Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"What A Difference A Day Makes...."

On the day after cataract surgery, the vision in my left eye is remarkably clear and bright. I am understandably startled and delighted by the improvement, requesting the same procedure for the right eye to be scheduled as soon as feasible. My brilliant opthalmologist agrees he can duplicate the miracle at the end of the summer. I am anticipating a week singing at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York in September and I want to visit MoMA during that visit, plus Really See my friends, the musicians in the band and the audience!

The current exhibit at Boston's MFA features works by Edward Hopper through August 19 and I'm willing to face the hordes even more bravely now that the haze and fuzz are no longer a bother.

Coming this week: Meeting Mel Brooks in New York, pre-"2,000 Year Old Man".

Friday, May 11, 2007

I Remember, Mama

Here's deep gratitude to my mother, who dreamed of living in the most beautful home in our little town. When I was five years old, her dream came true. My parents, my sister and I became The Folks Who Live On The Hill. The house rested midst four acres of meadow and woods, bordering Mr. Bailey's farm where he kept dairy cows. Times were enlivened considerably whenever one of the heifers took advantage of an unlocked gate, casually wandering into our back garden. Summers found me quietly reading my Nancy Drew books under the tall trees. Could my childhood surroundings have been more idyllic? Well, yes: there was a small lake just across the road, down a path filled with wild blueberry bushes.

Thinking of my mother this Sunday and all the happy years I spent in that house (where, among other things, my sister and I invented a clever rainy-day diversion we called "Name That Tune"), I knew from the moment I heard it, the song "Looking Back" by Jimmy Rowles perfectly describes those days. The startling thing is that the lyric was written by a then amazingly mature nineteen year-old named Cheryl Ernst.

This is the house where I grew up, followed by the lyric:

I still see the meadow come alive with the morning
From the house where I lived as a child
And the sun as he lifted his lazy head
Shining down where the clover grows wild

The nights that I slept with all the windows wide open
The rain coming in through the screen
And the pale silvery mist draped around the moon
Was the loveliest sight I have seen

Then I left and I wandered
Through the world on my own
But that old house on the hill
The only home I have known

The shelter of tall grass
Was made for young lovers
To lie down and dream upon
Though the years and the worries
Have changed my life
All the memories of then still live on

And wherever I go
And the grayer I grow
I'll remember my home in the country

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".

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Weekend For Sports

For those of us who relish sitting around, watching others exert themselves, this was a terrific weekend. A major golf tournament in Charlotte, NC provided Tiger Woods with yet another victory, although it wasn't exactly like eating a box of chocolates for him. The Red Sox took two out of three from the Minnesota Twins. A 20-horse field at The Kentucky Derby stymied all but the best handicappers. My personal, In-House Equine Counsellor (aka my husband) confidently persuaded me to place my faith and money on Street Sense. The horse paid $11.80 to win and I had him across the board and in combinations. I took him out to dinner. My husband, not the horse.

The coming week finds me flitting about to various doctors' offices, preparing for cataract surgery May 15th. But before that, I am looking forward to Tuesday night's performance by my friend Daryl Sherman, a singer-pianist I much admire, who will be a treat to hear even if she appears but a blurry figure on stage. She's at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston.

While I tend to these matters, I will also take some time to work on various drafts for posting which I hope will amuse you. Watch this space.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Jimmy Rowles ATO, Part Two

(Please see April Archives on Monday, April 30 for JRATO Part One)

It was a dark and stormy night making it quite difficult to find a cab. We were to make the journey to Lincoln Center from the corner of Bleeker and Thompson. Jimmy seemed to have some second thoughts about attending a 3-act opera, even if his was a personal invitation from the world-famous tenor Placido Domingo. (Please refer to J.R. At The Opera, Part I). He had been drinking since he got out of bed at 4:30 PM (jazz musicians occasionally stay up all night), decidedly uninterested in solid food.

