–55 West 13th Street, Manhattan, New York, noonish on a Friday
Yo, I was set up … by Mingus
and knocked down … by The Mingus Big Band
over gin and tonics at the Fez.
Last night after work I went to a lecture by David Dinkins, former Mayor of New York, sponsored by The New School. It was a part of a series of lectures taking place this semester entitled, “Media and Race Relations.” Dinkins feels like a really positive old guy. Very forthright and direct and even-handed. He read a prepared speech and then fielded questions from the crowd of maybe twenty or thirty people on hand. The speech was rhythmic and well-paced, addressing the topic in general terms and peppered with a couple of extemporary examples.
He did not say anything too unusual, said what the ex-first-Black-Mayor-of-New-York-City-who-was-embattled-throughout-his-administration-and-who-lost-re-election-by-the-same-slim-margin-he-won-by-first-time-round might be expected to say, that, and I’m paraphrasing here, things under the current administration pretty much suck … unless you’re rich. That the crime rate being down is a good thing, but that it was his previous administrations programs that were primarily responsible. That the current Mayor is a bully. He defended himself against the main controversy of his term.
He is a politician after all and was obliged thus to say some things about America and “this great City,” and so on. He spoke eloquently about the disparities of this city, though. Mentioned that the infant mortality rate on the Upper East Side of Manhattan is 5.4 per 1,000 live births and in Fort Green Brooklyn, less than twenty miles away, it is 24 per 1,000 live births. A frightening and sad statistic. He mentioned another statistic that I found staggering: regarding the media and it’s treatment of women and women’s issues.
In a recent media study, he reported, it was found that when a person is referred to in the Main section of the paper, 86% of the time it is a male person, in the business section 85%, and in the Metropolitan sections 76% of the time references are to men. Of the occasions when women are mentioned in the paper, more than 50% of the time it is as a perpetrator of some crime or in some other negative connotation.
These numbers are weird and I can not understand really how they are conceived. I’d like to look into that.
It’s funny how a thought becomes a statistic becomes a fact and a part of social truth. Paz: “the North American … substitutes social truth for real truth which is always disagreeable.” Labyrinth of Solitude, 1950.
The lecture was good. I look forward to the next one in the series by the Reverend Al Sharpton.
(Afterward, I came back here to the office and edited the third draft of “Mahmoud Singh.” It’s a good first story for New York. I feel tired of it now though. It doesn’t breathe enough. Need to make a new one. When? When I get some peace of mind.)
MB made 9:00 reservations for us at the Time cafe and Fez Supper Club.
While I was waiting for him at the school, I was chatting with the security guard and a young woman who was also waiting, to meet someone after class. I said to the guard, “You’ve heard of home-sickness, right? … what do you call it when you have no home and yet you feel a sickness? That is, you have no place to be homesick for but you feel a sickness for a home that exists in your mind?”
The young woman said, “Identity Crisis.”
I waited for MB at my building until ten minutes to 9, then we hopped in a cab to the club at Great Jones and Lafayette streets in the East Village. Arrived right at 9 and went in. “Time” is labyrinthine with an upstairs glass-walled, fishbowl restaurant and then a blue archway leading to an inner red-boothed bar, both filled with the pretty people and then a stairwell down into the sanctum, a blue walled hallway leading to the supper club known as The Fez, where we were met by a beautiful young bronzey Black woman wearing a wireless headset who was responsible for seating us. Girl was fine and had a sweet smile. I said to her, looking as deeply as I could into her eyes in the darkness of the low-ceilinged club, “it must be difficult walking around with disembodied voices in your head.” and I smiled. She looked puzzled at first and then was actually interrupted by the voice in the headset to which she responded first and then smiled that beautiful smile and said to me, “Yeah, it gets a little confusing when it’s busy.” Fine.
