A Clean Well-Lighted Place
By: R.S. Gingher, Sunset Hills Neighborhood Letter
(“What is music to you? What would you be without music? Music is everything. Nature is music [cicadas in the tropical night]. The sea is music, the wind is music. The rain drumming on the roof and the storm raging in the sky are music. Music is the oldest entity. The scope of music is immense and infi nite. It is the ‘Esperanto’ of the world.” ––Duke Ellington)
The jazz heritage of North Carolina in general, and Greensboro in particular, is strong. Think, for instance, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Billy Taylor, Nina Simone, Dannie Richmond, Johnny Best, Eddie Wilcox, Woody Shaw, and Percy Heath. Our neck of the woods is a hub for performance arts, bolstered by strong music programs in a half-dozen nearby colleges and universities, most of which are right here in Greensboro. A strong appetite for jazz has existed here for decades. What’s been missing, especially in recent years, is a working menu, a functional delivery system for musicians. That appetite seemed to grow alongside the more familiar physical desire for good food and
A strong appetite for jazz has existed here for decades. What’s been missing, especially in recent years, is a working menu, a functional delivery system for musicians. That appetite seemed to grow alongside the more familiar physical desire for good food and gradual emergence of fi ne dining here during the nineties and later. But the 2008 fi nancial decline combined with that of North Carolina textiles, furniture, and tobacco markets signaled the end for many restaurants and for many working musician’s venues. With their demise also went the last best hope for many local jazz musicians. And yet…one hot August Saturday that year over 1,100 area residents and friends appeared on our lawn, veranda, second- fl oor deck, and throughout the park. They had all gathered, along with the mayor, to hear the viscerally powerful sound of
And yet…one hot August Saturday that year over 1,100 area residents and friends appeared on our lawn, veranda, second-floor deck, and throughout the park. They had all gathered, along with the mayor, to hear the viscerally powerful sound of authentic jazz, delivered live by prominent jazz artists from the stage of a fl atbed truck parked on the street (W Greenway N) dividing the park from our front yard. This third “Greensboro Jazzfest” took the form of a fundraiser to support organizations with missions to introduce the transformative and salutary power of music to children. Appetite had met menu.
Over the years we’d held a score or more of indoor home concerts. But this outside effort was backed by sixteen companies, one of which, Natty Greene’s, materialized in the form of our neighbors and some staff for hands-on support and supply. There were bar and food lines, golf carts transporting folks to and from parking, half a dozen porta-pottyies rearing up like sentinels in park and yard, and everywhere a cool racial mix of young and old lounging in a colorful patchwork of pitched blankets and folding chairs.
I’ve sorely missed the Jazzfest days and those of hearing great instrumentalists and torch singers in several of our local restaurants. Fortunately, for 15 years O.Henry’s owners have wanted to offer cocktail-and-jazz vibes like those in the grand New York hotels of the 1950s. In 2015 this dream began to materialize. Hotelier Dennis Quaintance and impresario Victoria Clegg, perhaps sensing a “tipping point,” teamed up to offer jazz evenings. Now, in the magical space of the O. Henry Hotel’s social lobby, outstanding instrumentalists and vocalists pay homage to the great American classics each Thursday (5:30-8:30) and most Saturdays from 6:30-9:30. Its Ensemble-in-Residence is the remarkably skilled jazz trio––pianist Dave Fox, reed man Neill Clegg, and double bassist Matt Kendrick. On Thursday’s they back guest vocalists, serving up jazz classics from the Great American Songbook. On Saturdays, a variety of impressive jazz ensembles support stellar vocalists. Astonishingly, there is no cover charge, though performances here are on par with the best jazz offerings anywhere.
Beginning in 2006 a group of friends and I started lunching on Wednesdays at the Green Valley Grill (GVG), O. Henry’s restaurant. Now on jazz evenings the familiar pleasures of good food, relaxed conversation, and tonic companionship there continue, for GVG’s bar extends into the lobby then for cocktail and tapas service,
“Spirit of place” suggests a field of felt energy certain spaces possess, some indefinable but palpably real essence we sometimes call “good vibes.” Such arenas invite collective celebration and restorative fellowship. I like to call such an area “a clean, well-lighted place.” The magical core of the hotel is its entrance hall or lobby, designed after that of the renowned Algonquin Hotel in New York City. It’s unusually beautiful, with vintage half-moon lighting and honey-colored, wainscoted arcades, above which reads O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” There the entire text of his best-known story is in gilt on green pages covering all four walls. The entire effect is unique and “bespoke,” speaking for simple essence exclusive neither too old Greensborough or old Midtown Manhattan but to both––a quality familiar, lovely, and unpretentious.
It’s a perfect space to lounge, listen, and enjoy the music, a place of harmony, contentment, good fellow-feeling, and restorative atonement. You can’t miss discovering this after a single evening here. In the lobby’s portrait, the master storyteller himself lounges, newspaper in hand, and sets the tone, as if calming surveying this entrance hall and its sojourners. Now no weekend feels truly complete without a ritual lunch and jazz evening here.