Thursday, August 7, 2008

Music: Hank Jones at Birdland

Oh Birdland, with your carpet-papered walls all aglow in neon pink fluorescence, your diners from Jersey smacking loudly over their suppers, your solicitous barkeep who memorized my name and warned me not to be a stranger, and your midtown cover charge: how could you do Hank Jones so wrong, and on his 90th birthday?

This is not about the cake—that was sweet if not a bit stagey (did you do that every show? Is it more for the audience than the man himself?)—but something much more important: the sound. You let Mr. Jones—with his tidy hands—his gentle fingers that plink the keys as neatly as a young slim cat licks a bit of cream off its nose—you let him go up there and play a piano poorly amplified, its top shut tight to keep all the sound inside, so that some guitarist half his age could play over him, drown him out with waves of mellow riffs much easier for the audience to grab hold of, to "rock out" to, than the precise, chilled, plink plink plink of the solo piano playing Monk (an aural delight too subtle, I'm sure, for the soup slurping audience to understand).

Those were, you know, the best moments of the show, the opening solo, and the moment in the middle when the quartet silenced themselves for a minute to let Hank play on his own. If you are going to call yourselves "The Jazz Corner of the World!" you're going to need to learn how to properly mic a piano. And you should also run some edits on your website: you mention that the original Birdland was "located on Broadway, a few blocks west of 52nd Street;" surely you know that nothing but more 52nd Street is west of 52nd Street (unless Birdland was in the Hudson): the street runs east-west. Mr. Parker would be none too pleased, I'm certain.

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