Although most indoor live performances in New York have been banned since the deadly spread of the coronavirus began in March, about a dozen people showed up at Birdland, the jazz club near Times Square, for a 7 p.m. performance on Wednesday night Live jazz was billed for dinner. They had reservations.
Among them was Tricia Tait, 63, from Manhattan, who came for the band, led by tuba player David Ostwald, who plays the music of Louis Armstrong. Until the pandemic, it had played on Birdland most Wednesdays. She admitted having health concerns “in the back of your mind” but said, “Sometimes you just have to take risks and enjoy things.”
As the daily number of new coronavirus cases in New York City has risen to levels not seen since April, face-to-face learning in public middle and high schools has been suspended, and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo warned this week not to allow indoors dine It could soon be banned in the city. Birdland and a number of other well-known jazz clubs and piano bars across town are once again offering quietly live performances, arguing that the music they are presenting is “random” and therefore will be allowed by the pandemic. Era guidelines set by the State Liquor Authority.
These guidelines state that “only random music is allowed at this time” and that “advertised and / or ticket shows are not allowed”. They continue: “Music should be part of the culinary experience, not the draw.”
That hasn’t stopped a number of New York City venues better known for their performances than their cuisine – including Birdland, the Blue Note, and Marie’s Crisis Cafe, a West Village piano bar that reopened on Monday with a show tune after she declared herself to be the establishment – from offering live music again.
“We think it’s coincidental,” said Ryan Paternite, Birdland’s program and media director, of its calendar of events, which includes a marching band and a jazz quartet. “It’s background music. That’s the rule. “
The rules have been challenged in court. After Michael Hund, a guitarist from Buffalo, filed a lawsuit against her in August, a US District Court judge in New York’s western district issued an injunction last month preventing the state from enforcing its ban on advertised and ticketed Enforce shows. “The minor music rule prohibits one type of live music and allows another,” wrote Judge John L. Sinatra Jr. in his November 13 ruling. “This distinction is arbitrary.”
The state appeals the judgment.
“Science recognizes that mass gatherings can easily become super-spreader events, and it cannot be overlooked that companies would seek to undermine tried and tested public health rules like these as infections, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise “said William Crowley, a spokesman for the alcohol authority, said Thursday. He noted that a federal judge in New York City had ruled in another case that the restrictions were constitutional. He said the state will “continue to vigorously defend our ability to fight this pandemic if it is challenged”.
However, it is unclear what exactly “random” music means. Does that mean a guitarist in the corner? A six-piece jazz band like the one that played at Birdland on Wednesday night? The Harlem Gospel Choir, who will perform at Blue Note on Christmas Day? Mr Crowley on Thursday did not respond to questions seeking clarity or what enforcement action the state has taken.
Robert Bookman, an attorney who represents a number of New York City’s live music venues, said the venues interpreted the judgment as allowing them to advertise and sell tickets to occasional music performances during dinner.
Hence, the venues have carefully chosen their words. They take dinner reservations and announce line-up calendars for what Mr. Paternite of Birdland calls “background music during dinner.” Unlike Mac’s public house, the Staten Island Bar, which declared itself an autonomous zone and was recently ridiculed on Saturday Night Live, they have no interest in openly disregarding regulations.
Mr Paternite said that after laying off nearly all 60 employees in March, Birdland is now returning to what he calls the “skeletal staff” of about 10 people.
“It is a big risk for us to be open,” he said. “And it only pays in a cent. But it helps us with our arrangement with our landlord because in order to pay our rent over time and keep our utilities and taxes updated we need to stay open. But we lose huge amounts every day. “
If the venues don’t reopen now, he fears they may never do so. Jazz Standard, a popular 130-seat club on East 27th Street in Manhattan, announced last week that it would be permanently closed due to the pandemic. Arlene’s Grocery, a club in the Lower East Side where the Strokes took place before they became known, said it was “life sustaining” and had to close on February 1 without assistance.
Randy Taylor, the bartender and manager of Marie’s Crisis Cafe, said the last time the piano bar served food was likely in the 1970s – or maybe earlier. “There is a very old kitchen that is completely disconnected upstairs,” he said. Dining options are extremely limited: there are currently $ 4 bowls of chips and salsa on offer. “We have to sell them,” he said. “We can’t just give them away.”
Steven Bensusan, the president of Blue Note Entertainment Group, said he hoped the state doesn’t move to stop eating indoors.
“I know the cases are sharp,” he said. “But we’re doing our best to keep people safe, and I hope we can stay open. We won’t be profitable, but we have the opportunity to give work to some people who have been with us for a long time. “
The clubs said they are taking precautions. In the Blue Note, which reopened on November 27th, the tables that were previously divided are now two meters apart and separated from one another by plexiglass barriers. The two nightly seats for dinner are each limited to 25 percent or about 50 people. At Marie’s Crisis Cafe, where masked pianist Alexander Barylski sat behind a clear screen on Wednesday night as he led a cheering group choir from “Frosty the Snowman,” Taylor said the tables were separated by plastic barriers and that the venue conducted temperature tests and collected contact tracking information at the door.
Marie’s Crisis Cafe had streamed live on Instagram and his Facebook group page, but Mr. Taylor said it wasn’t the same. On Wednesday night, 10 customers strapped Christmas music through masks, some having had their first drinks at a venue since March.
“There were some tears,” said Mr. Taylor. “People really missed us. We can’t see their smiles through their masks, but their eyes say it all. “