Monday night bash hottest in New York
Amy Madden, Steve Holley back virtuoso bluesman Jon Paris
Venue is perfect scale, crowd is select
Open mike adds talent and surprise
The hottest spot in New York on Monday night is a well kept secret from all except blues aficionados, and the few tourists lucky enough to stumble upon it deep in the underground space of the great 42nd Street jazz/blues/rock/reggae/dance club B.B.King‘s (www.bbkingblues.com 237 West 42St 997 4144), between 7th and 8th Avenue on 42nd.
Amid the garish daylit power of the neon extravagance of this modern mall, whose central 42nd street strip between Broadway and Eighth Avenue might well seem to hold nothing but tawdry tourist attractions and services, from the sparkling Macdonalds housed in an old cinema to the Hard Rock Cafe to skyscraper hotels to the fast moving news announcement necklacing the central Times Square tower, a funfair long abandoned by the New York Times to its noisy crowds, we found a slice of blues paradise.
The blues mountain peak found amid these cultural lowlands is the Lucille Grill. Running into bass guitarist and blog virtuoso Amy Madden (www.writerless.blogspot.com) last night on the crosstown bus on 96th, and being apprised that her famous Monday session was going to be in full swing from 8pm to 1am at BBKing’s intimate Lucille Grill, I dropped down to Times Square at 20 min past eight, walked through the surging crowds and down the stairs to the Lucille Grill, briefly visiting the main stage space to watch Yellowman performing on the big stage, his standard dancehall post reggae loud enough to cover a nuclear explosion. But a few steps across the way and down was a blues paradise.
A mighty blast from a musical locomotive
With an $8 beer I commandeered a ringside seat for what proved to be a mighty blues blast that was still going strong when I left three hours later. Endlessly rolling locomotive blues had warmed the crowd into a slow frenzy by the time a late open mike drew vibraphonist Charles Thompson (845-249-9064) whose miniature silvery notes cut clear thru the roar of drum and guitar, along with a hot guitarist straight out of the current TV ad featuring the caveman, namely the great Joe Berger (646 537 1569), a Monday evening regular, and a splendidly round youthful Big Mama belting out the blues with the best of them – all together, in the finale which climaxed my evening.
As an unexpected American Idol moment the open mike session was led off by a young black singer from Rochester, Josh (585 503 8996) 23, singing “Falling in love with you is the best thing that Happened to me”, his own tribute to a love lost to death. He afterwards grabbed mid-Western Erica for a nice demo of jive loops and turns.
Blues super trio pulses
But the great and reliable star talent at Lucille on Mondays is the house trio. Alan Child’s seasoned, generous drumming and Amy Madden’s throbbing, warming bass render endlessly satisfying propulsion for Jon Paris’s guitar and harmonica riffs which Paris, it seems, can take as far out as Hendrix’s riffs if he feels like it, yet without ever leaving the firm ground of classic blues forms.
There are few players who can match Paris’s feel for and mastery of this heart rending and gut shaking music, which hand in hand with America’s other classic form, jazz, endures as America’s greatest contribution to world culture (www.jonparis.com).
And all you have to do to hear this supremely entertaining soul food is to drop down to the Lucille Bar any Monday night. No cover, no minimum, beer from $8 and food good enough if you’re hungry. And a stage, bar and table layout of the perfect scale and shape for blues listening – and a bit of dancing, if you feel like it, see below.
The dancers are Josh the a capella singer and Erica, whose favorite drink is a Mabylene (pictured), which at the Lucille bar is Absolut Wild Tea Vodka, St Germain eidenflower liqueur and Rose’s Lime Juice.
Other visitors from faraway included anaesthiologist Augstein Svedahl and neurologist Kanna Svedahl from mid-Northern Norway, who like Erica had stumbled across this little musical paradise more or less by serendipity, in the form of a recommendation to visit BBKing’s, with no special instruction to make it Lucille’s Grill.
But that’s the free ticket to look for at BBKing’s, at least on Monday nights. While the food is more heartwarming than fine dining, it goes with beer and blues for a perfect New York experience, the Svedahl’s agreed. In other words, a little corner of blues heaven.