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Underground Busker Breaks Into Briq
by Cora Lewis | Aug 14, 2013 5:05 pm
Posted to: Arts & Culture, Dining, Music
Last week, guitarist Glenn Roth collected quarters from passing commuters in Grand Central Station as he played original compositions. Tuesday night, he got paid up front to play a jazzy rendition of the Beatles’ “When I’m 64” for a different kind of crowd—diners nursing $12 espresso martinis and digging into $25 filet mignon at a downtown New Haven restaurant.
Roth (pictured) was playing a gig at Briq on College Street. It was one of 25 free restaurant performances taking place this week as oart of the second night of this year’s expanded New Haven Jazz Festival, culminating in a Saturday concert on the Green.
In a short-sleeved charcoal button-down, with a neatly trimmed ash-colored beard, Roth positioned himself near the Briq doorway and outdoor seating area at about 7 p.m. He introduced himself to the diners already seated and began to fingerpick and strum mellow instrumentals to accompany their appetizers.
“It was a pleasure to learn that one in Hawaii, and a pleasure to bring it back here,” he murmured after one particularly lulling song.
Sometimes Roth, who is 38 and grew up in Orange, melded two songs into one another, playing for longer periods of time so that diners didn’t need to pause in conversation or mid-bite to clap, which they typically did at a polite, appreciative level throughout the night. He mixed the occasional original tune amid the jazz standards. A bartender who introduced herself as Anastasia, swayed her hips as she mixed drinks, brainstorming a jazz-themed concoction – “I think it should be something spicy and earthy, like a bass tone,” she free-associated.
Roth engaged his listeners with an easy confidence and relaxed air, which he attributed in part to years of playing for the most distracted, fast-paced crowd around: Grand Central commuters.
Since 2004, when Roth auditioned for MUNY (Music Under New York, a cultural program run by the Metro Transit Authority) and was accepted, he has held a lifetime license to play music in the city subways, where he still busks for several hours a week, typically at Grand Central, Penn Station, or 53rd and Lexington.
“They’re the greatest audience on the planet,” he said of the cosmopolitan passersby. “Only a small percentage stop and take an interest, but they’re from everywhere. I’ve sold CDs to and performed my original music for people from all over the world.”
Roth said he prefers to play his own compositions when he’s on the train platforms and under the sidewalks – acoustic pieces written in what he calls “fingerstyle,” with his thumb sticking to the bass-line, while his other digits suggest multiple guitars and pick out different melodies.
When Roth plays for patients and staff in the atrium of the Mid-State Medical Center in Meriden, he said, he tends to play classical, “chill guitar.”
“You could call it ‘trance guitar,” he joked.
Roth stuck with popular, better-known jazz numbers and bluesy renditions of the Beatles at Briq Tuesday. “Just trying to fit in,” he said of the lineup.
The remaining tables at the front of the restaurant (within easy earshot of Roth) filled while there was still light left in the day. Briq’s owner, Leon DeMaille, said several people had specifically requested in their reservations to sit near the music -– though he also noted that the rooftop outdoor patio is also popular, “so in a way the space cannibalizes itself.” Although the music wafted down the street laterally, it couldn’t be heard easily from the rooftop space. Briq opened in April in the College Street space formerly occupied by Bespoke. It markets itself as “a table-style dining experience” featuring “tapas, small plates, entrees and side dishes intended for sharing.”
Once, as Roth performed in the New York City subways, guitarist Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead gave him a $5 bill. Roth said he counts that as one of his more cherished experiences playing music in public. That same fiver would buy one small bowl of truffled almonds with sea salt at Briq, which markets itself as “a table-style dining experience,” serving “tapas, small plates, entrees and side dishes intended for sharing,” and which opened in April in the College Street space formerly occupied by Bespoke.
“We offer community-style dining, so we think it makes sense to also do community-style events,” said owner DeMaille, who sat at the bar during Roth’s performance and watched as the music, carried into the street with the light summer wind, helped fill his establishment. He said he counted at least three or four people who seemed to walk in as a result of hearing the guitar strains.
“Going into the fall, we’re definitely going to consider doing more live music,” he said, after finishing his dinner and excusing himself to make a business call. He said he might try to stop by the neighborhood bar 116 Crown later that evening to catch another of the Jazz Festival events.
One Briq patron, Johnny Jordan, 39, an LED light technician vacationing from New York, said he was partially lured into the space by the music and low-key concert taking place as he walked by. Jordan, who is originally from Georgia, said he moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn after many years of touring with musical artists such as Beyonce and Deadmaus around the world, as a roadie working on their light screens and video accompaniments. “There’s a slower feel down there,” he said of his Southern roots. “But this vicinity [of New Haven] feels like home tonight.”
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Great story. As a guitarist I’m hoping that we see Glenn get much more recognition. He deserves it.
But really, maybe a bit more editorial supervision NHI? I’ve played guitar for 49 years and never broke big. Maybe it was because I wasn’t wearing a “short-sleeved charcoal button-down, with a neatly trimmed ash-colored beard”? Relevant? Is NHI aspiring to emulate the NYT? Certainly hope not. Great story other than that. Well, maybe the hip-swaying bartender too, “brainstorming a jazz-themed concoction”. Just reads a bit pretentious for my taste, but that’s only me.