Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Opening Day At Fenway Park

****** The Red Sox home opener yesterday was a joyous event marked by thousands of lucky fans (with or without their children playing truant) at Fenway Park, and hundreds of thousands more who like me watched the televised festivities at home. Championship rings were given each member of the team, bands played, singers sang, Boston sports luminaries on the rosters of the Celtics, the Bruins and the Patriots waved at the crowd and revelled in the chilly April sunshine. There was an Air Force fly-over, always exciting but especially so at this address since I live spot on the direct flight path to the ball park. It is therefore a much anticipated but dizzyingly brief thrill to step out to the deck just seconds before the air craft rattle and roar across the rooftop.

****** Unquestionably, the most emotional moments occured with the announcement that Billy Buckner (Yes ...THE Billy Buckner) would throw out the first ball. He was greeted by waves of applause and cheering as he made his walk from center field to the mound, tears streaming his face because he realized he never again will carry the "goat" label. (For those of you who are not aware of the history, a brief description of the incredible moment follows below. You may read a full explanation here).

****** The 1986 World Series:

****** On October 25, 1986, the Boston Red Sox faced the New York Mets in game 6 of the World Series. Boston led the best-of-7 series 3 games to 2, and had a two-run lead with two outs in the bottom of the tenth inning. New York came back to tie the game with three straight singles off Calvin Schiraldi and a wild pitch by pitcher Bob Stanley. Mookie Wilson fouled off several pitches before hitting a ground ball to Buckner at first base. The ball rolled under Buckner's glove, through his legs, and into right field, allowing Ray Knight to score the winning run, forcing a seventh game, which the Mets won. Buckner's error capped off a poor Game 6 performance; he went 0-for-5 with runners on in all five at-bats.

****** Buckner was a key member of the team that year. He hit 8 home runs that September, with 22 RBIs and a .340 average, missing only three games. He drove in over 100 runs for the season. In game 5 of the Championship Series when the Red Sox faced elimination, he singled to start their ninth inning rally capped off by Dave Henderson's famous home run.

****** The Boston press crucified Mr. Buckner and the fans were equally (and understandably) venomous. Yesterday, Boston collectively hollered "Enough already"! He threw the first pitch to Dwight Evans, another crowd roar, followed by Johnny Pesky's appearance at the microphone, who with the vigorous voice of a man half his age, shouted the words we waited all winter long to hear: "PLAY BALL"!!!!

PS ...Oh yes, the game: The Sox beat the hapless Detroit Tigers 5-0 in regulation.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Remember ...

Tomorrow would have been Carmen McRae's 88th birthday.

This is the way I remember her: smiling, happy, full of good humor and always glad to see me. She knew of my admiration ... love, of course ... for her as a person, and my genuine reverence for her extraordinary musicianship. We spent many hours together, in various dressing rooms, at recording sessions, on the phone, in her car and in her home in LA. When she laughed, the room vibrated; when she spewed venom, people, animals and birds hastily fled the scene. She was my friend and is my favorite singer of all time. I miss her every day.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Florida Tour

****** Tampa, Avon Park, Venice and Coral Gables, Florida, March 13-18: Arbors Records assembled a splendid group of musicians called The Statesmen Of Jazz for these concerts at which I sang some songs I like. These are the excellent musicians I had the pleasure to work with: Butch Miles, Nicki Parrott, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, Bucky Pizzarelli, Ken Peplowski, Harry Allen, Wycliffe Gordon, Derek Smith, Jon-Erik Kellso, John Allred, Aaron Weinstein. A special tribute to legendary bass player Bob Haggart was the theme of the Venice concert, and the proceedings were guided by another legend, the exceptional Dick Hyman.

****** The Venice Tribute to Bob Haggart provided a rare but truly sensational chance for us to hear the remarkable Danish violinist Sven Asmussen, a most charming man and brilliant musician. His performance brought the house down.

****** On Monday, March 17, I welcomed about 25 gifted jazz vocal students to an informal workshop on the campus of The Frost School of Music, University of Miami at Coral Gables. It wasn't on the schedule and I certainly had no way of knowing in advance, but my good friend, powerful singer Tierney Sutton was not only in town too, but came along with Shelly Berg, the School's Director. I insisted she join me for the workshop. The students were thrilled by her presence, and she offered much insight and solid advice. The two and half hours sped by, each student demonstrated fledgling ability and technique, but each possessed a good sense of time and pitch. Tierney and I enjoyed ourselves immensely, so thanks to all of you who worked with us. Please let me know when and if you produce a cd.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On living seventy-one years ...

****** I love birthday celebrations, no matter who they honor. I host a birthday party every January 27th and April 8th, and a very exclusive bash on October 16th. (Correctly identify those three honorees and I will send you an autographed copy of "Dearest Duke").

****** I particularly enjoy my own birthdays. One of the most memorable took place at least twenty years ago when a group of close friends hosted an intimate gathering at The Jockey Club in Manhattan (Park Avenue South at the time). They had asked me months before the fact to describe a fantastic birthday. They then proceeded to make my fantasy come true: A snow-white cake of lightest texture with thick, white icing upon which sat a notably incorrect number of dainty candles; endless glasses of chilled champagne flowing without restraint, congratulatory messages from the great and the near-great (they even went to the trouble of making up a number of old-fashioned-looking telegrams, signed by luminaries such as the President, Frank Sinatra, Helen Keller and The Pope). I also received an extravagant, beautifully wrapped gift (a gorgeous Rolex Immy) presented with appropriate fanfare (not to mention the singing of a robust chorus of "Happy Birthday"). Very much a perfect anniversary.

****** Thursday, March 6: It's a pleasure to delay my birthday celebration this year to the day after the fact since my friend Bill Charlap, Peter Washington (b) and Kenny Washington (dr) are playing at The Regatta Bar in the Charles Hotel, Cambridge, just a few miles from my home. Buck and I were enjoying dinner in one of the hotel's fine restaurants when Bill joined us. His birthday present to me? He'd play any and all songs I requested. He also invited me to sing a song at the end of the set. One accepts such a splendid invitation without hesitation. I chose "Sophisticated Lady" and savoured every note we four produced. These musicians blend delicacy, precision, passion and incomparable intelligence that is always thrilling to hear but even more exhilerating when one actually participates. Thank you Bill, Kenny and Peter for such a lovely birthday.