Friday at five: Rye Manhattan

Welcome to the inaugural post in cultured nyc’s weekly cocktail column, Friday at five. It’s autumn in New York–our favorite time of the year. Even though we haven’t had much sweater weather yet, it’s time to start thinking about warming up with some whiskey. Not only that, but today is Rye Day at the Union Square Greenmarket. Frye-day, if you will, kicking off a week-long celebration of New York state rye. We had the chance to sample rye whiskeys from Breukelen Distilling, Nahmias et Fils, and New York Distilling Company. We were taken with all of these, and will be featuring these whiskies in coming weeks.

For today, we will showcase New York Distilling Company’s Ragtime Rye American Straight Whiskey. This is a classic rye; 100% New York rye, aged for three years and bottled at 90.4 proof. On its own, it’s spicy, clean, well integrated. I had a feeling it would do well in a cocktail too.

The cultured nyc reference library has a pretty deep cocktail section, so where to turn for our first post? How about Dave Wondrich’s Imbibe? We’re starting off old school here, and this book is all about the old school. The Manhattan Formula #3 (New Standard) comes courtesy of William “The Only William” Schmidt in The Flowing Bowl, 1892.

  • Half a tumblerful of cracked ice
  • 2 dashes (1/2 Tsp) of gum
  • 2 dashes of absinthe
  • 2/3 drink (2 oz) of whiskey
  • 1/3 drink (1 oz) of vino vermouth
  • (a little maraschino may be added)

This is close to the Manhattan we always make here at cultured nyc, maybe a touch sweeter on the vermouth. Per Dave’s recommendation, we left out the simple syrup. We also left out the maraschino, but did add one of Nora’s very fine house-made maraschino cherries. I was, however, very curious about the absinthe. A tiny bit of absinthe can completely transform a drink. I was worried that this would turn into some sort of weird Sazerac. But it didn’t! Not quite anyway; it added a green ‘undertaste’. I don’t think I’ll turn this into my new standard, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Dave Stryker Trio at the Bar Next Door

Smalls lives up to its name, and Mezzrow is even smaller. The Bar Next Door is even more intimate than either. When you’re sitting at the tables directly in front of the musicians, you’re almost close enough to boop them on the nose while they play. We settled into one of those tables to catch Dave Stryker and his trio Thursday night. The Bar Next Door, is “next door” to, or more accurately, in the basement of La Lanterna, a nice Italian caffe and wine bar on Macdougal in the heart of the Village. The pizzas are good, the wine list is big, and there’s not a bad seat in the house, so it’s usually a good place to listen.

I first met Dave at the Jamey Aebersold summer jazz workshop in 2014, and since then I’ve been doing workshops, masterclasses, and online lessons with him, in addition to working through his books. He maintains an active teaching schedule, teaching at Indiana University and Montclair State. That’s on top of a very busy touring and recording schedule. I’ve learned a lot from him over the last five years, but more than that, I’m just a huge fan of his playing.

Originally from Omaha, Dave moved to New York in 1980 and had his first big break touring with Brother Jack McDuff in 1984-85. McDuff’s groups had included Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, George Benson, and Pat Martino. As Dave likes to tell the story, when he joined up, McDuff was luckily to have finally landed a “good guitarist!” From there, Dave spent a decade working with Stanley Turrentine. He’s firmly rooted in the hard bop tradition, and all the organ quartet and soul jazz pedigree infuse even his more abstract work with a down home groove.

The group launch into their first set. Jared Gold is on organ, and McClenty Hunter is on drums. I’ve seen this combo a few times and they gel together from the first downbeat. Gold has been playing with Dave since 2004 and the trio has been the foundation of Stryker’s records since 2013’s Blue To The Bone IV and 2014’s Eight Track. That last record launched a terrific series, with Eight Track II coming out in 2016 and this year’s Eight Track III and Eight Track Christmas. The concept is to treat the pop songs of the 1970s (Superfly, Wichita Lineman, We’ve Only Just Begun) as new additions to the great American songbook and work them into jazz numbers. The more I hear this approach, the more I think it’s a good idea, and I think it’s especially welcoming for younger people who don’t know dozens of the old tunes.

Dave Stryker and Jared Gold
Dave Stryker and Jared Gold

The band starts playing. A typical Stryker set will include originals, standards, bebop and blues. They play Autumn in New York. A woman and her parents walk in, sit down, and begin talking loudly in Italian. Dave calls the tune, “Too High,” insisting that it doesn’t describe the band. He’s trying to draw the Italians in, but the woman says it’s no use since her parents don’t speak a word of English. At the end of the tune, I helpfully call out to translate, “Troppo Alto”–maybe they thought I was shushing them, because they did quiet down for a few minutes after that.

The band is really cooking for the second set. I saw McClenty looking a bit tired in the break, but he really caught fire now. The set features a couple of blistering bebop tunes, including a super high energy take on Donna Lee. In honor of Thelonious Monk’s 102nd birthday, Dave does a lovely solo rendition of Ask Me Now. The set wraps up and we all go off into the New York Autumn night.

One For All celebrates Art Blakey at Dizzy’s

We are now in an era of jazz centenaries. Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Ella Fitzgerald had theirs in 2017. Charlie Parker will have his next year. Barry Harris is just shy of ten years away from his. On October 11 2019, the honor goes to Art Blakey. Several events in New York this week will serve to commemorate. I caught One For All at Dizzy’s on Tuesday night. This supergroup sextet features Eric Alexander, Jim Rotundi, Steve “Stevie D!” Davis, David Hazeltine, and Joe Farnsworth. Eric had just flown in from Vancouver early that morning, and Jim had just flown in from Vienna.

I know Eric, Jim, and Steve from the Jamey Aebersold summer jazz workshops. I’ve played in combos supervised by Eric and Steve, and to put my cards on the table, they are both heroes of mine. I’ve been a fan of Eric’s ever since I first heard him play at Smoke in 2005 with the Mike LeDonne quartet (and which I wrote about at the time).

Steve had the honor of getting picked by Blakey to join the Jazz Messengers right out of college. Steve played on the last two Messengers albums, his tune, One For All, became the title track of the group’s final record. There’s a story that Steve likes to tell about his early days with Blakey. Art took Steve aside, put his arm around him and said, “Listen, when you solo, you make statement, you build to a climax, then you get the fuck out!” “You got that?” Steve: “Yes.” Art: “Then fucking do it!” Truer words were never spoken!

Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola

One For All first got together for a gig at Smalls in 1997. Since then, they have recorded sixteen albums together. I have to admit not knowing those albums previously, but I am looking forward to digging into them.

Through the course of two sets, the group ripped through a bunch of Blakey favorites, including Benny Golson’s Along Came Betty, and Blues March. During Manteca, it was all I could do to stop from shouting out the tune’s name, just like Dizzy and Chano Pozo did. Joe Farnsworth acted as MC for most of the night, and this night being about a great drummer, took several extended and thrilling solos.