Jazz Fame

New York’s avenues run north and south, the streets run east and west: except in Greenwich Village, except in China Town, around Wall Street. Broadway slashes at an angle. Uptown it’s west, downtown it’s east. Where Broadway intersects 7th Avenue it’s Time Square.

Jazz grew NY roots on 52nd Street, ten blocks north of Times Square. Birdland, my Mecca for the 1950s, was on Broadway at 52nd Street. On 52nd Street between Broadway and 7th was Basin Street. On 7th Avenue, same latitude, was the Metropole. Birdland was down in a basement. Miles migh loll against the awning support out by the curb [note], but when he was on the stand you couldn’t see him or hear him from the street, you had to buy a ticket, enter, like a basement theater. The Metropole though was open to the night. You could hear the bands for blocks, could see the stars standing over the bar, elevated. The Metropole was circusy: banners promised drum battles between Gene Krupa and Cozy Cole, or featured Jack Teagarden. Most often the banner just promised Cozy Cole, the main fixture. Age fifteen or sixteen I’d visit the city, practice my hipster shuffle around that neighborhood. It was no surprise to me to see Cozy Cole walking on 7th Avenue around 52nd Street. It was afternoon, daylight, no music yet: but I recognized Cozy Cole, gave him a salute, a big hello.

Cozy Cole
great looking guy, no?
thanx musicradar

Cozy does a double take. Some white kid is talking to him?! He plasters a smile on his face, part rictus of confusion. He says hello back, but with some uncertainty; but then his face blossoms into Mask #N: Radiance. “Oh, uh, how’s your father?” he asks me. Wha? Does he think I’m his accountant’s son? Maybe I’m the son of the Metropole’s head waiter, or Cozy’s lawyer.

Cozy knew he was famous on the drums, knew his name was known, his music: but clearly he wasn’t used to his face being recognized! his body, with its language. Great face, too.

So, I knew from that moment: Steve Allen, Audrey Meadows, at Cony Island, expect to be recognized: they’re white, they’ve on TV. Maybe Jackie Robinson expects to be recognized, he’s on TV. But which jazz geniuses expect to be recognized? Maybe Louis, maybe Duke. That’s about it.

Understand though: I bought LPs. the Jackets had text on the back, the personnel were listed: I knew the brass, first chair, second chair, the reeds, first chair, second chair … Solo? I knew that was Ray Nance … Harry Carney … Cat Anderson …

1961 I’m working at Belmont Raceway, I’m running to the Stephens’ cigar counter in the Club House. There, right in front of me, wearing his famous engineers cap, is Count Basie.

Count Basie
but talk about beautiful!
thanx kasterine

Basie’s great band plays Birdland like it’s his home. I sit in the cheap seats right by the piano, practically in his lap, leaning over the railing, watching every finger, every knuckle. Now he’s right in front of me, holding his program. “Basie!” I call, right in his face, delivered from the diaphragm, a fighter addressing the king warrior. Basie looks at me, a little startled, doesn’t have a clue who I am. Doesn’t even know why I’m saluting him?! Is that possible?
They know they’re famous, but still don’t expect to be recognized! Not in day light, not not at his instrument, not by a white kid.

This following memory is perhaps more understandable: early 1960s, I’m on the Thruway, a pitstop in Connecticut, I recognize Jimmy Cleveland among the black guys sitting at the counter.

Jimmy Cleveland
thanx arttart.tv

I say hello, call him by name. He looks at me blankly. His companions fidget. “You know me?” Jimmy Cleveland asks. “Trombone,” I say, cite an album he was featured on. “You’re famous,” I add. “No I’m not,” he says.

I’m in the west 80s, I knock on my old girlfriend’s door. I’m married now, but I haven’t seen Jackie in five years or so, I say hello at least once in five years. Ornette Coleman answers the door! wearing his stupid stovepipe hat!

