Passed out on the couch and woke up sightlessly dreaming, hearing only Sonny Rollins. The Bridge. Came to just as he’s heading into his first stretch and it’s Sonny on the radio, but not The Bridge but softer, as in a morning sunrise, and I draw the curtains closed, turn off the lights and post this.
It’s National Hug Day? Really?
I’ve always gotten a lot of hugs, though I never got more hugs than I did when I was writing for the LA Weekly. Apparently being a jazz critic means lots of hugs. I don’t know why, but then I never did understand jazz. And in a jazz bar, it’d be open season on me, hugs came in waves, big smooshy hugs, a lady’s entire anatomy pressed into mine. Sometimes I couldn’t make my way across the floor to the bar without a series of powerhouse hugs. After a while I took to staying seated and ordering from the waitress, and after she gave me a big hug, she’d take my drink order. But sitting down didn’t entirely work, the hugs would still come, just in a more cumbersome fashion. One time, sitting down, I took a lady’s iron clad bra right in my eye. I could feel the mesh, like medieval mail, jabbing my eyeball. I saw stars as she said how glad she was to see me. I said I was glad to see her, though I couldn’t see at all. I was wondering if I was going to get a shiner. I didn’t. Didn’t the next time either from a different lady, I believe steel plated. More stars, more pain. Again, no shiner. But I learned quickly, and when a lady approached with the gleam of a hug in her eye, I stood up, quite genteel, and took it like a man.
Still, I’m staying home today.
I wrote this long beautiful piece on an endless party at the Cafe NELA last nite. It was gorgeous, that piece. Then Facebook froze and the words dissolved into electrons so fuck it. Good party though. Great even. One of those parties that will flash before your eyes.
A buddy of mine was smoking a jay with Warne Marsh outside Donte’s after the last set. Warne said hey man, you think you could spot me a joint for tomorrow’s gig? Sure man, love to. Turned him onto to a very nice bomber. Next night Warne died on stage, sax in hand, just like that. Warne was stoned, he was playing, he was gone. Poof. It was sad, but it was jazz. My pal explained it to me…ya see, I turned him onto his last high. Yeah man, I said, wow. My friend said well sure, you get it, but a lotta straights might think that’s fucked up, Warne Marsh being dead and everything…but I think it’s kinda cool. I mean he died with his boots on. He died stoned. He died blowing beautiful stoney solos. Damn man, what else could you want? I said I did think it was kinda cool. Yeah, my friend said, that’s what Warne’s compadres were saying. They said dying flying blowing has gotta be the way to do it. Warne was no dummy. Wasn’t nobody’s fool. Makes sense to me, I said. My friend nodded, concentrating on the joint he was rolling. You have any Warne Marsh records? I pulled out one of the sessions with Lee Konitz, and Warne is weaving around Lee’s airy lines, and my pal takes a deep drag off that freshly rolled joint and closes his eyes and I think he’s back at Donte’s. He hands me the joint. I declined. I gotta drive, I said. So I remained in the now listening to a record, while he slipped into a Warne Marsh space. He held up the joint. This is some good shit man, tightly rolled, slow and steady burning. He sounded like an old Lucky Strike commercial, though I didn’t know if he meant the weed or Warne. Or both. I took a deep breath and got a second hand taste. Wow. I closed my eyes and there was Warne. Just like that. Magic. A marijuana time machine. The vinyl spun and the analog music was right there, like real. Those grooves grooved, man. Warne takes off. I could almost see the golden bell of his horn. My friend’s pot smoke weaved around my head. I leaned back and listened.
It’s years later now and I’m digging Apogee as I type this, and if I had a jay right now I’d be at this session too, watching and listening. I don’t. But Pete Christlieb and Warne Marsh are dancing around each other on Magna-Tism, the student giving the teacher a run for his money. Damn.
This story can also be found on Brickspicks.com, along side all the cultural stuff I’ve written about.
Dick Haymes came up today online. Some friends were discussing their favorite singers of the crooner age, Frank Sinatra and all that, but it was Dick Haymes that got the exchange going. How he replaced Sinatra in Tommy Dorsey’s band, and what a superb singer he was, and how those were different times. And they were. People don’t really sing like that anymore. The jazz singers are much more jazz, everyone else has a lot more blues and rock and soul in there, and it’s all much more syncopated than it was back then. Sometimes in those days a band could play so softly, and a crooner croon so mellow, that you could hear the dancers’ shoes slide on the floor. Then the band would belt it out on some hard swinging number. That we can appreciate now, the wailing swing…but it’s the pianissimo passages that are so alien now. Crooning doesn’t stir the kids today. Nor in my day. Blame it on Elvis. Blame it on Basie. Blame it in the thrill of driving a big powerful automobile really fast. Those were different times. The world was at war, hell bent on self-destruction, and people needed to be crooned to. Dick Haymes was one of those who crooned to them, one of the best.
