The neon sign outside says Barbecue Jazz.
At NYC’s Jazz Standard on East 27th, the sweet potato fries are crusty golden slabs as big as your palm. You have to work a little to get the thick ends to fit into the small dish of honey mustard sauce. Yeah, you could be dainty and use a knife to cut them into smaller parts. But that goes against the spirit of the thing. And now that I think about it I’m not even sure I remember seeing a knife on the table.
Or maybe you like calamari? Salty, lightly seasoned, and brought to the table fryer-hot in a generous basket with delicious chipotle sour cream dipping sauce.
The ribs sampler threatens to overflow the plate, each piece smothered in the trademark thick, smoky, mahagony-colored sauce. They bring out extra sauce with the plate as a matter of course, you don’t have to ask for it.
Any wonder the bill arrives at the table with a small, discrete box of Bluesmoke toothpicks and several wet towelettes?
If it were only about the great eats you could stay upstairs and have a fine time right there. But when you walk in the door of the Standard, you have the immediate choice to make – the upstairs arrow (neon again) says FOOD, and the one pointing down reads JAZZ. The great part of the setup is, when you head downstairs for the night’s music you’re not actually making the choice against food. You’re just making the choice to eat it while listening to some of the city’s best jazz.
This past Sunday night I caught the early show with Ernestine Anderson, Houston Person (tenor), Lafayette Harris Jr. (piano), Lonnie Plaxico (upright), and Willie Jones III (on the set).
Ms. Anderson turns 81 later this year. She’s been making recordings for the last 50.
Take just a moment to consider that.
1958: Her first record, “Hot Cargo” was released. Six years before the Beatles made their first visit to the US.
1958: The same year the Newport Jazz Festival hosted Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong, and everyone else in what became the landmark documentary Jazz On A Summer’s Day.
She’s been around.
The first few songs of Sunday’s first set found Anderson in great spirit and fair – if not strong – voice. By the time she’d sung through Softly as in a Morning Sunrise and Falling in Love with Love she was warmed up, the band was swinging, and so was the sold-out house.
We were rewarded with a poignant reading of Skylark, some very nice bass and piano solos in I Fall in Love Too Easily and Since I Fell For You, and – the final tunes that sealed the deal – You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To and the gritty Down Home Blues. You don’t have to work hard to see through the years and experience the innate artistry at the core of Anderson’s performances. It’s the very trait her parents recognized early on, as the five-year old singer was famously found in the family sitting room belting out Bessie Smith songs from memory.
Houston Person’s solid horn work is always a pleasure, even moreso in a live situation when his smiling personality radiates through the performance. Lonnie Plaxico and Lafayette Harris Jr. also traded off in several nice moments through the show. And while Willie Jones sounded good, I didn’t really get a chance to hear him shine as I know he can. His work mostly stayed in the background this time, laying the foundation for everyone else to build on.
Other sights around town during the visit: the Empire State Building, hazily peeking out from behind the gingko trees near Washington Square Park; and the symmetrical dome at the Guggenheim overlooking the throngs of Monday visitors choking the circular walkway. (Most museums in the city are dark on Mondays. The Gugg isn’t – so, everyone who wants a museum experience on Mondays goes there. Everyone. We didn’t stick around to find out how much art it was actually possible to see while craning around the three or four other people in front of every exhibit. Went to the next-door Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum instead, for a much more relaxed, more intimate art experience.)