BILL HAYES AND THE JAZZ BANDITS Sweeten an evening at the West Bank cafe
Boy, Steve Olsen is a smart restaurateur.
As you turn the corner on 42nd Street and see, for the first time, the beauty of what Steve and the team at the West Bank Cafe have created there, it’s essential to stop to enjoy the Wonderland. The sidewalk of 42nd and 9th has been made a charming and elegant sight since Olsen reinvented the Midtown restaurant to keep up with the health and economic pitfalls of last year. For a while, the restaurant has been open for sidewalk dining and socially distant indoor dining and, instead of cabaret shows downstairs at Laurie Beechman, there’s music for dinner, through doors opening onto the street that lavishly showcase Manhattan’s best musical talent. Talk about making the most of a bad situation – clearly Mr. Olsen knows how to cut his suit to fit his fabric.
Aside from the changes Olsen made to the decor and layout of the West Bank Cafe, his decision to bring that musical element to the dining experience is simply brilliant, especially when one observes that the Jazz Bandits have a fixed date to play. West Bank customers every Friday evening from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. By the glow of the soft light and in booths reasonably located around the restaurant, guests have the opportunity to commune, savor exceptional meals and float to the exquisite music provided by Bill Hayes and the Jazz Bandits. Usually a quartet, last night the band was a quintet due to the inclusion of some hot drumming action from Ray Marchica, but Olsen could easily take any of these men and put them on stage, solo, and say “Go” and the resulting musical entertainment would be worth it. These guys are amazing musicians, and more: they are professionals. There is no reason to assume that just because the entertainment is billed as “dinner music,” it will be a quiet, low-key ensemble played by an uninspired number that has been pushed into a corner. What we saw last night was a spectacle. Hayes et co. showed up ready to work, ready to entertain, ready to give the audience on either side of that open score a memorable evening of entertainment, and that kind of professionalism in entertainment is what keeps audiences coming back time and time again.
The artists at the West Bank Cafe play two sets between 7 and 9, and during the Jazz Bandits’ first set last night we heard everything from Chick Corea to Michel Legrand, a little Jobim and even an original Bill Hayes, with each number increasing. . putting on the latter, as the grateful guests calmed down on their cocktail chatter and recalled their dinner conversation to revel in the sweet sounds that filled the air. Some guests have even left their tables to walk around and watch the band, like street performers bringing your attention to the street and forcing you to pay attention and tip. That’s the other thing about this experience – the artists work without payment from the West Bank, so there is no music fee. These performers perform for tips left in an onstage tip jar or virtual tip jar for digital tips – and even with no guaranteed fees to pay, these five men walked through the door with a full show for the crowd. This is what I call “Dress before you leave the house” and it has not gone unnoticed.
The Jazz Bandits kept it light and upbeat with an honest yet easy jazz feel and plenty of Latin influences to match the summer night and each band member had moments to put their individual talent in the spotlight. Mr. Hayes’ work on his vibraphone was particularly intoxicating, not only because of his immense talent, but also because it’s not an instrument you hear every day – and hearing it play like that is. a real treat. A treat was also when guest singer Jackie Sanders sat down for a few numbers, layering the musical performance with added humanity through expressive and artistic renditions of classical compositions, the highlights being a soothing “Sympathetic” and harmonies. romantic and easy going between Sanders and her husband. , Hayes, during “Dreamer”. For this writer and music lover, the best of the night was a moment in the “Invitation” number where the men of the group reached that climax of their unanimity that we dream of hearing, this moment when a group of musicians cease to sound. be five people and become a unit, absolutely act, breathe, move as one: it was thrilling to see The only problem is that the music is so good that the guests who had finished their dinner stayed to hear more music and the restaurant couldn’t reverse roles for new guests – but it’s called a champagne problem, isn’t it? It was a perfect New York night, with all the elements one hopes for going out.
It’s good to be again. Therefore. Therefore. Good.
The West Bank Cafe Dinner Music Sets are played Wednesday through Saturday 7-9pm with two performers on Sundays 5-7pm and 8-10pm. For more information on the West Bank and the upcoming Musical Dinners, click HERE
The members of Bill Hayes and The Jazz Bandits are:
Bill Hayes, Vibes
John Samorian, piano
Colin Taber, guitar
Chip Jackson, bass
Ray Marchica, Drums
Jackie Sanders, voice
Visit the Jazz Bandits Facebook page HERE.