For us, nothing says Holiday Season like being in New York for live music at the city’s iconic venues.
A Holiday Season Without Live Music …
Pandemic fatigue is real. Just look at the number of folks who traveled for Thanksgiving. They knew the risks, but the desire to feel normal overcame their fears or their best judgment, depending upon your point of view. We all have our breaking points or moments of high anxiety and temptation during this period of displacement. I will have two such moments coming just around the corner.
The first is the Holiday Season. Almost every year, we take a long weekend in New York between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We stay in the city, see a show, do some shopping and overpay for food and drinks. Most of the time, this is our Christmas gift to each other.
But the highlight of the trip is always an evening at Café Carlyle listening to Steve Tyrell and a similar night at Blue Note to see Chris Botti. Both men are institutions at this time of the year in their respective venues. The shows are top notch in all respects and, for us, nothing says Holiday Season like being in New York at these two iconic venues.
As most of you know, those experiences have some similarities, but the differences are more pronounced. Yes, both are small venues where your elbow room is marginal at best. Both feature multiple evening shows, so you can sense the clock ticking and you know that your time in the venue will have an abrupt ending. There is nothing quite like the crush of bodies if you are exiting the venue after the 1st Show. Those attending the 2nd Show know that their time to order food and drinks is limited upon arrival and before the show. Everyone wants to savor each moment.
Both experiences are expensive. Years ago, I calculated the dollar/minute cost for each venue. Let’s just say that the amount was embarrassingly high. But that is the price of being in New York City for the holidays. Both experiences are musically amazing. Tyrell and Botti have their holiday jam down to perfection. Just the right amount of holiday music infused into their usual music playlists. There is humor, goodwill and lots of chops to go around.
And, of course, both venues are steeped in music tradition. Famously, Café Carlyle featured the amazing Bobby Short for 50 years. When in college, I met my father in New York for drinks at Café Carlyle to see Short perform. Blue Note is named in honor of the “blue note” in jazz, that being one that is sung or played at a different pitch than what is normally produced. There is the likely apocryphal story of a man walking in New York and asking another man, who appeared to be a musician, “How do you get to Blue Note Jazz Club?” The musician, without pausing a second, put his arm around the man and said, “Practice man, practice.”
Though both venues are part of the pantheon of New York music venues, the differences in the experiences sum up the arc of that world beautifully. The Café Carlyle experience is simply elegant. From the servers in tuxedos to the fine china and silverware to the robust and substantial beverage service, you cannot help but feel special, pampered and very sophisticated. Whether it is out of respect for the history of the venue or natural stratification due to the price point for the evening, all attendees display a high degree of manners and politeness. Again, that all ends when the show concludes as everyone departs through a too small door and into a too small foyer where they bundle up and go outside to hail a taxi, find their Uber or duck into their limo. The transition can be as harsh as the December weather.
Blue Note Jazz Club is the epitome of a New York jazz venue. Oddly shaped with the stage at the center’s edge of a long rectangle, you are either sitting in the lap of the performers or stretched out to the side. The tables are small and the seating is tight. We often purchase 4 seats, a full table, for the two of us. Doing so helps create some space, but, even then, it is crowded. Until the Pandemic, I always considered this element of the experience to be not only part of the ritual, but also one of its joys. This atmosphere allows your inner Bohemian to flourish. You want to say “Daddy-O” and call everyone a “Cat.” The food is great. The service is great. No tuxedos here, though. This is a jazz club in the heart of Greenwich Village that has managed to walk that fine line between being a must-see stop for tourists and a first-class music venue. Our good friend Steven Bensusan makes sure that this club remains authentic.
As you can see, I love this experience and I cherish this trip. Maybe next year. God, I hope so. As for my second upcoming moment of displacement, well, there is no room left in this edition of Our Take. I think I will save it for next week.
Our Take is written by Michael Lazaroff, Executive Director of The Jazz Cruise, The Smooth Jazz Cruise and Blue Note at Sea. Feel free to express your views or pose questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
George Benson Is Joining The Smooth Jazz Cruise ’22: Back to Sea Sailing!
The Smooth Jazz Cruise ’22: Back to Sea Sailing was already set to feature the biggest lineup in Smooth Jazz history, led by Marcus Miller, Boney James, David Sanborn, Brian Culbertson, Candy Dulfer, Jonathan Butler and dozens more stars. NOW, the legendary 10-time Grammy Award winning George Benson is onboard, too!
The Back to Sea Sailing will be amazing and here is why:
First sailing in 22 months!
First sailing on a Celebrity ship that has undergone the Revolution upgrade.
First sailing featuring 40 top Smooth Jazz stars and more Artists than on any other sailing!
The Smooth Jazz Cruise ’22: Back to Sea Sailing will be a homecoming for George Benson, our amazing artists and for the greatest Smooth Jazz fans in the world. Click here to learn more!
The Gift of Good Cheer & Great Music!
As a gift from us and dozens of the amazing artists who sail on our cruises, The Smooth Jazz Cruise Holiday Show will be available for free starting December 18! Hosted by Marcus Miller at his home, with his great pal Alonzo Bodden, you will be treated to a heaping helping of good cheer and great music with dozens of their Smooth Jazz friends joining in on the festivities virtually!
You’re invited to join the show as our guest — starting at 4 p.m. ET on Friday, December 18. No charge of any kind … just the joy, camaraderie and music we share on The Smooth Jazz Cruise streaming online to you.
We wish you and your family a very Happy and Healthy Holiday Season.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents Its Annual Big Band Holidays Concert
‘Tis the time for holiday shows and we’re not the only ones producing a seasonal event with top-notch artists and hosts. Our friends at Jazz at Lincoln Center have been presenting a show called Big Band Holidays for many years and it’s always been a sold-out affair.
Hosted by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the annual concert has featured an all-star cast of vocalists, including several favorites of The Jazz Cruise, such as Cécile McLorin Salvant, Gregory Porter, René Marie and Veronica Swift. That tradition continues in this year’s online concert on December 19 with appearances by Kurt Elling and Catherine Russell, with many others to be announced soon. Click here to learn more.
Birdland Reopens in New York City
The Birdland Jazz Club, one of our ongoing partners with The Jazz Cruise, has reopened to serve food with artists in performance as hosts for the evening.
Our own Ken Peplowski is there with his quartet this weekend. Upcoming performers and hosts include Jay Leonhart, Champian Fulton, Natalie Douglas and David Ostwald. If you’re in New York City, stop by for dinner and music, and support this storied venue and its artists.