It takes skill – and also guts, especially if you happen to be a 16-year-old pianist making your debut leading a jazz trio in New York City.
The Jasper Zimmerman Explosion appeared at the intimate establishment a couple of nights ago. No cover. No minimum. Just lots of cool. Lucky’s on Avenue B, after all.
My friend Nora, also a musician just back from a voyage to Zimbabwe, organized the series of events in which the Explosion appeared. She has two groups of her own, Maputi, which is traditional, and Timbila, original music based on tradition.
Every Sunday after the main event comes piano night.
Nora’s favored instrument is the mbira. Mbira is the spiritual music of Zimbabwe, used to communicate with ancestral spirits. Nora told me about playing mbira in a mermaid ceremony there, an all-day event that also featured hosho (gourd shakers), drums and singing. Mediums on these occasions become possessed, and it’s amazing, she said.
Nora first traveled to Zimbabwe to study in 1996 and has been back many times. She loves it there and is always inspired by the musicians she plays with.
Jasper happens to be my nephew, but I’m not the only one who considers him a great talent at his young age. He has already shared the stage with some phenomenal musicians, recognizable names in the field.
For this gig he was playing with some other outstanding musicians. Ruby Farmer on bass. She’s in 11th grade.
Coleman Breining on drums. He was respectful of the small space and peoples’ endless desire to yak over drinks, and made great use of the brushes.
They’re so cute, I couldn’t help but comment to Nora as we stood entranced by the side of the bar. I don’t think you can call them cute when they’re so good, she said. And of course she was correct.
Lucky proved to be a great venue for this startup appearance. Abby Ehmann owns the joint. As the sole proprietor, she has had an interesting career trajectory – one perhaps more typical for New York City than elsewhere – from graphic artist for web projects to photographer’s rep to ad agency proofreader to Penthouse magazine editor to cyber-fetish party planner to… barkeep at this fabulous boite.
She told a newspaper interviewer once that she came up with the name of the bar one sleepless night: “I thought there would be a million places with that name but I Googled it and there was no bar in America called Lucky.” She also opened sober bar Hekate just across Avenue B, where patrons like me can get a delicious exotic mocktail and no one laughs at you for eschewing booze.There is witchy stuff for sale at Hekate, too.
The name of Abby’s perpetual ornament, her teacup toy poodle, is Scribble.
Lucky had held a vernal equinox celebration earlier in the day, so everyone was gussied up and had a happy afterglow. Spring flowers bloomed on the bar.
The place is New-York-City-Loisada hip. The décor.
The people. I had a bond with someone I met at Lucky for the first time, Alison Collins – I’d helped her out in a very minor way by transporting one of her sculptures when she was out of town, at the suggestion of a mutual friend.
Now she presented me with something wonderful, a little nest sculpture, suitable either for hanging or displaying on a flat surface.
The Explosion’s eclectic set list included I Didn’t Know What Time It Was by Rogers and Hart, Epistrophy by Thelonius Monk and Wayne Shorter’s Fee Fi Fo, along with Jasper’s original compositions Balloon Ping Pong and Interstellar Cable Car. When they played Cole Porter’s Just One of Those Things at Gil’s request, delivering the tune impeccably with no charts, no music, nothing, Gil pretty much kvelled. They really showed their chops. He overheard Ruby’s deadpan response when Jasper told them they’d be playing the number, Yeah, I think I played that once.
I talked to Jasper afterwards about the experience. Last night was so much fun, he told me. Ruby, Coleman, and I have been rehearsing together for so long, and it was really nice to play together in a performance setting.
About the venue: Since Lucky was such a small space (we could hardly fit the bass and drums!), and the piano was just a little upright, I didn’t expect much of the acoustics. However, the piano, bass, and drums all cut through and I was told that people in the back could hear us clearly. Playing at Lucky reminded me of the bygone days of New York jazz, where musicians performed in dive bars similar to it.
Pretty sure the rest of the Explosion, Lucky’s owner, the bar’s patrons and the other performers in Nora’s line-up would feel good about that dive bar lineage.