75 Christopher Street
New York, NY 10014
|May25||Behn Gillece Quartet|
|May27||Behn Gillece Quintet|
Aaron Goldberg, Larry Grenadier and Eric Harland are grooving gracefully on piano, bass and drums. Persian rugs with repeating patterns surround the stage and line the walls, hugging the music tightly. People are starting to sign the mailing list that is being passed around, and Grenadier grins when the tune finishes and the crowd erupts.
The next song starts out with a soft piano intro. While Goldberg finds his way around the keys, he is accompanied by the sound of billiard balls colliding and several people shouting. This jazz club doubles as a pool hall.
Mitch Borden, formerly the owner of the inimitable Smalls (1994-2003), started to present music at Fat Cat three years ago. But now that Smalls has shut its doors for good, Borden is spending all of his time trying to make Fat Cat work as a replacement. The going is tough, though, as limitations abound. First and foremost is sound. Fat Cat's current music room is long and narrow. In the front are rows of chairs, but as you move toward the back, the room becomes more of a lounge to make up for the distance from the stage. There are couches in the lounge area, some of which do not even face the stage, and while the sound in the back is audible, it is not as immersive as in the front. I use a sound system, says Borden, but at the bare minimum level, not to create volume, but just to create a sound in the room so that it's at a level where jazz should be heard.
Borden has exacting acoustic standards, and he is relentless about working with it hands on. He talks about some of the larger clubs in New York disdainfully, saying that A lot of the guys with the big sound systems, they actually change jazz and make it into like rock and roll, because they just mic the heck out of everything. And that's not the way jazz should be. I've heard great players and they've got a huge sound system, and it's like 'Where's the saxophone coming from?' I like it coming from the player.
With Smalls, Borden had a small room with ideal acoustics. One of the reasons musicians liked it so much was that its size, its rugs and its curtain made for an intimate experience where the musicians could connect with the audience on a personal level. Borden says that, I've been told that Smalls was so good, because it was so small and the acoustics were so incredible, that it made bad players sound good. At Fat Cat, he has the pool tables to contend with, as the music room is divided from the pool hall with temporary walls. Borden would like to rebuild the walls and sound proof them, but that depends on money that he does not have right now. Also, there has been tension between pool players and concertgoers over the jukebox that Fat Cat shuts off when the musicians are playing. If the room is sound proofed, that will no longer pose a problem.
Another of Fat Cat's limitations is that Borden can only keep the club open as long as the pool hall is open, and can only present music four nights a week. For a normal jazz club, staying open until 4 am on weekends can be more than adequate, but Smalls did not have a liquor license (patrons could bring their own, which led, Borden says, to a lot of vomiting), and so it often stayed open until 8, 9 or 10am. With all of that time to jam, a tight musical community developed, and now they're all waiting for their gigs back. There are 18 bands with no place to play, Borden laments.
If Borden gets the money he is hoping for, he will pour it into Fat Cat. (He does not plan to open a new club, although he is happy to let someone use the Smalls name.) In addition to sound-proofing, he will also build a back room for this community of musicians to hang out. Drummer Billy Kaye says that there has never been anything like the back room at Smalls, and director of Smalls Records, Luke Kaven says that the back room at Smalls was the hub of the New York jazz world. If you sat there night after night, you could watch the world revolve around you.
In the meantime, musicians keep stopping by Fat Cat. They hang out just outside the music room, and they greet Borden, who watches everyone carefully, directing a call of music, music, music to anyone he thinks is there to see music rather than play pool. It is not the same as owning a club, but Borden says he could get used to it. Now my bills are just living expenses because I'm not an owner anymore. I don't have rent, I don't have insurance, I don't have electricity, the phone, the lawsuits.
And musicians are doing their part to get jazz at the Fat Cat off the ground. June saw Jimmy Cobb, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Jason Lindner, Mark Turner and even Brad Mehldau make appearances. Just be sure not to call Fat Cat's main phone number, because they have a bad habit of yelling at people who call to ask about the music. There are growing pains still, but the place has potential.
~ Matt Rand
One moment, you will be redirected shortly.
|New Haven||New Orleans||New York City|
|San Diego||San Francisco||San Jose|
Share your ideas on how we can improve our website and service.