Hours later, we got ready to head to Manhattan Center for an evening of jazz on 34th street. Specifically: “A Tribute to Thelonious Monk: 90th Birthday Celebration”, hosted by Bill Cosby. We left around 7 PM and caught a cab. The show didn’t start until 8 PM, but there is only 1 elevator and or 7 flights of stairs and on the advice of kevnyc; (who has been to every venue in NYC, and quite possibly North America), we arrived a little early. It worked out well. It was not crowded when we got there, we got upstairs to the ballroom in a jiff, and we had second-row seats, left of center which presented us with a good view of everything.
The show started on time at 8 PM with Sam Newsome performing a solo medley of “Misterioso”, “Four in One”, and “Rhythm-a-ning”. I think a documentary was being made of the event because there were HD camera’s everywhere, including a big one a a swivel boom that moved about constantly.
Newsome was followed by the program’s host, Bill Cosby. It was a cool feeling, being only about 40 feet away from the comedy legend. He looked a little older, but only a little. He is a big, tall man, and still very funny. He talked for a little while about how he discovered Thelonious Monk, and told an amusing story about sending one of his assistants to a record store in Reno to get a CD. After hours of searching, the assistant came back and reported reluctantly that there were no CD’s anywhere by The Loneliest Monk.
Next up was the Carolyn Leonhard–Wayne Escoffery Group: lead by a husband and wife combination. The husband, Wayne, played the sax, while wife, Carolyn, was vocals and could actually skat pretty well. They did a number of Monk’s songs, including “When I’m Alone”, which goes by the instrumental title of “Brilliant Corners”; “Coming on the Hudson”; “How I Wish (a.k.a. Ask Me Now)”; and “Highfalutin’ (a.k.a. Little Rootie Tootie)”.
Next, T.S. Monk, Jr. came out on stage for a while and discussed growing up with his father. He was incredibly well-spoken and went on to prove just how good a drummer he was, when he played with the group, and several others, Monk’s “Humph”. The first half was rounded off with a piano solo by Ronnie Mathews, “Crepescule with Nellie”.
After the intermission was a set by Ben Riley’s Monk Legacy Septet. The played “Shuffle Boil”, “Bye-Ya”, “Bright Mississippi”, and “San Francisco Holiday”. Then they did something interesting. With archival footage of Thelonious Monk playing on a big screen in the background, the musicians donned headsets and proceeded to play “Blue Monk”, and the Monk song that I am most familiar with, “Round Midnight”. Apparently, on the DVD or broadcast that will be made of this event, it will be mixed together to appear that Monk was playing the piano part with the rest of the band.
Everyone came back out on stage for the finale, “Evidence”. And then it was over. It was really the first time I’d ever heard live jazz in a venue like this and I loved it.
We made our way down the stairs and were out on the street five minutes later. It was after 10:30 PM and we’d planned to go to the Spotted Pig for dinner. Jen, Jason and I had been there once before, three or four years ago, and loved it. We had tried to go one other time, but the place is always crowded and doesn’t take reservations. We got there around 11 PM and put in our names–only to find there was a 2 hour wait! We wouldn’t be seated for dinner until 1 AM. So we made alternate plans. Jason guided us hither and yon until we reached a place called Diner. There, I indulged in a traditional grilled cheese sandwich (with tomato soup, which just doesn’t work for me), and a chocolate malt. It was a good dinner, and a good evening. We had a lot of fun.
We had some trouble flagging down a taxi for the ride home, but after 10 minutes or so, thanks to Kelly’s sharp eyes, we finally got one. We were back to Jen and Jason’s around 1:30 AM.