But Dick Haymes always reminds me of a strange little jazz party in Beverly Hills. Right downtown, in fact, with Rodeo Drive a block away and city hall a few doors down. The apartment–yes, a jazz jam in a Beverly Hills apartment building–was packed with people and instruments, lots of food, too much liquor. Med Flory was there with his alto, and Barry Zweig showed up and played. There was a very dapper elderly gentleman there, a retired network executive right down to his grey suit and perfectly shined shoes, and I wound up sitting next to him. He requested the band play a Dick Haymes tune. Med laughed. Dick Haymes? Who? And he blew a frenzied chorus of Ornithology. The man requested Dick Haymes again. Med ignored him, and there were no singers, anyway, and even if there had been none of them could have sung a Dick Haymes song. So as the band argued over the next tune the old man stood up and sang “Laura”. Just a verse or two. His voice was surprisingly deep and full. But the words escaped him and he looked a little bewildered and sat back down. Then he turned to me and began telling me his Dick Haymes stories. A few minutes later he told me the same stories. Then the same stories again. Alzheimer’s. But I listened each time like I’d never heard them before, because they were good stories–concerts he’d seen in the war days, or after the war, in posh Manhattan clubs, or the times he met him, though sometimes I wasn’t actually sure if he’d met him at all. This went on all night, between blasts of bebop, he’d come up and tell me about Dick Haymes, and each time with a genuine intensity, a youthful ardor that was stirred up after half a century. Dick Haymes is pretty well forgotten now except by swing buffs and music historians. But that day I got a glimpse into the connection he made with his young fans way back in the day. It was vivid, passionate and, like all teenaged fandom, maybe a tad ridiculous. It was unfiltered by mature, adult and slightly cynical wisdom. That’s the thing about Alzheimer’s, it loosens memories from the perspective of time, and that old man was right there at the Palladium again listening to Dick Haymes, seeing him, maybe he was even back there and not in a living room in Beverly Hills, and the orchestra played the arrangements flawlessly and the girls swooned. After a while his son came by to take him home. The old man gave me a firm handshake and looked me right in the eye, though I don’t know if he remembered me, and walked slowly out the door humming “Laura”.
Written in 2007 and appearing on the LA Weekly.com site, this seems ancient now, from another life time, another person really, utterly unjaded and trying hard as he possibly can to be a jazz critic. Fun story, though, and a very fond memory.
I love my buddy Dean. Ya can’t not love him…he’s a nut. And inspired, brilliant, funny, knows everything and everybody Sicilian motormouth of a musician from New York City with a heart the size of Indiana. A place he probably hates. So Dean begins emailing and calling me at work on Monday morning (no kidding…it was a Monday morning) and starts in at turbospeed about some guy whose name I never did get except I think it sounded Slavic or Balkan, something central European and points east who’s a saxophone player from Cleveland and he’s the best and yadda yadda freaking yadda. And something about a neighbor who gets his Sicilian heart and points south a-stirring, and they are new best buddies, and she’s a sweetheart, and I’ll love her, and she’s an ex-dancer or something, and she comes from Cleveland, and she’s a publicist now and has this new client who’s this saxophonist from Cleveland, and she’s got him a gig or showcase at Catalina’s and you have to be there because I told her (in a drunken moment I am sure) that you are a “jazz journalist” for that weekly whatever it is you write for and I promised you’d be there. Continue reading
So I was watching Charles Owen’s quintet jam at LACMA on Friday–they were really cooking–and Marlon Brando’s gardener was dancing up a storm, a crazy expressive beatnik gonzo dance, all in his own world. Some hipster is filming him and trying not to look like he was filming him which made him really look like he was filming him and you couldn’t help but stare, like he was the lamest spy ever. It made the lady archaeologist mad. Made her really mad. She wanted to hit him, that hipster. She wanted to punch him in the face. It’s an odd thing, a mad archeologist. Somehow anger and archaeology don’t seem to go together. Simmering, maybe, or grudges even, but wanting to punch some goofball hipster in the face, I dunno. But it reminded me of George Zucco. George Zucco? She’d never heard of him. I explained how there was a movie called the Feathered Serpent in which George Zucco played a mad archaeologist. There was, too, and it was a perfectly lousy movie, except the villain was a mad archaeologist. A very limited genre. A jazz critic pal of mine on hand seemed to know everything about George Zucco. Weird how that happens, but he did. All his roles, even as a grave robber. He’d played an excellent grave robber, that George Zucco. Not many do. Chevy Chase would play a terrible grave robber. As would Richard Burton. I mentioned neither, so not to ruin my pal’s spiel. (If a guy’s playing a hand, I let him play it. I’m no kibitzer.) By now all the archaeologist’s rage had dissipated, the goofball hipster unpunched. Which was good. It would have ruined a perfectly splendid afternoon. We retired for drinks and babble, talking about Marlon Brando’s gardener again, and what a wonderful, wonderful town this is.
(Good lord….this is an abandoned draft for a piece I later posted called Mix Tapes. It began as an essay about cassettes. Then apparently I was possessed by Jack Kerouac. Strange, in that I was never a fan. But here I am in the imaginary travelogue of a Good Sam Club beatnik. Apparently at some point I reread this, blanched, and then fearing for my sanity I lopped off these paragraphs. Fun idea, though, you have to admit.)
