Goodbye & Hello!
On a sunny day in Indian Summer not so long ago when Thelonious Monkfish had barely cracked open its doors, Danny Ko walked in with the bravado of a Berklee freshman on full scholarship! Danny hails from Ottawa, though he began his life’s journey on the Korean Peninsula. He brought in his CD and told us, “I want to play here. Your name is cool. You should have live jazz!”
My immediate thought was, ‘So you shall!’ When people are earnest and forthright, if their motives are pure, I like to accommodate them.
Daniel Ko & his trusty Sax
I’d wanted to bring in live jazz acts from the beginning but was taking it slow because I wanted to do it right. What is right? Well, exactly what we’ve done with our expansion, adding a stage, a seven foot piano and a bar with 50 more seats for jazz-loving diners!
At the time, however, we pushed five tables out of the way and let musicians set up in the front window. Our first jazz act was comprised of Danny Ko on tenor sax, Davis Whitfield on keys and Max Ridley on double bass. They were all 19 years old and displayed the immature habits of teenagers (showing up late, ordering one hundred dollars worth of food on a Sunday when I wasn’t around) but they were good! They were all at Berklee on scholarship and were great lovers of jazz! Danny was always talking about Trane and Bird! Davis talked of his love for McCoy Tyner!
Over the next year as they played each Sunday brunch, I grew fond of them. It wasn’t only their playing, but the enthusiasm and vitality of their youth which elicited a wistful affection from this aging writer. Max used to called out ‘Yeah!’ whenever one of his friends played something he liked. I had them back recently and it felt like a homecoming. (Yes, I am corny; I’m a frustrated Father Wanna-Be.)
That period of time is over now. I am retiring from booking the Jazz Baroness Room.
Scott Goulding and his lovely bride, Yoko.
I have chosen Scott Goulding as our music director. Yes, he may be a drummer, but surprisingly he knows a ton about jazz! And he’s got his thumb on the pulse of the current local and national scenes.
So if you’re a musician and would like to peddle your wares at Thelonious Monkfish, please hound him with your emails and Facebook messages. If you have his phone number, use that too–but a word to the wise: he’s usually only available around 3 a.m. (Just kidding, Scott!) We’ve established a Bookings Tab at www.theloniousmonkfish.com. Click it and fill out the application.
We can’t guarantee a gig to everyone who applies, though. We have only four slots to fill per week: Thursday, Friday, Saturday evenings and Sunday brunch–and Yoko Miwa has already commandeered Fridays!
Yoko Miwa commandeering Fridays!
We may add more times, but it depends really on the support we get from jazz-loving diners. Meanwhile, if you apply but aren’t contacted with a date, don’t be discouraged. Sure, it could be that you suck! But probably not…
Though Scott is directing the flow of music through the room, I am still curating behind the scenes. Well, in the sense that I am establishing the room’s culture.
I have a definite idea of what sort of jazz I want floating like feathers on the airwaves of the Jazz Baroness Room. If you fancy yourself a revivalist of Coltrane’s avant-garde period it might not work out. Why? Well, our seafood is fresh, and we’ve noticed that this style of jazz causes the fish to jump and flop on the plate. Discouraging for the average diner, you understand.
Christian Li, left, Jiri Nedoma, top right and Maxim Lubarsky, bottom right
We do hire some cats that are far out; Maxim Lubarsky, Jiri Nedoma and Christian Li to name a few, and I value what they bring to the room. (Thelonious Monk wouldn’t want it any other way.)
As a young adult, I was attracted to the avant-garde in all artistic disciplines. My friend Angel Hieronymus was a performance artist, and her art was intellectual, clever, for effect. I adored her; I used to follow her around–her puppy dog–as she strolled around campus with a trick safety pin through her cheek and a rubber male appendage strapped to her waist. We’d bend over laughing at people’s reactions! You can see that shock was an integral part of her effort to raise discussions about gender identity.
Age, though, has changed my perspective on art. Art employs the intellect, yes, but nowadays for me clever means eliciting a deep sense of connection–a unity–between singer, song and listener. I want audience members to cry out from their tear-stained faces, “Wow, I’ve felt that way, too! She gets me!” She is me, even.
Beneath all great art is spirituality. And all great spirituality boils down to expanding your own understanding of who you are to include your family, your country, your world, your universe. (Pope Francis might not agree, but who cares? That many jewels at his fingertips, and he wears an ugly old wooden cross! They should’ve chosen a pope who could appreciate the trappings, you know, who knew how to accessorize—someone like Liberace!)
Art helps us to sympathize with—to feel with—others. This is, in part, why I leave a Batman movie, for example, thinking I’m the Caped Crusader on my walk back to the car. For a moment, I lose my self and become another. In some way, art helps to loosen the ego’s grip on our consciousness, by allowing us to identify with the stories of others.
I want musicians who perceive the beauty of sound so intensely that joy and sweet sorrow ache in their breast like a tempest seeking to ravage the land. And the only reprieve is to communicate these feelings through the music they make.
I offer these words of encouragement to all artists who’d like to join our stable of players:
It is not enough to be technically brilliant. Touch me. Give yourself to me. Give me your love, your anger, your sorrow, your joy! Sing it! Blow it out your horn!
Years ago, my acting teacher told me to disappear into the role, but I disagreed. Yes, embody the role, but let the character become you, not the other way around! And so, too, musicians. When I hear a Gershwin tune, I don’t care what Gershwin sounded like; I want to hear what Gershwin would have sounded like if he were you!
Don’t be clever, just to be clever, but if that’s who you are, then be it. Don’t reside on the fringe of what is acceptable unless that is where you really belong! The listener knows whether or not you are telling the truth.
Your job isn’t easy, I know; you must stand at the corner of art and entertainment. If you were Elvis in a white, sequined jumpsuit you could just entertain. As a jazz artist, though, you must embody the aesthetics of both art and entertainment to be considered one of the greats.
In conclusion, though I am no longer booking the shows, I am watching. I am listening. I am here engendering a certain mood, a particular atmosphere of joy in food and song.