Cornelia, McNeil, Carter And Will

The next time I visit New York, which can’t be soon enough, I will make it a point to visit the Cornelia Street Café. The restaurant in Greenwich Village has intrigued me with its digital notifications about performances by musicians, singers, poets and uncategorizable others. Eclecticism seems to be the café’s guiding principle. The latest schedule speaks of poetry events—recreated conversations of the German composer Hanns Eisler—a lecture on “The Pathological Sublime and The Anatomical Unconscious”—the travel writer Ralph Potts—a trio made up of two singers and a bassist—a vocalist named Brianna Thomas of whom the Cornelians quote Will Friedwald as saying that she “may be the best young straight-ahead jazz singer of her generation” (who knew?)—and an array of adventurous jazz players of the downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn jazz scenes.

What brought Cornelia Street to mind was a message from the trumpeter John McNeil inviting me to his next engagement there with his band Urban Legend. Alas, I can’t go, but this presents an opportunity to share with you writing of the kind McNeil often disseminates in advance of his gigs.

In the message, McNeil wrote this about Urban Legend:

Steve Cardenas, Bill McHenry and I have had this band for something approaching eight years, with a changing cast of bass and drums. On the bandstand I’m the leader and ostensibly the music is mine, but in eight years band members have contributed major changes to all of it. McHenry and Cardenas have done the most, but I always tell the various bassists and drummers that ideas are welcome, and they come through with a lot. Matt Penman in particular changed a lot of harmony, bass lines etc.

Cardenas and I have collaborated on a tune or two also, and the result of all this is a book that is diverse but maintains a consistent vibe. What that vibe is I can’t really say, but like porn, I know it when I hear it.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I admire McNeil not only for his wit, general musicianship and trumpet virtuosity, but also for his fortitude in the face of vicissitudes that might have persuaded many of us to close up shop. If you follow this link, you’ll see a Rifftides archive piece explaining that. It includes video of a performance with his quartet.

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  1. says

    Thank you. This is one of the most perceptive, astute and pithy things written about the cafe and what we do (other than food and drink . . !). We have been at it for 35 years–we celebrate our birthday on July 4, perpetually 201 years behind the US. Do come! Have you ever dropped in, or are you this perceptive, astute and pithy from what appears to be a great distance? In any case, as Her Majesty said to me only the other day, mazel tov!