Jazz revival on Upper West Side with socially distant audience

Music heals, and on this night, the physician is jazz pianist and composer Cyrus Chestnut. The healing powers of the Cyrus trio are needed now, more than ever, by jazz and music fans.

"It is an understatement to say this is an unprecedented time," Chestnut said as he sat down with FOX 5 News before a performance, "It is our endeavor to send them away feeling better than when they arrived. We hope the rhythms melodies and harmonies somehow permeate their being and make them feel better."

Chesnut's operating room this night is the Smoke Jazz & Supper Club on Broadway off 106th street on the Upper West Side. Its owner, Paul Stache, saw a desperate need to be filled after months of pandemic isolation.

"It was our sense that people are really hungry and craving live music and so do we and we tried to figure out a way to make it possible," Stache says.

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And so it was that Stache created what he aptly jokes is the "telemedicine of the arts." Every Friday and Saturday, Smoke Jazz hosts smoking hot talent for a livecast called "Smoke Sessions." 

Safety is without question, the number one priority. Musicians wear masks unless when playing a wind instrument. They are separated by clear partitions. 6 cameras live stream their performances, transporting those watching at home to a front-row seat. 

Then there are those who are dining, who actually get a first-row view of the trio from fully enclosed greenhouse-like pods outside. Only staff is allowed inside the restaurant/club.

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"It's amazing," one of the patrons said.  "It feels like it almost felt the way it was before."

New York City has imposed rules to prevent gatherings that can lead to COVID-19 transmissions, rules that essentially bar live performances.

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But what Cyrus Chestnut and his trio prepared for this night was a performance to be streamed live for audiences in the comfort and safety of their own homes. As they perform, the restaurant, which normally can fit 60 patrons, is entirely empty.

Outside the restaurant are its dining operations that, with the clear pods, hosts 22 guests. If those guests happen to be dining while the trio plays, well, lucky them.

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"It's not quite the same as being in the club," Stache told us "but it's a pretty nice experience I think and it’s certainly great to have music in here again it’s good for the soul."

It's a good thing for musicians too, many of whom have lost virtually all of their live gigs which they depend on to support themselves. For Cyrus Chestnut, this is a time about unity and about love. "Storms are not here to stay. They are here to pass so maybe this is a time where we have to kind of think a little more of each other care about each other be considerate of each other."