We sat and ordered a round of drinks. MB had the usual. I was hungry and ordered some Salmon which was not great. It was boring and tasted like nothing except the sauces and spices which were hardly placed on the plate. Even the supposed blackened salmon with wasabi-vinagrette that sounded so nice was boring food, and too expensive.
The deal on the gig was that the cover was $18 and there was a two-drink minimum, but you could stay for the second set once you were inside. Dinner was not included and we were wearing serious critics ears after dropping so much bread for the much-hyped Mingus Big Band. Much of it was choice of course, because I wanted to estimate the place, quality of the food, seating etc.
I spent three bucks on the coatcheck and 18 to get in and 63 on drinks and dinner. That’s $84 for the two of us with the show included. We were there at 9:00 and the show started at 9:30.
The set up:
The Mingus Big Band is a Workshop group that plays the music of Charles Mingus. They opened the set by telling us they were going to play some music they hadn’t practiced fully, that they hadn’t looked at in a long time. It was odd. The performance started with a chart called, “Slippers,” and they were literally signalling and calling out changes and sections to one another. It felt crowded and unrehearsed. They were working shit out while they played. It gave MB and I pause. We figured we had been taken. $18 and the drinks for this? We are new to New York, him a year and a half and me a few months, we didn’t know any better than to attend the Mingus Big Band, thinking we’d hear some Mingus wicked-like.
They were struggling their way through the shit when I actually wrote on a napkin at one point, “MINGUS DONE 20 YEARS and STILL KICKING ALL Y’ALLS ASSES”
The band also recognized their benefactor, Sue Mingus who was in attendance, a blonde, short-haired (business cut) older white woman with a kindly, smiley way about her. Then they introduced a Mingus contemporary, one Mr. Howard Johnson who played in a Mingus septet at one point and who charted an arrangement of “OP,” a tune originally written for Oscar Pettitford. Mr. Johnson was to direct the band in playing it. He introduced it with some discussion about his relationship with Mingus and then actually took a moment to remind the band of some changes and notations. Again it was odd. Like a practice session.
They flubbed the shit out of it so badly they had to be counted into the “D” section. It was almost comical. But occasionally our thoughts crept to how much we’d paid to see the show.
The set break came and we decided to take a little stroll around the block. We got back to try to find some better seats, since the second set was less crowded. The sweet hostess with the headset made a little small talk with me and smiled that beautiful smile again. She led us to a pair of seats front and center. Many people left, but there were several sticking around for the second half.
The Knock Down
Bam! How can I describe the second set to you without explaining that we were HAD! The dark, low-hanging ceiling of the Fez filled out with the radical sounds of Mingus! It was crazy. It was like a different group came on. They were wild and soloing like crazy and just out of this world. Hollering and yelling and playing tight tight tight Mingus licks like they weren’t even the same band as the first set. It was too much. MB and I kept staring across the table at one another and laughing. They completely turned us around. It ended with a raging take on Better Get Hit in Yo Soul which knocked the doors off the place. It was two different gigs: a rehearsal/workshop and a straight ahead performance! Cool.
An instructor from the New School is the bass player in the band and he had a student come up and jam on harmonica at the gig, too. It was right on to be associated with the cat. Big-ass shoes to fill, and he did so respectfully and with modesty. Even had some skills, too.
The Mingus Big Band plays at the Time Cafe in the Fez Club. $18 for both sets OR with student ID, $10 for the second set only!!! They’re saving the shit, man. Go second half!!! And find yourself the soul of Mingus kicking through a 15-piece, sweet-ass, tight-playing, booty-kicking band. The food’s overpriced unless you get something like hummus or chips, and the two-drink minimum is worth it if you’re coming in that late anyway. Mingus Big Band, a nice time.
So yo, I was set up and knocked down by the Mingus Big Band over gin and tonics at the Fez.
Afterward we walked for a while and ended up at the Coffeeshop on Union Square for a bite to eat, then I cabbed it home. Expensive nights are all too much fun in NYC.