I’ve heard it said many times: the great thing about living in New York is that the whole world is right here. It seems like one can find so much of the world’s offerings here – and in interesting combinations and mashups. That’s true, whether one is talking about culture, food or music.
First there are the cultural experiences. I had the chance to see a South Korean movie with a buddy recently in Times Square only to find that we seemed to be the only Caucasians there. Rather than seeing a film loaded with our own cultural values – and clichés – it was fun to see one with Korean themes such as honor and reincarnation playing a strong role. Yes, there are times when the majority gets to be the minority in New York.
Then there’s the food – I remember when I first moved to NYC, I got a kick out of seeing a Chinese/Cuban restaurant on the Upper West Side called La Caridad 78. (How did they come to mix Chinese & Cuban cooking?) The restaurant is still there, and the city is similarly full of food fusions. There’s also authentic real-thing cooking from a countless number of countries. You can walk certain blocks of Jackson Heights, Queens, and feel like you’re in India with all the authentic restaurant and groceries. I recall taking a Siberian-born friend to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn and seeing her shed (happy) tears, because the exact same foods from her childhood were there, triggering vivid memories of home.
Finally, there’s music – lots of great music from many places. One experience which helped to inspire my new album Melting Pot was participating in jam sessions organized by the Brooklyn Raga Massive (BRM). BRM is a music collective presenting Indian classical and cross-cultural Raga inspired music blended with other traditions. To me, the most interesting thing about their jam sessions, besides the beautiful and groovy Indian sounds, is the lack of almost any imposed structure. As an American jazz musician, I’m used to navigating lots of rules around a public “jam” – who’s leading it, when you can get up to play, who chooses the song. BRM’s jams have none of that – you just go up when the time feels right; there’s no formal leader and no “tune.” American jazz is traditionally known as “free music,” yet BRM’s version seems to have even more freedom for performers. It’s beautiful to experience the vibe as a performer — or audience member. Highly recommend!