Only in New York

Last night around 10:15 decided to head out for dinner, and somewhat randomly picked the Cuban restaurant Guantanamera because it was nearby. Sat down in a booth near the bar, facing the band, and ordered some mojitos. Over the din of the other diners I thought “hey this house band isn’t half bad.”

Within a few minutes of listening it became very apparent that beyond “not half bad” they were actually really remarkable. What a treat! Ordered a steak and sank in, letting the music (and mojito) flow over me. A half hour later a lady from one of the front tables got up to sing with the band — which isn’t always a good thing. They started on The Man I Love and it was sublime. The song started out as a ballad but then they kicked it up to a fast afro-Cuban beat, and the singer scatted over the beats for a good 4-5 minutes. It turns out it was Janis Siegel of the Manhattan Transfer! I felt particularly fortunate as I had been bummed to miss the Manhattan Transfer show at the Montréal Jazz Festival in June, but here, of all the most random places, was one of my favorite members performing at a small family joint in Midtown West.

Janis sat down after one song but a string of similarly talented musicians came in and out of the band until the restaurant started to close down. I didn’t recognize any of them but the music was so good. 🙂

There was a recording device above the band that was collected by a fellow who I caught up with outside the restaurant as he was hailing a taxi. His name was Paul Siegel and he’s the co-president of Hudson Music which is a music education group (with a website powered by WordPress). I learned the percussionist leader of the house band was Pedro Martínez and Paul follows and records him several times a week at different venues. Apparently Guantanamera is a long-time musician hang-out where even folks like Eric Clapton sat in with the band.

Only in New York.

27 thoughts on “Only in New York

  1. Wow.

    First, I am impressed (but not surprised) that you’re a fan of the Manhattan Transfer. Their recording, Down in Birdland (anthology) is at LEAST a weekly occurrence in my home office, getting me through my work week (Java Jive is my fav)…I’ve been a fan since high school (and THAT was a long time ago! heh).

    Second – how lucky are you that it was Janis Siegel in the random restaurant you chose to dine in. That is so exciting and I’m totally jealous!

  2. Right time, right place–thanks for sharing! I remember landing somewhere and it turned out to be Tito Puente! Unfortunately, my friend I was staying with wanted to go to some club…and I felt I had to go with her.

    (And of course he’d be on WordPress!)

  3. Matt,

    Awesome moment captured.

    While reading your post, I was thinking of two things:

    1. Not just New York! Indeed, for serendipitous music experiences, check out LA. In particular: Ian Copeland’s Backstage Cafe (yes, that Copeland, look it up on Google) and Genghis Cohen, the odd bar+chinese-restuarant+music-venue

    2. My favorite New York music moment has to be how Richie Havens met Bob Dylan. He tells it in his own words here: Listen to Richie Havens Interview Part 4.


  4. So I almost always love live music at a restaurant, even if it isn’t stellar. But when you mentioned the lady got up to sing I winced, and I winced again at thinking she’d butcher Gershwin to boot. And now… well… I’m just jealous and trying to imagine what a sweet sound that would have been. And I’ll leave it at that. How very awesome for you! 🙂

  5. Wow, what an experience. You go out for this random dinner at a random place without having to wait in a cue or pay an entrance fee and you end up totally enjoying yourself… NICE.

  6. Matt thats a great NYC story and moment.. AND why i will never live anywhere else in the world or the burbs. Every day a new adventure awaits! … and needs to be blogged and tweeted

  7. This is a great story and yes, you summed it up well in those last four words!

    Every time we visit New York, we usually find at least one other hidden gem.

    And Manhatten Transfer’s Janie Siegel, you can’t beat that.

  8. Hey Matt,
    Firstly, I agree with many of your readers…how could anyone live anywhere else?? I’m a native New Yorker and I still discover new things ALL the time in my city.
    Pedro Martinez and his band totally rock and I’ve been there 4 or 5 times now….spurred on by Paul Siegel and Max Horowitz and also trumpeter Lew Soloff (who also played that night)who told me about Guantanmera many many months ago. Never got a chance to go till this summer…and I got hooked on the music and the authentic atmosphere.
    I had so much fun with that tune..and everytime I go there are amazing musicians that listen and sit in. I brought Jon Hendricks last week and he loved it!!
    all the best,

    1. Wow! Thank you so much for dropping by. 🙂 Really appreciate you sharing the names of some of the other musicians as well, I’ll check out their work.

  9. OMG! Manhattan Transfer was from my youth. I told you my dad used to manage jazz musicians in NYC didn’t I? All the big 50s acts were clients of his, and I had a privileged NYC childhood from which I have backslid ever since:-)

  10. Great Story! Those magical moments happen all too infrequently here in Portland, OR (used to be in the bar at The Benson after hours when the musicians would mellow after concerts), although I do remember you had some jazz fun at last year’s WordCamp.

  11. Matt, SF is a great city as is NYC. Both have unique and wonderful attributes. With Jane having relocated, you/WP/Automattic should set up a satellite office and home in NYC. I’m in the process of doing that very thing.

  12. Certainly a great moment in NYC Matt … on the subject of the music industry and their using WordPress, I was impressed to see that Australian band ‘Empire of the Sun’ also are ‘powered by’ WordPress.

  13. This is so inspiring—thanks for this story. I agree with commenters saying “not just NYC” though.

    I’ve been traveling in an RV around the US the last four years, and have had many serendipitous moments. Those moments are why I travel.

    The key isn’t the exact location, it’s getting out. If you explore the world, your city, your backyard—and open your mind to new experiences—cool things will happen.