Ornette Coleman
thanx jazz cat

I doubt that he recognized me. He was still in Texas when I went with Jackie. Would he know me from the sea of faces in the Five Spot? Of course not, not likely. But I certainly knew him: the Five Spot, all those album covers, that signature hat …

Jackie wasn’t in that day, maybe another five years slipped by, then more than five. It wasn’t till a year or two ago, a half century after the fact, that Jackie explained the situation to me: Ornette wasn’t living with her, she was Ornette’s social worker, got him his food stamps: one of the most famous musicians in the world, one of my friends, another alto player, hailed Coleman as “the greatest genius of all time”! and he can’t afford to dress or buy food.

Oh well, any figure greater than $100 is more than I ever made at my art! life time total!

PS Ornette did live with another ex of mine though: Alice. I hear they were together for a long time. Ornette could have dressed like Duke on Alice’s Bloomingdale’s bill alone. Alice had wall to wall millionares her whole life: father, first husband … But Ornette was not her first broke boyfriend either. Neither was I the first. Bruce Bailey ploughed that ground. I may have been the second, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Here’s a recognition memory, related to jazz, but it’s not of a musician. Wilt Chamberlin bought Small’s Paradise in Harlem, word got around. Wilt was a black I felt a certain kinship with in ways that had nothing to do with jazz, and not much to do with his basketball. 1956 I was on Columbia’s crew team. That winter we’d practice in the tanks. My locker overlooked the basketball court. Chet Forte was the country’s highest scorer, ahead of Wilt! I’d watch Chet swish the craziest shots as I put on my jock. He never saw me, I was on the next level up, looking down as from the ceiling; he was looking at the basket. I’ll never forget it: I hadn’t started to warm up yet, he was just fooling around: then the dean suspended him from the team, there went his #1 spot nationally!
Anyway: I’d go to Smalls. Wilt would be around. But: AM, I’d also go across the street for eggs, grits, and biscuits: Mama’s, cheese, I can’t think of Moma’s name! Southern gal name. Anyhow, 3 AM, I’m sitting at the counter, alone in the place. Wilt comes in, sits a couple of stools over.
Now dig it: sitting on the stools, Wilt is taller than me, taller than anybody, but not by that much. It was his legs! With his feet flat on the floor Wilt’s knees were higher than his ears! a human grasshopper.

American Gangster featured Small’s Paradise, but that was a different era.

You know what I regret? By 1959 I’d long stopped dancing. My explanations of why got censored, some haven’t yet gotten reposted, but I skip that subject here, just dig it, I no longer danced. Small’s tiny dance floor though was active with dynamite chicks! What an idiot! I should have gotten up and danced with those girls!
I would now! But I didn’t then.

Note
Miles Out by the Curb
Yeah, Miles was out on Broadway, on a break, lolling against the awning supports when the cops told the vagrant n- to move on. “I work here,” Miles explained. [Bowdlerizing K., 2016 08 01, I censor an offensive word and substitute something more obscene: euphemism!] Push came to shove, Miles started screaming at them, building I don’t doubt on a base of “motherfuckers,” the cops cracked his head open for him with their billy clubs. That’s how Miles lost his old voice, got the new, famous, much recorded, gravely one.
Miles never let up though, he’d drive his yellow Ferrari. Think how much grief he could have saved himself if he’d driven a VW bug, nice and humble, anonymous.
Miles put up a quarter mil to get on line to buy a condo. The condo wouldn’t admit him, said his income was “uncertain,” one of Columbia’s highest earning stars, knighted in France, a god in Spain, in Germany … The condo committee didn’t want to give him back his quarter mil though!
But you know, they did have a point, much as I revere him I admit that: Miles had loud habits, cursing, stomping on his bitches … Miles got his own black eyes, but he gave plenty of them, to his poor girl friends, beauties all.

Still, I see God forgiving Wagner, Miles, or at least cutting a deal. I don’t see God ever forgiving the cops, or the whites, any of the kleptocrats.

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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