It was still late afternoon when we walked down the narrow cement steps into Smalls, a basement jazz club. I explained our strategy to Brooklyn Friend. “The pianist we want to hear doesn’t play until 7:30 pm. So we’re going to get there 3 hours early, hang out for the Happy Hour jam session, work our way up every time someone leaves, and by the time he plays, we’ll have the best seats in the house.”
Of course, at Smalls, the best seats in the house are just old wooden kitchen chairs. It’s a small basement room with a long wooden bar, an eclectic bunch of old chairs pulled into rows, some old posters on the wall, and a 100-year-old baby grand piano. Musicians and singers kept coming and going during the jam session, and we changed out seats whenever we could. By the time Ehud Asherie sat down at the piano, we were in the front row, with Shaggy Hair Boy sitting right at the pianist’s elbow.
The jazz pianist was performing with Bob Mover, a much older man who brought with him a bunch of saxophones. They played the old standards, songs I’ve known since childhood, and sometimes the older man would grab the microphone and start singing. “A crooner,” Brooklyn Friend whispered to me. The pianist was amazing, and it was cool to be close enough to watch his hands flying over the keys as he played. We could hear every word the duo said to each other.
When the musicians took a break, a couple in their early 80s came in. I looked up and motioned to them that the two chairs next to me were empty. The man wore a thick black coat with a long red scarf and he threw off the coat as he sat down, knocking right into me. “Kind of a tight fit,” he said, grinning. “But the music here is always worth it.”
Naturally we started talking. Like everyone else we’d met, he was charmed with the idea that I was traveling with my twenty-year-old son. Because Shaggy Hair Boy jams with his grandfather, he can talk knowledgeably about jazz to anyone of that generation, so it wasn’t long before the two of them were talking about music.
Then the duo began playing again. The saxophone player grabbed the microphone and sang “What Kind of Fool am I?” and “Isn’t this a Lovely Day?” The pianist’s hands were only a few feet away from us, and Shaggy Hair Boy watched them intently. When they played “Hey There, You With the Stars in Your Eyes,” the man in the black coat sitting next to me sang all the lyrics. Brooklyn Friend and I looked at each other and smiled.
By the time we were ready to leave Smalls, we’d been there for more than 6 hours. We’d talked to the pianist and the saxophone guy, and I felt saturated with music. The older man in the black coat was giving Shaggy Hair Boy advice as if he were his grandson. “There’s an open jam at Kitano’s on Monday night,” he said. “Just get up your courage and sit down at the piano and play.”
“Okay, I will,” Shaggy Hair Boy said, grinning. As we left, we noticed a long-haired cat sitting on a newel post, looking just like a character out of the Aristocats. The elf-like man who had taken our cover charge was squished into a little shelf by the staircase.
“The music was great,” Brooklyn Friend said to him. “Very poignant.”
“Yes,” he said, nodding in agreement. Then he said. “What does poignant mean?”
Shaggy Hair Boy did take the advice of the old man in the black coat. He looked up the Kitano on google and found that it’s an expensive hotel on Park Avenue with a jazz lounge. He stayed in the city for a few days longer than I did — taking advantage of my sister’s offer to stay in her apartment while she was gone — and on Monday evening I got a text from him saying, “Played Satin Doll at the Kitano.”