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BWW Review: BILL HAYES AND THE JAZZ BANDITS Sweeten A Night Out At The West Bank Cafe

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A summer night in Manhattan gets better with the food and entertainment at the beloved West Bank

BWW Review: BILL HAYES AND THE JAZZ BANDITS Sweeten A Night Out At The West Bank Cafe

Boy, Steve Olsen is one smart restaurateur.

As you round the corner on 42nd Street and see, for the first time, the beauty of what Steve and the West Bank Cafe team have created there, it is essential to stop so as to take in the wonderland. The sidewalk at 42nd and 9th has been rendered a lovely, elegant vista ever since Olsen reinvented the Midtown eaterie to keep up with the health and economic pitfalls of the last year. For a while now the restaurant has been open for sidewalk dining and socially distanced indoor meals and, in lieu of cabaret shows downstairs at The Laurie Beechman, there is dinner music available, by way of doors opening onto the street that lavish upon the neighborhood some of Manhattan's best musical talent. Talk about making the most of a bad situation - clearly, Mr. Olsen knows how to cut his suit to fit his cloth.

BWW Review: BILL HAYES AND THE JAZZ BANDITS Sweeten A Night Out At The West Bank Cafe

BWW Review: BILL HAYES AND THE JAZZ BANDITS Sweeten A Night Out At The West Bank Cafe

Aside from the changes Olsen has made in the decor and layout of The West Bank Cafe, his decision to bring this musical element to the dining experience is nothing short of brilliant, particularly when one observes that The Jazz Bandits have a standing date to play for the West Bank patrons every Friday night from 7 to 9. By the glow of soft light and in reasonably situated pods around the eaterie, guests are afforded an opportunity to commune, to enjoy exceptional meals, and to float away on the exquisite music provided by Bill Hayes and The Jazz Bandits. Usually a quartet, last night the band was a quintet due to the inclusion of some hot drum action from Ray Marchica, but Olsen could easily take any one of these men and put them up on a stage, solo, and say "Go" and the resulting musical entertainment would be worthwhile. These dudes are extraordinary musicians, and more than that: they are professionals. There is no reason to assume that, just because the entertainment is billed as "dinner music", it will be a quiet, unobtrusive set being played by an uninspired act that's been shoved into a corner. What we saw last night was a show. Hayes and co. showed up ready to work, ready to entertain, ready to give the audience on either side of that open partition a memorable night of entertainment, and that kind of professionalism in entertainment is what keeps audiences coming back, time and again.

BWW Review: BILL HAYES AND THE JAZZ BANDITS Sweeten A Night Out At The West Bank Cafe

BWW Review: BILL HAYES AND THE JAZZ BANDITS Sweeten A Night Out At The West Bank Cafe The entertainers at The West Bank Cafe play two sets between 7 and 9, and during The Jazz Bandits' first set last night, we heard everything from Chick Corea to Michel Legrand, a little Jobim and even some original Bill Hayes, with every number upping the ante from the last, as appreciative guests eased up on their cocktail chatter and dialed back their dinner conversation to revel in the sweet sounds filling the air. Some guests even left their tables to walk over and watch the band, like buskers who catch your eye on the street and compel you to pay attention and pay a tip. That's the other thing about this experience - the artists are working without payment from The West Bank, so there is no music fee. These artists perform for tips left in a tip jar on the stage or in a virtual tip jar for digital gratuities - and even without a guaranteed fee to be paid, these five gents walked in the door with a full show for the crowd. That's what I call "Getting dressed before they left the house" and it didn't go unnoticed.

BWW Review: BILL HAYES AND THE JAZZ BANDITS Sweeten A Night Out At The West Bank Cafe The Jazz Bandits kept it light and upbeat with an honest but easy jazz feel and a lot of Latin influences to match the summer night and each band member had moments to bring their individual talent into the spotlight. Mr. Hayes's work on his vibraphone was particularly intoxicating, not just because of his immense talent, but also because it's not an instrument you get to hear every day - and to hear it played like this is a real treat. Also a treat was when guest vocalist Jackie Sanders sat in for a few numbers, layering the musical performance with additional humanity through expressive and artistic interpretations of classic compositions, the highlights being a soothing "Sympathique" and some romantic, easygoing harmonies between Sanders and husband, Hayes, during "Dreamer." For this writer and music-lover, the best of the night was a moment during the number "Invitation" when the men of the band reached that high point in their unanimity that one dreams of hearing, that moment when a group of musicians ceases to be five people and becomes one unit, absolutely acting, breathing, moving as one: it was thrilling to witness The only problem is that the music is so good that guests who had finished their dinner were staying to hear more music and the restaurant couldn't turn the tables for new guests - but that's what one calls a Champagne Problem, isn't it? This was a perfect New York night, with all the elements for which one hopes when going out.

It's good to be out and about again. So. So. Good.

BWW Review: BILL HAYES AND THE JAZZ BANDITS Sweeten A Night Out At The West Bank Cafe

BWW Review: BILL HAYES AND THE JAZZ BANDITS Sweeten A Night Out At The West Bank Cafe The West Bank Cafe dinner music sets play Wednesday through Saturday from 7 pm to 9 pm with two artists playing Sunday from 5 pm to 7 pm and 8 pm to 10 pm. For information on The West Bank and upcoming dinner music acts click HERE

The members of Bill Hayes and The Jazz Bandits are:
Bill Hayes, Vibes
John Samorian, Piano
Colin Taber, Guitar
Chip Jackson, Bass
Ray Marchica, Drums
Jackie Sanders, Vocals

Visit the Facebook page for The Jazz Bandits HERE.


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