Oy, hockey. What a blow out. Can’t believe I wasted three hours watching the Kings get their asses kicked five zip. Ouch. Not just for the score and humiliation, but for the time utterly wasted. You only get so many three hours in a lifetime, and that one was totally wasted. Sigh….
I switch channels. Wow. Huell Howser. I haven’t seen a Huell Howser since he died. He’s at Musso & Franks Grill and it’s 1995. I recognize all the help. Huell steps out of the kitchen and bumps into Benny Carter. I yell wow, loud. Benny Carter. One of his favorite places, Benny says. I really miss Benny Carter, and I never even met him. Some people you just miss because you might have got to meet them, but didn’t. Huell turns around and there’s Charles Champlin. Another wow. They’re talking about the old days. The Algonquin Round Table West, someone says. Wow, I say. Back when jazz and writing were going concerns. Then it’s Dr. George Fischbeck. Wow. I’m awash in multi-layered nostalgia. Nostalgia for this show which I never knew I’d have, nostalgia for the people he’s meeting who in turn are waxing nostalgic about times past that I’m nostalgic for even tho’ I was never there, or even could have been, chronology being what it is. Maybe it’s nostalgia for a world where writers and jazz musicians were something, and journalists had class. A pre-internet world, basically, I type in electrons. Waxing nostalgic for a hard copy world in the ether, when back then none of you would ever even see this. It’d be notes on paper in a box in my closet. Now everyone reads it and I complain. Some people just can’t be satisfied.
I type a whole other paragraph, think about it, hold down the back space key and watch it disappear, like it never was. On paper it’d still be there, a big line running though its length. Later I could read what I was thinking. Here I’ll never know. That’s language in the digital world. There one minute, gone the next.
Musso’s, though, is analog as it gets. On Christmas Eve my wife left a card for me under the tree…how about dinner at Musso’s? it said. Soon, I said, soon. I love the place. You need cash to do it right, and it’s too soon after the holidays to think about it now. But soon. We’ll sit at an old table and drink martinis and eat pot pie and oysters on the half shell and a crispy iceberg wedge with crumbles of blue cheese and I’ll imagine Bogie at the bar, not in the best of shape, or Orson Welles talking and talking and never shutting up. Or earlier, even, and there’s Charlie Chaplin, and I’m too scared to go up and say you’re Charlie Chaplin because he is Charlie Chaplin.
Old Hollywood, classic Hollywood. Funny that we’ve been here a third of a century now. I remember our first time at Musso’s, and looking at all the old people and listening in on their tales of the silent screen. They’re all gone now, long gone, and we have our own tales of a long gone Hollywood. In Musso’s all that blends together, a century’s worth of Hollywood. You can feel it. Close your eyes and you can see it. I wish I was there right now. I’d go there every week if I could, assemble a little Algonquin West. We’d eat and drink and laugh ourselves silly, then repair to the parking lot for cigars and whatever. The whateverers would giggle, the cigar smokers would blow long plumes of Cuban smoke. Flasks would pass around. See you next week, we’d say, and head off into the city looking for music, live music, and life, real life. Memories. Seeking out memories, and creating new ones.
Maybe the team lost, but your column about the world we love so much is a winner, Brother Brick…..Movies, Jazz, and colorful, real people, who created and re-created themselves, and their lives themselves, not a team of managers, agents, etc. Musso and Franks, I think, is the oldest Restaurant in Hollywood, and I played piano for 3 years at the 2nd oldest: Michelli’s, not far away, at Hollywood and Las Palmas. Founded/operated by the very colorful larger-than-life Carmen Micelli, my Jazz singer, Jazz lover friend, who still got into a fist fight with a New York friend, Frank Gotti, in a bar in Hollywood when they were both high 70’s, early 80’s.. People who lived their life with passion and strength.
For decades, Micelli’s was a happening place in Hollywood, 7 nights a week with a paid trio, and 3 to 6 or so cats sitting in….many of them famous….Carmen would buy them all drinks, (the guys on the gig were not to drink until after the gig, then got 2 free drinks). Carmen would pull up a chair, sit beside the piano, and sing 30-45 minutes. He knew the melody, he knew the words, to all the great standards that Jazz guys do. And he had the gift. I believe he could have made it big-time if he had chosen to be a pro singer…He did wild, crazy things with the melody and with his voice, that cracked me up. When he sang, was my favorite part of the night. He was singing for himself, (not on the mike), for love of the song, but the audience picked up on it, and applauded. Then he would check out my tip jar to see if I was doing OK, and throw in a $20 or so. A real Italian Restaurant man, from another era, the one you speak of in your cool Jazz-Riff writing style that I love.
One more thing about Musso and Franks….had lunch there with Amazing Anita O’Day, talking over doing some charts and rehearsing with her for a recording date coming up in Hawaii. She bought me lunch (very tasty), and her lunch was 3 or 4 double martini’s. Then we went to rehearse, and you could not tell that she had one drop to drink! Amazing. Such a totally unique singing style, with just over a 1 octave range (lots of songs call for 1 1/2 octaves), but she could jump back and forth in the octaves so skillfully, that it worked like a charm. I know you know she won Downbeat’s Best Jazz Singer more times that anyone in her day, the 50’s and 60’s. Speaking of a colorful life, her auto-biography “High Times, Hard Times” gives some incredible insights about her thought process while singing, and her additions. But she still sang well enough in her 70’s to be booked in NY. I love you Anita, I know you are blowing away the Angels now!
I came here from Chi Town in 1976, so I guess we got here pretty close to the same time…
Thanks again for putting yourself out there for us to enjoy. Your pal, MagiCaL Q LateR / MusiCaL
I meant to say, her addictions, (booze and heroin) She was a real tough cookies, with a huge heart!