What can make three triangles of parched French toast filled with a wax paper-thin layer of crusty Nutella worth $15? A clarinetist covering "Singin' in the Rain."
The Sunday jazz brunch is a staple of the restaurant with no obvious attractions on the day heathens need to replenish their energy lost to hours of juice and hugging on Saturday night. It's often deployed by establishments who can't boast pictures of famous patrons on the wall, cater to the headset-wearing C-level executive with an expense account five days a week, and know marketing better than cooking.
Your parents visiting from Jersey, college freshmen in search of something "real" and anyone with a Vanessa Williams album flock to the jazz brunch. A little math convinces these credulous demographics to open their vacuum-sealed wallets: You'd pay a $20 cover and $10 drink minimum anywhere else to see live jazz, which is all the same anyway. Why not throw in a buffet - or artfully arranged platters with cutesy names like Crustina Agoudara - and a Bikini Bellini instead?
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The problem with the jazz brunch is that it inverts the natural order of jazz. Forget for a moment that Negro spirituals, borne in the toil of slavery, aren't usually associated with lox, challah bread and frittatas. When have jazz musicians ever been awake before noon, and in a clean room? The smoky nightclub is the maternity ward of jazz, and its mother's milk is illegal hooch. (The onset of smoking bans and sippy cup-sized martinis, sadly, reflects the senile years of jazz.)
Non-guitar solos have been driven to extinction in every genre to safeguard the first-laid privileges of the Ax Man. The exception is jazz, a wilderness preserve of self-aggrandizement where blurry fingering, elaborate blowing and sensuous cymbaling determine the pecking order of the peckers. The wincing wail of a sax or machine-gun patter of piano keys are simply more tasteful translations of coital release.
In the Bizarro world of the jazz brunch, the background is the front-most consideration. A slight rise in the level of serotonin, and a 40-percent increase in the price of brunch, is the highest end of the band playing a jazz brunch. The players can't be too creative, too affective, too noticeable, for fear of interrupting the conversation and continual placing of new orders. Anything suggesting individuality gets the band the boot.
In the book of Revelation, the LORD tells the church of Laodicea, "Since you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to spit you out of my mouth." In the Sunday jazz brunch, America has swallowed hard.