Wednesday, May 9, 2007

In The Middle Of A Buffalo Herd

I mentioned in a previous post (see Friday, April 27 "Coming Attractions") that Jimmy Rowles was an animal lover of the first magnitude. Here is yet another example of his undying devotion and fascination.

Jimmy told me there was a modest-sized Zoo located not far from his childhood home in Spokane, Washington. One of the exhibits featured a small herd of North American Bison. These shaggy creatures can reach up to 6½ feet tall, grow to ten feet long and weigh 900 to 2,000 lbs. The heads and forequarters are massive, and both sexes have short, curved horns, which they use when fighting for status within the herd and for defense.

At age seven, Jimmy loved to stand beside the buffalo enclosure, gazing at the huge beasties. He, however, craved intimate contact, so when he discovered a vulnerable spot in the fence, he used his trusty little pail and shovel to dig a hole deep enough to accomodate his slender child's body. He quietly seated himself on the ground near the herd, hoping one or two would be curious enough to give him the once-over. Before he was subjected to such spine-tingling scrutiny, his presence was discovered by a horrified Zoo employee who whisked him out of harm's way. Jimmy never forgave the man.

Fast forward to LA and a jazz club where an adult Jimmy is featured pianist. As he approaches the bar after a set, he sees a large man with long, luxurious hair and a full beard. Jimmy: "Man! You look just like a buffalo"! The man in question laughs and introduces himself. He's Bill Holman, the multi-talented arranger/composer. From that day to his last, Jimmy always called Holman "The Buffalo" and introduced me to him in that manner once when Bill was visiting New York. His hairy countenance suggested he was still on low scissors maintenance, and I could see why Jimmy saw the resemblance. At the time, we failed to appreciate the irony of it all: Buffalo invited us to join him to see a performance of Stephen Sondheim's brilliant production of "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street".

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