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.