We did too many things for one day yesterday and they were so fabulous I have to share the experiences now – I can’t let them wait in line for my normally chronological blogging style. I will try to be brief.
On Sunday morning, we take the subway uptown to Times Square and walk a short way down 42nd Street to BB King’s Blues Club and Grill to hear the world famous Harlem Gospel Choir sing. It’s a package deal – for $42 you get to hear the choir and eat as much as you like from an endlessly restocked smorgasbord.The club is underground and has two tiers of table seating. It’s big enough to seat about 100 people, but small enough to give a reasonably intimate view of the stage from wherever you are. We sit in the centre of the second tier – an excellent location – and eat a little brunch as we watch the place gradually fill up with people for the start of the performance at 11am. When the choir comes on stage, the atmosphere is instantly electric. They start singing straight away with a rousing song that repeats the riff ’clap your hands’ over and over and gets everyone clapping along. Every song is led by a different member of the choir, each revealing a different personality and approach to singing. The version of Amazing Grace is like nothing I have ever heard before. I was moved by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir because they were so technically perfect and sang in such complete unison, but this choir moves me in a very different way – it’s a completely physical experience. There is nothing restrained about the performance – even though it is perfectly timed and choreographed, the 9 members of the choir completely let themselves go with the rhythm of the music. They also effortlessly get the audience on their feet, dancing, clapping and singing along. It is a fantastic and indescribably joyous experience. I feel a bit goofy that I enjoy it so much!
Afterwards, we decide to head to Brooklyn to the Botanic Gardens. There is a huge spring festival on this weekend called Sakura Matsuri that celebrates Japanese Culture and coincides with the flowering of the cherry blossoms. New York is in bloom everywhere but we don’t want to miss this superb display that is supposed to equal cherry blossom time in Japan. We arrive at the Gardens to throngs of people milling around the entrance, waiting to buy tickets. I feel incredibly fortunate as I take out my dual membership card and gain priority entry. (The membership pass is courtesy of Kathy, the manager of the studio, who maintains memberships to all the major cultural institutions in New York especially for the Greene Street artists. It is such a gift to have this little passbook of cards that I keep safely zipped away in my bag.)
Well, the gardens are certainly on display, but rivaling them are the masses and masses of people who have clogged almost every path and lawn area to enjoy a glorious day outdoors. The place is so crowded it is actually difficult to move about and we struggle to find a peaceful route to reach the famous cherry esplanade where hundreds of trees are planted in long rows. There are blossoms everywhere along the way, and every now and then a light breeze sends a burst of pink or white petals flurrying through the air. It is magical but also a little bit crazy, because there are just so many people everywhere – couples, family groups, mothers with strollers, the young, the middle aged, the elderly, but most notably, many many people wearing elaborate fancy dress. Some are in traditional Japanese clothing but most are wearing highly contemporary outfits that mimic comic books characters or individualised fantasy figures. And everyone, just everyone, is taking photographs.
There is also a program of performances under a huge marquee along one side of the cherry esplanade, and we stop for a while to enjoy a Japanese jazz group that features pianist Kuni Mikami who plays with the renowned Ellington Orchestra. The female singer is just fantastic.
After a couple of hours, we tire of people-watching and decide to escape to the wonderful Brooklyn Museum which is adjacent to the gardens. This is one of my favourite museums in New York, currently showing a survey of simply stunning work by the African artist El Anatsui, and a superb exhibition of watercolours by John Singer Sargent. But I will write about the Museum and those exhibitions more extensively in another posting.
We head home by subway, have a short rest and then get dressed up for an evening at one of the world’s most famous jazz clubs – the Blue Note. It is not only one of the most famous, but also one of the most expensive, but Gerard and I both agree it is worth every cent. This evening Cuban musician Arturo Sandoval is playing. He has an international reputation as a master of the trumpet and flugel horn, but also plays piano, percussion, keyboard and has a superb voice. He has recorded with greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Shaw, Bill Conti, Stan Getz and Frank Sinatra. We squeeze into our reserved table to one side of the stage. The entire place is packed and the seating is so tight it feels like we’re settling into an economy flight overseas. Gerard struggles just to take his jacket off and hang it on the back of his chair. We sit with two very friendly jazz aficionados who are familiar with all the clubs in New York and discuss jazz musicians I have never heard of. When the band comes on the stage and the music starts, I have to pinch myself that I am really here, in New York, in the Blue Note, listening to mind-blowing jazz. Sandoval, along with his fabulous supporting musicians, including an extraordinary tenor saxophonist, Ed Calle, treats us to a free form smorgasbord of jazz styles, with smatterings of bebop and samba meets blues. He plays trumpet and keyboard and gives an incredible scat singing performance. And he sings a ballad that is so smooth, and so beautiful, that I don’t want him to stop. I am truly in the moment throughout the whole evening.
We walk home feeling energized rather than exhausted but vow not to go anywhere the next day.