Fallen for jazz

The first Jazz & Colors Festival brought a string of small musical miracles to Central Park on Saturday. Just five weeks after they were given permission to go head, the organizers of this pilot event found 30 ensembles and scattered them throughout the park. In glades, atop bridges, next to playgrounds and by the roadsides we found them, each group offering its own spin on the same 18 jazz standards. The result was as promised – a whole new landscape painted 30 different colors of Fall.

All the ensembles, mostly trios and quartets, worked through classics like Billy Strayhorn’s Take the A Train, Fall, by the Miles Davis Quartet and Charles Mingus’ lovely Nostalgia in Times Square.

If you were on the East side and you timed it just right, you could, for example, see Marc Cary stationed in front of the Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir at East 90th Street, play Scrapple from the Apple on his Melodica (blow-organ), then make it to the lawn between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the hot sugared nuts vendor, for the Roy Campbell Tazz Quartet’s own Scrapple –on trumpet.

Our tour began at the West 85th Street playground where the Jason Kao Hwang Trio were wrapping up Autumn Serenade and launching into Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat. This was song no.7 of nine in the first set, so we were off to late start. We headed north and reached 90th Street as rockjazz pianist Elew was in the final throes of his own raucous rendition of Pork Pie Hat.

It’s hard to pass by a grand piano in the middle of the road and a small crowd had amassed around the charismatic quartet. After setting the scene he promptly silenced it, with a quietly soaring version of Rodgers and Hart’s Manhattan.

Joggers, dog-walkers, families with strollers, tourists – no-one within earshot escaped the reverie. Elew (Eric Lewis) muted his piano keys like guitar strings and leaves skittered up the road in the breeze to accompany the rustling snare. The bassist found his moments and gently interceded. Innocent passers-by, pulled out of their afternoon by the lull, failed to pass by.

It ended too soon. A whoop went up from the crowd and like that we were all released back into our day. Next came John Coltrane’s Blue Train then intermission. We paused to check out the quidditch match (yes really!) on the lawn and spent the rest of intermission at the 100th Street playground.

Travelling with children, you learn to recognize when you’ve seen “the one” – that thing that allows you to leave peacefully if there’s a mutiny. I had my highlight and was happy to roll with the punches from then on. As intermission ended we decided to cross over to the east side and make our way down to the Naumberg Bandshell in time to see the Mingus Big Band finish up the second set. We would see what we would see along the way.

Even on bikes and carrying a few leftovers from our Halloween stash, we were never going to make it from 85th Street up to the Harlem Meer to see Marika Hughes and Bottom Heavy or down to Pinebank Arch to see Lakecia Benjamin and Soul Squad. We saw seven of the 30 groups, for about a half to one or two songs each – it was more than enough for each of us to go home with a buzz.

Ever the romantic, Ruby was taken by the atmosphere on the carriage bridge between Cedar Hill (our sledding Hill) and the Alice in Wonderland statue (the best climbing spot in a park full of non-climbing trees). She became besotted with Sharel Cassity Quintet’s Skating in Central Park,. Henry’s favourite was the terribly cool, “anchor-shaped” electric violin played by Jason Kao Hwang. And the afore-mentioned blow-organ – he’s all about process!

Without really trying, our timing was perfect. We reached the Mingus Big Band at 3:40, just as the pre-dusk cold started to creep in. After spending the afternoon hanging out with little clusters of impromptu audiences, the three of us stopped paying attention when we joined the huge stationery crowd at the Bandshell. However we still got our big finale as Empire State of Mind closed the set. The crowd went as wild as a jazz crowd can.

On the way back to our exit, we met a friendly drum teacher watching the lake. Like nearly everyone else in the park that day, she had stumbled upon this fantastic free event. Between her and a few other walkers stopping to compare who saw whom play what, it was unanimous: On Central Park’s busy events schedule this one was a keeper – well timed, well-managed and well worth adding to next year’s calendar now.

The big apple: beyond the bridge

We left Manhattan!

This is the third time in three years we’ve hired a car to take our weekend excursions beyond the bridges. That’s a pretty poor record and one we only think of remedying in spring and autumn – those very short windows between long, extreme seasons. Before you know it, it’s too hot to bother or too cold to contemplate.

Exit over the Hudson. The GW Bridge

So, in 10am Saturday-of-a-long-weekend traffic, our rental car crawled up the Henry Hudson Parkway before crossing the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey and the other, non-Manhattan New York. We were headed upstate to New Paltz, a quaint town at the foot of the Catskills, full of olde worlde charm but kept vibrant by the State University of NY campus. In October it’s full of students and day-trippers, up for all the pick-your-own orchards.

The 1.5 hour drive to the well-named Apple Hill Farm took us nearly three, thanks to the long weekend traffic and a misunderstanding about which town we were in when we rang to ask for directions…

“The Shop-Rite’s on your left? McDonalds up ahead on your right? Just keep heading south for around 15 minutes and turn left off Route 32.”

We were pulled up across from a Shop-Rite, with McDonald’s just up ahead on our right. In a completely different town (Newburgh). What are the odds? It took another 40 minutes or so of back-tracking up and down Route 32, with a few accusations of “bad googling” from the driver to the navigator and lunch time came and went. But leftover birthday cake made a good enough lunch and when we finally found the farm, the rest of it grew on trees.

Apple Hill is a no-frills operation on the side of the road. Just turn up and pay $10 for a peck, $20 for a bushel and fill them up. Its concession to city-tourists is the hay-rides between the roadside and the orchard at the top of the hill. As far as the kids were concerned, a peck-bag each and a hay-ride was all you need for an “awesome” day out.

A race up the hill, past the Macoun, Jonagold and Crispin, which had all been picked early due to the unseasonably slow onset of a cold snap, and everyone disappeared into the trees to find the perfect apple.

Pre-picked. Thanks to an early season

The early apples go into big crates, lined up along the crest of the hill. It can make picking feel a bit like shopping, except that everyone’s so helpful. And so diligent with quality control!

We finished just as the weather turned, and autumn officially set in for the year. Then drove the ridiculously short and simple four minutes into New Paltz and sat, somewhat stubbornly given the brisk change, outside at the Harvest Cafe. There we had the best burger this side of the Minetta Tavern. Lunch at 4:30pm after running around an orchard all afternoon is bound to be good.

Eating apples straight from trees was good. Just getting out of town was good and our timing was perfect. With Halloween looming, the apples will be gone when the leaves peak in a couple of weeks.

Even getting lost on the way there wasn’t so  bad – it meant we were outside during the hour in which the season, quite literally, snapped after that final little warm spell flickered out on Friday. The sky darkened and the wind whipped up as our beautiful apples bounced around the boot on the way back through the Hudson Valley.

Within reach. Red Delicious

Ruby dragging her half-peck of perfect apples.