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May 16, 2017

Don’t you hate other people’s stories about New York?

CityMag publisher Josh Fanning discovers a wormhole between Grote Street and W 10th Street.

  • Words: Joshua Fanning

Something happened after Tasting Australia the other week and it was transcendent.

We’d left the brilliant, all-black-everything Town Square on the north side of Tarndanyangga after a good sampling of the abundant food and drink available.

Joshua Fanning is the publisher of CityMag.

It was 9:30pm and, feeling fat and happy, my girlfriend and I decided it would be nice to walk the short distance home to our southwest corner abode in postcode 5000.

Along Grote Street, somewhere opposite the Coles supermarket, we were stopped involuntarily.

If you hate jazz music – stop reading now.

The smoky vibrations of a tenor sax, mild whump of a double bass, a shimmering cymbal, and some chubby keys all got together and ganged up on us on Grote Street.

I could hear the notes physically reach in through my ears and down my spine and into my stomach where they grabbed a hold of me – tightly.

If you hate other people’s stories of New York – you should definitely close your browser window now.

Like an aroma that catches your nose and takes you back to grandma’s kitchen, the notes spilling out of La Boheme were so beautiful and, also, so shocking that my immediate space and time melted into another hemisphere entirely – my girlfriend and I were transported back to the threshold of Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village.


La Boheme is one of the city’s first small bars. Established by Paul Boylon, it’s the birthplace of Cabaret Fringe. The quartet featured in this article is called The New Cabal and they’ve been performing their original modern jazz every Wednesday at the bar since 2009.

Doors open 9pm.

Smalls Jazz club was recommended to us when we ran into friends from Australia who were, coincidentally, visiting the Big Apple at the same time as us. We met up at one of New York’s “Australian cafés”, because irony, and ordered a flat white with a Coopers Sparkling chaser, then swapped notes on where to eat and what to see.

We swapped Mamoun’s Falafel for Smalls Jazz Club. A fair trade.


The reason the music coming out of La Boheme caused me to think about Smalls is that it was good. And better than good – it was authentic.

I distinctly remember entering Smalls – descending the narrow staircase and paying our $20 cover charge, then squeezing flat against the wall to let a young man and his giant double bass pass by us – and thinking that Adelaide could never have something like this.

Inside Smalls it seemed self evident that the density of talent in New York and the layers of culture in this small bar could never be replicated in Adelaide – a widely dispersed city of a million people who’d rather stay at home and watch Master Kitchen Rules. In Adelaide, it wouldn’t be possible for me to see a 60-year-old jazz musician hammer away on the vibraphone at quarter-to-11 on a Wednesday night. And while I loved every minute of my experience in the basement at Smalls I did feel a tad melancholy about my hometown.

Smalls was open, it was packed and it was producing a type of world-class music. What depressed me, when comparing this scene to those I see back home, was a belief that Adelaide could never support such a vibrant music scene, support a small bar you could chance upon, unintended and be lured into by nothing more than the sweet and smoky sounds of jazz on a school night.

The assumptions I made that night in New York were shattered this Wednesday eve in Adelaide.

On our way home to bed, my girlfriend and I were bowled over. The music we heard on Grote Street yanked us right off the footpath and into a scene from another world.

There were four musicians on stage in front of heavy, velvet drapes. They spoke with their hands and eyes, they blanketed the room in the warm conversation of lyric-free music. The quartet would sway where they sat or stood, and like grass on the ocean floor they moved in unison, the combined wealth of their creation washing over them, over us.

When they played, it felt like these guys weren’t even with us.

They weren’t in La Boheme. They weren’t on Grote Street or in the city but were creating another space and time between two worlds – a wormhole between the physical and emotional.

And all we could do was smile as we listened. Each of us in the audience at La Boheme, sitting quietly – enthralled and nodding – and sipping our Manhattans, made as good as they come, right here in our home city.

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