Part of the problem is that it’s virtually impossible to actually play my old mix tapes anywhere. I still have my ridiculously fancy double cassette deck I bought cheap in the technology’s final throes. It has all these sad features that attempted to match CDs. You can program a cassette and it will play the tunes in any order you want. One tune will end with a loud click, then the machine will whir, click, whir again, click again, and another tune will come out. All these tunes off a cassette played in random sequence. Both sides. Side A track three followed by side B track seven followed by side A track one. Whatever. It seemed so sad and pointless. Like making a really nifty adding machine to compete with calculators or a glow in the dark slide ruler to compete with personal computers. Yet I consider it a tragedy that cars no longer have built in cassette players. Best was a cassette/CD player. Ideal would be cassette/CD/mp3 player. Of course now cars come with a built in computer. So you have CD/mp3 player/infinite variety of web-based music. Which is when you crash the car. So you hire a chauffeur.
Maybe a motor home would be better. You could have live music in a motor home. Can you imagine anything cooler? Hauling ass across the Mojave at three in the morning, the craziest shit happening right behind you. That long sleepy night time stretch between Baker and State Line, all the scenery, the long dead volcanoes to the south, the vast beds of ancient lakes, the desiccated mountains all utterly gone in the darkness, and you’d be ensconced in that driver’s seat, drinking coffee but thinking of whiskey and behind you some handpicked players playing a long, long set, hundreds of miles worth of jazz. Inner Urge? They’d tear into it. The Bridge? Like you’d never heard it. Giant Steps? Need you ask? Then next stop 88 miles and they break into East Broadway Run Down and you’re barreling past all those goddamn trucks. You’re flying. Like this is the most righteous motor home ever. It’s maxed out, tricked out, pumped up, and fully stocked. There’s a bar, a bartender even, and it’s like a 747 lounge but way cooler. I read about a party Jackie Gleason threw on a train from New York City to Los Angeles. A solid week of a rolling righteous jazz party. The partiers got off that train and they died right there in Union Station of shock at the sight of so many sober people. They hadn’t seen somebody uncrocked who wasn’t in a Pullman uniform since Albany. (The city, obviously, not Joe.) Well I’d throw a motor home party and zig zag across the states with live jazz and beautiful scenery and local eateries and picnics full of leftovers and produce from farmer’s roadside produce stands. Stop late at night, sit round a fire and talk and talk. Drinks, marshmallows, the sweet smell of reefer coming from somewhere. Low volume chatter, people are sleeping. Early next morning we’d relaunch with a scatter of gravel and an open road. Put something into the cassette/cd/mp3 player. Something easy to start with. And more coffee. There’d still be a little pink in the eastern sky. No fixed direction, no plan, no nothing. Just moving and looking and breathing all that air. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere the band would start, just jamming on a blues. A long lazy trumpet solo. A river off in the distance. Mountains ahead. A fork in the road. Someone flip a coin. Left or right. East, west, north, south. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. Just keep moving and jamming and living a crazy, beautiful life. Of course there’s the money thing, the reality thing. But if I were a Herb Alpert, say, this is what I would do.
Man, this story got a little off track back there. We were talking about cassettes. Blogging is like a too long saxophone solo, or an acid trip. Or a crazy guy on a bus, talking and talking. But I really have thought these thoughts out there on the road. Alas I have to work like everyone else. All the stories I could be living, but can’t afford to, so I make them up. Reality has never been my strong suit.
Maybe a decade ago this sax player I know calls to tell me about a gig he had coming up. Some nice jazz club in the Valley, Spazio or La Ve Lee or somewhere like that. Now I really dug the guy’s sound on tenor. Still do. He plays a relaxed be bop, and plays some mean funk, too. This was his funk band coming up. He rattled off the names of all these great players. Heavy cats as they say. We also got a singer, he told me, named Zoe.
Zoe? What’s her last name?
No last name, he says, she’s just Zoe. And she’s just starting out. She’s been doing a lot of acting.
She’s an actress?
Well, sort of. Actually, um, you’re not supposed to know this, but she’s been in porno for a long time, but under a different name.
So she’s a porn star jazz vocalist? I was actually kinda impressed, since no one just becomes a jazz singer, the way no one just becomes an opera singer. It takes years of practice. The porn by day, jazz by night (or other way around) lifestyle must have been hectic. And she’s just called Zoe?
Yeah. That’s her new singing name. She wants to move on from the acting and be a jazz singer.
Well, I said, she must be pretty good to be in your band.
Um…well, this is her first gig. But she’s really excited about it, the new career move and all. Just come on down and check us out.
Well, I missed the gig. So he sent me a clip. The band was good, and I gotta admit she was hip. In fact she was all hip, and I never seen a jazz singer move them quite like that. Poly rhythms, I guess you’d call them. Funny he didn’t include her singing. Not a peep, not a note.