Cab approaches LC in the rain and the wind. Beside me, I hear Jimmy grumble, growl, snark and gurgle, throat now parched for a drink because the cab took 45 minutes to get up-town. "Jimmy, don't worry", says I. "Look at those fantastic Chagalls!" "Fuck Chagall. Where's the bar"? It's going to be a long night.

There is a God and she has provided an aisle seat for J.R. Easy escape if he becomes restless, a predictable expectation. The Met is full to the back of the stalls, house lights come down, Maestro James Levine enters, bows and takes up the baton for the overture to Verdi's "Luisa Miller". Suddenly, in this vast space, there is the clear and gorgeous sound of a solo reed, executing a complicated passage. Jimmy turns to me, saying in what for him passes as a whisper: "The clarinet player's a BITCH"!!!! People all around us squirm uncomfortably, hurumphing "well REALLY" and shuffling programs. Jimmy exited the theatre before Rodolpho's first entrance.

We found him sitting in a sort of holding area where he remained throughout the night, fast asleep. When we went to fetch him, he was desperate for a drink and he got one. (Anticipating emergency measures might be required, I'd brought a flask of Stoli). "We are now going backstage to thank Placido/Pablo for an exceptional evening, okay"? Splat, snark, grumble, growl.

We arrive in the area just in time to see Maestro Domingo emerge from his dressing room, still flushed and a bit damp after his brilliant exertions. Wearing a huge, flowing robe of red and black velvet with a quilted collar, he spots Rowles. Sweeping our boy up into his giant embrace, he shouts: "JEE-MEE! Now you know where JAZZ comes from"!!!

Cannonball Meets Slava

On April 27, 2007, Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich died in Moscow. I am familiar with his gigantic talent thanks to a friend who shared a coveted ticket to a Carnegie Hall recital in the late 1950's. I remember a man walking on stage quickly, and seating himself at the concert grand piano. He was settled in seconds, and then another man, tall, and distinguished looking, with military stride and bearing, advanced to the chair in front of the piano, flipped the tails of his formal attire, sat down with his cello, and without fanfare, launched into the first selection. I was as mesmerized as every other devoted fan in the packed-out house.

My memory records that soon after that extraordinary experience, I purchased the LP of The Concerto for Cello And Orchestra No. 1 in E-Flat Major Opus 107 composed by Dmitri Shostakovitch for "Slava", a loving soubriquet meaning "glory" in Russian. The LP never left the turn-table for weeks on end, particuarly since the Second Movement tore my heart out. Still does.

Stay with me now: It is summer 1961, and I am witnessing a legendary record date in Webster Hall, NYC, invited to attend by the soloist Oscar Peterson. Oscar, Ray Brown, Ed Thigpen augmented by a large all-star orchestra led by Quincy Jones, the album will be called "Bursting Out". It's still available and sounds as fresh as ever.

Some of the members of the band are Phil Woods, Jerome Richardson, Bernie Glow and Julian "Cannonball" Adderly. I know most of these gentlemen, jazz club habitue that I am, frequently meeting and greeting them. After the session, Julian invites me to share a spot of lunch with him, and since I am also howling to anyone who will listen that the Shostakovich Cello Concerto is such tremendously exciting music it MUST be heard, he agrees to come back to my place to enjoy a sample.

The haunting Second Movement works its magic on me, but Cannonball falls into a deep sleep on the sofa. I retreat to the other room to allow him at least an hour of uninterrupted rest, and then wake him. I re-played the Second Movement for him, his reaction much like my own. To prove his enthusiasm, he insists we head directly to the nearest record emporium so that he may buy his own copy of the work. We did and he did.

Everytime I saw Julian thereafter, he made a point of telling me the Concerto remained one of his favorite recordings of all time.

R.I.P. dear Slava ...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Coming Attractions ...

