Last night I took a friend to hear the Andy Statman Trio give their 603rd performance at the Charles Street Synagogue in the West Village in NYC. “What kind of venue is this?” she asked, incredulously, as we walked through the narrow doorway into a tiny room strewn with books, papers, helf-empty wine bottles and a random collection of mismatched chairs and tables. It made me recall the first time I came here to hear Andy and the guys, over ten years ago -- as I walked in, a man approached me -- presumably, I thought, to ask me for my ticket. “Have some pickled herring!” he said with gusto, as he thrust a jar of fish toward me. “They're delicious!”
This is not your typical music venue, nor is Andy Statman your typical bandleader. While his music is thrilling, virtuosic, courageous and deeply moving, he himself shuns the spotlight. Performing in the area reserved as the “stage” (really just a small rectangle of floor lit by a couple of floor lamps), Andy performs standing and turned away from the audience. It is not a form of disrespect for those in attendance, nor is it some sort of statement borrowed from the Miles Davis school of cool. I haven’t asked Andy why he makes that choice because it seems rather obvious-- he wants the focus to be on the music, not on him, and -- practically speaking-- he wants to engage with the people he is making music with, which is easier done when looking directly at them. Makes sense.
The fact that the performance was taking place in a synagogue is not what made it a spiritual experience for those of us lucky enough to be in attendance. Once they began to play, the band took us on an inward journey, transporting us from the somewhat disheveled basement corridor we sat in to majestic vistas of pure feeling and soul.
Andy Statman is the sort of performer I aspire to be. He is a facilitator of an experience, no more, no less. He puts the focus where it should be -- on the music -- so that superficial concerns fall immediately away. He is generous in his deference to the other two members of his trio, the endlessly daring, muscular upright bassist Jim Whitney (who I've been lucky enough to perform with myself many times over the years), and the always inventive, playful, tasty drummer Larry Eagle. There is no artifice to what these guys do, no wall between them and the audience, no ego. They put themselves in the service of the music, and we are all the richer for it. The music is absolutely spellbinding.
Go to the little synagogue in the West Village and see for yourself. And if there's any pickled herring to be had that night, try some -- they're delicious.