Thursday, January 30, 2014

Stompin' at the Savoy

   Chick Webb was one of the great swing drummers of the Jazz Age, and an improbable success story. Webb suffered from spinal tuberculosis from childhood and developed with a permanent hunchbacked stoop. But Webb was determined to follow his dream of being a musician. He bought a drum kit with his earnings as a newsboy and moved to New York in 1925, playing gigs all over town. But when he really came into his own was when his band was hired at the Savoy Ballroom in 1931. While he was not a trained musician and couldn't read sheet music, Webb and his band pounded out swing with force and abandon that perfectly suited the nonstop dance scene at the Savoy. Sadly, there's very little footage of Webb in action. This video shows a short clip about 40 seconds in of Webb's band swinging and the dancers tearing up the floor.

Extremely rare footage of Chick Webb and Gene Krupa from Tom Castagna on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Eating in Midtown: Kashkaval

   Midtown is the center for most hotels and visitors in NYC. It's also the nation's largest business/commercial district. Unfortunately for most visitors staying in Midtown, the confluence of hotels and offices means that there aren't many of the casual, reliable, and affordable eateries nearby their hotels. So every now and then, I'll highlight a casual midtown eatery I enjoy. Today, Kashkaval on 9th Ave.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Aire Ancient Baths in Tribeca, a high-class schvitz

   For the uninitiated, a schvitz isn't a dirty word or teenage slang. Like bagels and pickles, it's another New York delight brought to our city by Eastern European Jews. Schvitz is an old yiddish word for "sweat" and in its current definition a schvitz is a trip to a sauna or bathouse to get your sweat on.
   The City operated public baths in the late 19th and 20th century because tenements were often so insufficient in regards to sanitation and bathing. Many of the poor were forced to live in literal filth and disease was a constant problem. The baths were a way to combat the spread of disease and promote hygiene. Plus, many of the Russian and other Eastern European Jewish immigrants brought an appreciation of socializing in 110 degree steamboxes with them. While the City doesn't operate any public baths any more, there are venerable old standbys like the Russian and Turkish baths in the East Village.
   While the teeming and steaming low-cost schvitz has a lot of things going for it, sometimes you want to class things up. Enter Aire Ancient Baths at 88 Franklin Street.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Hotels outside Manhattan: How to avoid sky high hotel rates

  Travel to New York City is an expensive proposition. But travelers can often save money the same ways the locals do: skip expensive dinners and instead do great take-out or nice lunches, take subways and walk instead of taxis, check out local concerts and not Broadway shows, soak up free museums, and all other kinds of savings. But tourists and locals are all screwed by the high cost of housing. Savvy travelers are used to being able to rent apartments for their stays in big cities to help defray costs, but that practice is effectively illegal in New York City. And so visitors are stuck paying what one analyst found to be the 6th highest hotel rates in the world.
   So as a tourist, you can avoid high Manhattan prices the same way the rest of us do. Don't stay in Manhattan! The outer boroughs and even New Jersey have a booming hotel trade catering to travelers turned off by Manhattan's high prices. But not all outer borough hotels are created equal. Some are far away from the subway and require inconvenient shuttle rides just to reach the subway. Some are also seedy dirtbag hotels. So here's a list of where to stay and why.

View from the Holiday Inn-Long Island City

Awesome NYC visitor's promo.....from 1956!

   NYC has gotten very subtle with its tourism promotion. These days, you don't see print or TV ads for visiting the Big Apple. But in 1956, things were a little more straightforward. So enjoy this great video of New York in the 50s. Take a trip to....The Wonder City!!

h/t to Gothamist

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Jumpin' at the Woodside

   Count Basie was one of the great bandleaders in jazz history, whose long career and influential performances created a lasting musical legacy. He was born William Basie in the Jersey Shore community of Red Bank, where the theater in town currently bears his name. He grew up playing piano and sneaking into the local theater before heading to Harlem as a 16 year old in 1920. His early career included lots of motley gigs and jobs in Harlem where he learned stride piano from James P. Johnson, Willie "The Lion Smith, and Fats Waller. He also spent lots of time touring and eventually ended up in Kansas City in 1929 at the peak of the hot jazz movement in KC. After refining his skills as a bandleader he headed back to Harlem and took up residency at the Woodside Hotel on 142nd Street and 7th Ave. Basie and his band would practice and jam in the basement, and through these jam sessions their hit "Jumpin' at the Woodside" would emerge.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How to ride the subway

   In a previous post, I described the basics of taking a taxi. But the truth is that over the course of a few days visiting NYC, using a taxi to get everywhere can become expensive very fast. Plus taxis can be hard to find on cold days, hot days, rainy days, and around shift changes and last call (4 AM and PM). So on the many occasions when taxis let you down, there is always the workhorse of New York City, the subway.
   The subway is the bloodstream of New York. Without it, the entire economy of the region would grind to a halt. In fact, we got a real life example after Hurricane Sandy when some workers attempted to get to their offices before the subway was back up and running and the resulting gridlock stretched for miles. And while there may be 500,000 taxi rides per day, on a recent October day there were almost 6 million subway rides. The subway is also a great equalizer. While the demographics of the subway to tend a little poorer than the city overall, every car still includes rich and poor, cultures from all over the world, students, retirees, tourists, workers, shoppers, and just about every kind of person imaginable. And besides, it's cheap.