This is yet another momentous baseball weekend starring the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, with confrontations scheduled to be played in the Bronx, weather permitting. Meantime, I am busy writing "Jimmy Rowles At The Opera", a lurid tale in two parts which will begin on Monday. For those who do not know the name, Jimmy Rowles was a most respected West Coast pianist who also found a home in New York City jazz clubs and recording studios in the 1970's. A true jazz "cat", Jimmy was the most unique individual I ever met. He was considered the most sensitive of accompanists, and proved his worth playing for Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae and Ella Fitzgerald. He was also a caricaturist and fanatical lover of animals. In an airport one day, I watched him chase and verbally assault a woman because she was wearing a fox coat. He frightened her half to death, long before the inception of PETA. Jimmy would have been a Charter Member if not Honorary President.

Look for Part One of "Jimmy Rowles At The (Metropolitan) Opera" on Monday.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Recommended Blogs

Links to two Blogs I visit regularly are now posted at SloaneView. Rifftides belongs to prolific journalist Doug Ramsey. Taken directly from his site, the following blurb provides valuable information about the gentleman:

"...Doug Ramsey lives in the Pacific Northwest, where he settled following a career in print and broadcast journalism in cities including New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, San Antonio, Cleveland and Washington, DC. His writing about jazz has paralleled his life in journalism.

Doug's most recent book is Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond.He is also the author of Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers. He contributed to The Oxford Companion to Jazz and co-edited Journalism Ethics: Why Change? His next book is a novel that has almost nothing to do with music."

Devra Hall's Blog "DevraDoWrite" is a running commentary on "Music, books, good works and other reasons for living." Devra is the daughter of renowned jazz guitarist Jim Hall, and she is married to legendary musician/talent agent John Levy, the man who successfully guided the careers of many famous jazz artists including Cannonball Adderly, Joe Williams and Nancy Wilson.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Fantasizing With Royalty

A totally incongruous scene came to me the other day while perusing London newspapers online:

HRH The Queen of England and her husband Prince Philip, having enjoyed a quiet dinner for two, are now comfortably seated in the Drawing Room with maybe a brandy for him and decaffeinated demi-tasse for Her Majesty. She needs a good night's sleep for that Walk-About tomorrow in Stoke-on-Trent.

The Queen: "Philip, Darling. Instead of watching the delayed broadcast of today's Parliamentary proceedings, why don't we listen to a few of our old favorites."

"Put on some Basie, will you? There's a dear."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Alone At Last

I was thinking about Peter Jennings the other day, how I miss watching his nightly newscast, and how sorry I am that he died so young. I am especially sad about the cause of his death. Before he stopped smoking, you could see the evidence of a live cigarette smoldering just out of camera range. Swirls of smoke wafted across his face as he relayed the events of the day.

I used to enjoy wonderful dreams in which this intelligent, handsome and from all accounts serious jazz fan and I were the featured players. In mid-1987, I was a substitute radio host for a popular music program broadcast at the NPR affiliate WGBH-FM in Boston. At the same time, Peter was hosting a PBS series emanating from the television studios directly above, which meant that on many days, a mere flight of stairs separated me from the man of my dreams.

The program I produced ran live from Noon to 5 PM, five days a week, and when I'd successfully hit a switch linking to All Things Considerd, I was in need of a quick splash and brush. Heading down the corridor one day, I looked up the stairwell just in time to see Mr. Wonderful making his way to the floor above. A quite audible gasp of recognition escaped my lips. He paused, turned, looked down, flashed a brilliant smile and gave a little wave before continuing upwards. I was rooted to the spot for a full minute. For a few heavenly, golden moments, Peter Jennings and I were blissfully and most emphatically Alone Together.

Many years before that all-too-brief encounter, freshly groomed and ready for the day, I shared a 30-story elevator ride in a New York office building with another famous man, former Republican Presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey. He once (very) briefly celebrated his falsely reported victory over incumbent President Harry Truman in the general election of 1948. Probably still a bit sour about the results even in 1963, Mr. Dewey neither smiled or waved, but he did in gentlemanly fashion remove his hat.

Not surprisingly, the memory of that silent elevator ride will never match the romantic sparkle of Peter and I, together on the Stairway to Paradise.