The mist across the window hides the lines
But nothing hides the color of the lights that shine
Electricity so fine
Look and dry your eyes

Have you ever walked through busy, vibrant city streets on a cool early spring evening and really looked around at where you were and what you were doing?

If you have, did you notice how magical the lights shining from café’s, clubs and residences look as they throw the glow of their light into the twilight streets below?

it will always be one of my favorite parts of living in a city, and it doesn’t need to be New York City, it can be right here, in Syracuse.

In Syracuse I drove 5 minutes from my city neighborhood to the downtown core.   I walked from where I parked, down rain and snow slicked kaleidoscope streets , and rather than looking down at my phone, I chose to look up and see what so many of my own fellow citizens don’t see, but there it is, and it shines so brightly I have to believe those who miss it are willfully ignoring it.

Too bad for them.

There is a city going on and they are missing everything.

So tired of all the darkness in our lives
With no more angry words to say
Can come alive
Get into a car and drive
To the other side

This year springtime is still trying to insert itself into the Syracuse air as the last gasps of endless winter stubbornly refuse to leave. Even this late in the month we are still seeing snow in the air and feeling the chill in our bones.  We still have to account for our hats and gloves when we venture out. It would be so easy to just stay in, wait for warmer evenings, for clearer nights but like all lovers, lovers of art and music are heartier souls.  We know that sometimes we have to overcome some adversity for the objects of our affection.   Sometimes that adversity is winter weather that has overstayed it’s welcome, but  that cold makes  the warmth inside that much warmer.  Great music, great food and great people settle into cozy urban comfort as one leaves the outside breezes behind.  The steam on the windows behind neon lights calling music lovers inside like a beckoning lighthouse on a nearby shore.

On days like this, if your eyes are open, it’s hard to miss the magic.  If you’re lucky, walking in you find yourself amongst friendly faces gathered to support a world class jazz trio and send them off, representing our city on an international stage.

Jazz is music best heard in the heart of a city because it’s heart is in the city, and unlike so many other cities, jazz is still celebrated and played to appreciative crowds in my city on the rise.  From hotel lobby concert series, to regular gigs at various bistros, the music is alive here.  Sure our famous jazz festival faces an uncertain future, but that speaks more to the local economic factors that make such a large event possible, than it does the potential audience for this uniquely American musical form.

Count me among the lucky ones, last night I was at Maxwell’s in Hanover Square and got to see Melissa Gardiner’s jawdroppingly wonderful trio MG3 do their thing before they jet off to  play at the Bucharest International Jazz Competition  and if you weren’t there, you missed one of those musical events that not only fill you with musical delight, but also nestle into your heart and soul.  Jazz has a way of doing that, maybe especially so on a cold and snowy night in our vibrant city.  It was, in a word, exceptional.

You should know Melissa Gardiner, she is the force of nature behind so much great music in this city, be it this combo, or her New Orleans inspired Second Line Syracuse project, or playing with so many other groups and projects, not to mention running the Sunday afternoon open jazz jam at Funk n Waffles, an event that in my mind is the best kept musical secret in town and a wonderful way to pass a Sunday afternoon.  Her virtuosity on trombone is a joy to watch, perfect tone that at times can be delivered so softly it’s almost like velvet coming out of the horn of her instrument and in the next moment a sound so strong and funky that you find yourself grooving in your seat.  On the vocal pieces, Gardiner’s sweet voice can be playful such as on their treatment of the Stones classic “It’s All Over Now” or mysterious and haunting, as on “Ode to Fela”

On electric piano was  NYC based  Willerm Delisfort, yes, THAT Willerm Delisfort who’s 2009 album Freedom Riders is a “must listen”, a key track from that CD, “Son of Africa” was represented early in the set and was a definite highlight in a night of highlights.  Delisfort’s strong presence and masterful hands on the keys created a beautiful intimacy in sound he played in conversation with his bandmates.

Nationally renowned Byron Cage on the kit is something to see, every beat, every rhythm a marvel, especially on the previously mentioned “Son of Africa” with its complex rhythm patterns.  Cage, a Syracuse native is a Grammy nominated drummer who brings with him  a gospel background along with work with blues greats  Joe Louis Walker  and Tommy Castro among others.

The thing about seeing world class jazz players at work, is that it’s a joy to watch as well as to hear.  The intimate setting of Maxwell’s was a perfect venue to see these folks not only display the mastery of their instruments, but also  the magic that goes on between the notes, the communication, the eye contact, the cues one picks up from another.  It was a joy to behold.

The event was a fundraiser to cover the cost to send these artists to Bucharest for the festival, any additional funds would go to an album to be recorded upon their return.  The go-fund-me effort put the project over the top.

What’s truly wonderful is that these folks who have worked so hard can go and represent Syracuse internationally, but maybe just as important is the community here in Syracuse that would not allow funding to keep them from going.  If that doesn’t put a lump in your throat, I don’t know what will.  It put one in mine.    Gardiner expressed her gratitude multiple times and said that she was so proud to live in Syracuse, a town where this could happen, where artists are supported by a community.

Heading back to my car as the (goddamned) late April snow continued to come down, it was hard not to think how lucky I felt to see artists of such world class talent in an intimate setting.  Luckier still that this was organic, these people are FROM Syracuse and are proud to call our city home.

The show was less than two miles from my house.  It was cold, I was pretty tired, my 10 year old was texting me incessantly about stuff he wants, but to stay home was not an option.  The same way industry was the lifeblood of the city in the past, for me, the lifeblood now is the arts and music like the performance  I was lucky enough to witness last night.  You have to get out and see what’s going on for yourself.  There is always room for one more.   If you want, I’ll take you there.

Are young but getting old before our time
We’ll leave the T.V. and the radio behind
Don’t you wonder what we’ll find
Steppin’ out tonight

Don’t you wonder what we’ll find?

Steppin Out: Songwriters: David Ian Jackson
Steppin’ Out lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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