I’m on the list

Catalonia Holiday, Day 1, Part II

When I arrived at my hotel in Barcelona (Hostal Gat Xino: double bed and private bathroom with awesome shower for only 38 euros a night!), I was absolutely exhausted. Having walked about 4.5 miles in Girona before the train trip down, I walked from the station to the hotel because I didn’t want to bother learning how to use the Metro. That brought my total up to nearly 7 miles, all with backpack, and being fairly out of shape I just kind of collapsed on the bed.

Plan: get something to eat, take pictures of the food, come home, go to sleep. I consulted the printed-out travel tips and decided on Meson David, because it was only three or four blocks away. They turned out to be really dark, fairly creepy blocks with lots of graffiti leading through the heart of Barcelona’s Arab quarter, complete with “Carnisserias Islamicas” (halal butchers) and dozens of kebab houses with no customers. The narrowness of the streets made it all feel a lot like a less vibrant version of the first city I visited from my London base: Fes, Morocco. But at the end of the street was Meson David, with its weirdly Germanic decor (plus a Santa Claus on a swing). I sat down and did something everybody has to try at least once: I picked a menu item which had no words in it that made any sense to me, and pointed at it.

It was this:

Sha-bam! That's an egg, a couple oysters, two shrimp, and seafood things I should know but don't, all sitting atop a filet of hake fish swimming in a lemon butter sauce with peas and sweet red peppers.

But the best was yet to come. At the table immediately to my left was a group of seven loud English-speaking guys having a merry time. A big, bearded black guy who was closest to me was obviously a Londoner, and we got to talking; he lived on the opposite end of the Central tube line from me. I say “lived” because he now lives in New York City, with the rest of the table: they were the New York Ska Jazz Ensemble. They were pulling down a big meal and some extremely powerful alcohol (I have NEVER seen shot glasses that small – the big dude took a sip, said “Damn!”, and thought long and hard before downing the rest) before the final gig of their 22-concert European tour, which had taken them as far as Moscow.

They invited me to their show. Then a Brazilian couple sat down next to us and got invited, too. We wrote our names down and the big bearded guy (who turned out to be the bass guitarist) said, “I’ll put you guys on the list.”

And so it was that, an hour later, I walked into a premier nightclub (Sala Apolo 1, home of “Nasty Mondays” and “Crappy Tuesdays”) during a show with an 18-euro ($24) cover and, for the first time in my life, said, “I’m on the list.” Actually, “Estoy en la lista.” But whatever.

The first thing you should know about the New York Ska Jazz Ensemble is that they are awesome.

Speaking of awesome, this isn't a bad picture given it was taken in a club.

The next thing you should know about the New York Ska Jazz Ensemble is that they’ve been around since 1994 and consist of a saxophone/flute player who does lead vocals, a trombonist, guitar, bass, keyboard/organ and drums. Basically, their modus operandi is to take jazz, reggae, ska, rock’n’roll, and calypso, and throw it all into a blender. I knew I was in good hands when I walked in to a hard-driving, tune-happy rendition of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” It was a fun club, too. A lot of the crowd were singing along to songs they didn’t know the words to by just going “bah bah baaaah” (this even happened in “Get Up, Stand Up” – I thought everyone knew those words) and they even did this to songs that don’t have any words. Next to me were a group of five or six people who sang “bah bah bah ba-ba-ba-ba-ba baa ba ba baaaah” to “Take Five.” It was hilarious.

But I can totally understand it, because the enthusiasm of the New York Ska Jazz Ensemble was infectious. Heck, it was their enthusiasm that got me to go in the first place; at the restaurant they’d talked about what a blast the tour had been, made musician-talk over who should play what, and generally looked like people in love with their jobs. They looked like that onstage, too, cheering on each other’s solos, getting the audience involved, the bassist really getting into a groove. I realized it takes a certain kind of personality to play bass, but that certain personality freaking loves it.

It was an awesome night. They could have played until morning, but sadly didn’t. Afterwards, I stood alongside the stage waiting to grab my bass-playing friend, but the Brazilian couple found him first. When I joined them, the bassist asked, very politely, “Did you enjoy yourself?” I almost laughed. Hell yeah! Are you kidding? Who wouldn’t?

It’s almost cooler that he asked it that way. He genuinely cared. They really want people to love their music. Now, isn’t that awesome?

The New York Ska Jazz Ensemble

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