A Polished Performance

Jazz pianist Zaccai Curtis performed solo at the Polish National Home Saturday evening. More about the stunning performance in a bit.

The Polish National Home is to the Sheldon/Charter Oak neighborhood, as Connecticut’s Colonial Charter was to the Charter Oak, which is to say that both are/were well hidden in plain sight.

If one approaches the building  after having just exited I-91, then she may assume she took a wrong turn. On her left, while traveling up Charter Oak Avenue, she would see a closed factory with its own ecosystem– something that has a way of deadening the surrounding area. It’s simply one more forgotten building in the city, so forgotten that trees are popping out of it.

At the same time, the Polish National Home is next to an elementary school, as well as the somewhat also hidden, but lively, Pulaski Mall, a park nestled between the Sheldon Oak Cooperative housing units, which are not exactly fine examples of attractive architecture, but appeared to lack greenery inappropriately growing out of their walls. My own trip to the PNH included gallivanting around Main Street, then through Pulaski Mall, where kids, many of them, were playing outside in an area that seemed like  safe refuge from traffic.  I like this area because it provides something that so much of downtown still needs to figure out: a family environment. There is something to be said for keeping children literally off the streets when they play. As I exited this area, I walked back in the direction I basically came from, but this time, up Charter Oak Avenue where balloons tied up outside drew attention to the venue.

Knowing that the PNH has a cafeteria, I assumed that is where the music would be. I envisioned a cluttered hall  of yesteryear, complete with folding chairs and tables, with the musician stuck in a corner somewhere. Instead, after paying, I was told to go upstairs. The staircase itself was nicer than most — not institutional. The room was not decadent, but looked far more upscale than one might expect from a club. There is even a proper stage for the piano and velvet curtains framing it. The chairs were comfortable, not folding.

What can I possibly say about the performance? At times it was hard for me to believe that only one person was creating all of the sounds I was hearing. It was polished. It was quirky without being in danger of falling into the dreaded “weird for the sake of weird” category. Other musicians were there to listen to Zaccai perform, which to me is usually a sign of talent.

What was weird was reconciling the music and musician with the venue. Curtis played below the Polish coat of arms, which after the stage itself, was a focal point. One would expect Polka, not Jazz, to be produced on this stage. Then again, between sets, one would not expect to be given a slice of cake decorated to look like a piano.

Curtis does not have any upcoming performances listed on his website, but it does have a few videos of him playing.