Jim’s in the East Village (swing peeps, check out a band called the Cangelosi Cards). Afterwards, I had delicious pie with these two dudes, Tiernan and George Yi (a New Yorker who does a bonzer Australian accent).
The week was jam packed, but some of the other highlights included strolling around Central Park on a sunny autumn day;
exploring Harlem, Little Italy, and Chinatown (including delicious pork buns and red bean buns at Chinese bakery);
Old dudes playing Chinese games in Chinatown
Big cheese in Little Italy
going up the Empire State Building and soaking in all its breathtaking art deco glory;
and getting a tour of the Google offices with Tiernan, a brilliant IT guy who was brought to New York to work for this corporate giant. And yes, the Google offices are just as wacky as you’ve been led to believe: scooters for riding around on, free M&Ms, and the most amazing free buffet lunch for employees I’ve ever seen.
Free things at Google. I partook of some M&Ms.
I also went to the Museum of Modern Art, took the NBC studio tour, and went out to Brooklyn to have a few drinks with Anina – the mechanical engineer daughter of friends of my parents – at her zany bohemian warehouse apartment with her friends and housemates. But I have no photographic evidence of these events, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I seem to recall that we ended up at a bar down the road, playing pool, drinking cheap beer, and putting Sam Cooke on the jukebox. Win.
Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the dancing. The DANCING. I went a few times in New York, and it got better each time. The pinnacle was Thursday night at Frim Fram, where I danced with SO MANY brilliant dancers. Chelsea, Lisa, Emily, the other Emily, Jordan, and the others whose names I can’t remember, thankyou! Best dancing since Dublin. And that’s saying something.
So I’m back in Chicago now, resting up at my parents’ before flying out to Bangkok (or The Kok) on Monday. Looking forward to getting into some shorts and exposing my skinny white legs to the sun again.
Apropos of nothing, here is a puppy I saw in a pet shop window. For Gareth and Belle.