In a Sentimental Mood: The DIY Jazz Scene in NYC

words by Willa Rudolph

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I love house shows. I frequent the rock n’ roll DIY scene in NYC, but when I made friends with a jazz musician recently, I knew I wanted to write about it and give a different scene some Deli Mag real estate.

The music I heard in that apartment in Bed-Stuy on that September night was improvised, spur of the moment, genius. Adam O’Farril (trumpet), Neta Raanan (tenor saxophone), Solomon Gottfried (upright bass), and Daniel Prim (drums) made up the band for one night only – “This was the first time we had ever played together as a group, but we have all played with each other before at various points. Funny enough, Neta and Adam said the last time they played together was maybe 15 years ago as kids,” Solomon explained.

video by Daniel Gaynor. Taken the night of the show.

The entire room was enraptured by the syncopated intertwining of instruments. Neta had the most insane sax solo I’ve ever heard in my life. The drummer, Daniel, had bells and chimes on hand to bring into play when he felt like it. Adam’s trumpet supported the sax and uplifted it, darting above and below the sounds, and Solomon’s bass was the backdrop that came in waves. 

Although we played standards and songs written by musical heroes of ours, they were really being used as vehicles or platforms for improvisation with no predetermined direction or arrangement whatsoever. In a scenario like this, rather than focusing on playing pre-written material it becomes about honoring the spirit of the song and each musician has their own unique way of doing so. Even this way of playing or approaching the music was not predetermined but a result of the combination of musical/social personalities in the band in conjunction with the energy of the audience,” says Solomon.

The band never rehearsed, and the only thing discussed prior was the setlist order, right before the start of the show. All of the musicians met in the NYC music scene, and were able to use the music to extend and build upon the “social dynamic that already exists in the room, rather than [the music being] a separate entity.” Solomon adds that this “allows for a kind of beautiful, chaotic intimacy.

However, the music was really only based on these songs, rather than the musicians straight-forward playing them. 

In a rock show, the music can be social. The singer talks to the audience, the audience shouts back. The strangers jump around, mosh and bang into each other. The room is in it together. After speaking with Sol, I realize jazz is even more so this way, because playing music with people for the first time, in front of a group of people who are also all together for the first and only time, facilitates this kind of socialization. The musicians feed off of each other, and without one another, the music would sound completely different. It would change entirely if one musician was switched out, or if different folks were staring back at the musicians from the audience. 

Jazz is like a dance that mimics socializing. “You are communicating in real time with other people through a shared language and every human/musician has their own way of speaking, listening, and existing in a shared space. Do you prefer talking with people you’ve never spoken with before or people you’re used to talking with? New York provides the opportunity to constantly have both experiences, and that diversity of interaction allows for self discovery through the bits and pieces of yourself that are always there, versus the parts that come and go depending on the situation.”

Sol closed his eyes so often while playing his upright bass, and the music appeared to be flowing through his entire body. It was almost a dance, and the way he plays is extremely physical. I asked what he would see when his eyes were closed while playing, and he answered, “I’m never quite sure of how often my eyes are closed versus open while I’m playing, and I think that’s because the same type of seeing or visualizing remains through both mediums. I’m seeing a collection of elements collide and react with each other and myself as a vessel spewing my own ingredients into the mix.”

At a bar afterward, Sol and I were joking that being in a rock band (I would know) is like being in a polyamorous relationship. Everyone needs to feel heard, supported, and valued. Everyone also needs to pull their weight. You spend lots of time together, you bicker, and you grow extremely close. You share vulnerable parts of yourself, because the art you create together comes from a vulnerable place.

Sol remarked that playing jazz like he just had that night is more like a one night stand. “I look for people who play with a sense of hope, honesty and curiosity. Those characteristics lend themselves to a feeling of inclusivity and infinite possibility within the band and audience. I remember going to see live music as a small child and relating the musicians to superheroes in their ability to reach beyond all limits and inspire that kind of thinking and action within me.” I feel lucky to have seen this particular collection of musicians for one night, and one night only. 

Solomon Gottfried plays up to three gigs a week, and is certainly a musician worth seeing. Keep an eye out!

This is his next gig: 

It’s a screening with live improvising, but also has architect/designer/artist Dov Diamond putting up a small exhibition. 

To close out this piece, I want to mention that the party that followed the house show was so fun; I met so many new people, it being a scene I don’t particularly frequent, and the most noticeable continuity between everyone I met was that each person was a music lover. I found this to be true even more-so than I find it to be true at rock shows. Every single person had a connection to music that brought them to this group of people and to this show.

Don’t miss the next one!

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