Harlem Jazz

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I wrote about jazz and me among the first things I posted at K., in 1995. This morning I reminded Jan of a couple of stories I’d told her: we were disagreeing over Bob Cousy’s height, Bill Russell came into it, that reminded me of Chet Forte, and then Wilt Chamberlin, which led to Harlem jazz clubs … Hell, I’ll make a scrapbook to scatter shot on a set of subjects.

Jan’s father discovered Bob Cousy. Coach Drummond was Cousy’s coach in high school, helped get him into Holy Cross … Jan’s brother, another Bob, also played … a friend of Jan’s bid on Cousy’s warm ups some years ago, his jersey number already retired … warmup pants came along with it. Jan says the pants were enormously long, way too long for Cousy: so maybe Bob Grummond got Cousy’s jacket but Russell’s pants, who knows?

Anyway Jan remembered Cousy as 5’8 1/2; I said, No, he was 6’1, at least 5’11. wikipedia agreed with me. Anyway, now Jan wants Cousy’s email, to write him, “Hi, remember me?” Jan is three years younger than Cousy.

I said, “5’8? no, you’re thinking of Chet Forte, Columbia, US high scorer in the mid-1950s, slid Wilt Chamberlin into second place in the nation. Wilt was fast approaching 7′; Forte was “average” height: 5’8-something. And I reminded Jan of my Wilt in Harlem story:
Wilt got out of college, had money, bought Small’s Paradise, jazz club in Harlem. I started off going to Birdland, then went to all the clubs around @ 52nd Street, then added the Village, Harlem … In Harlem I started off at Minton’s Playhouse, gradually, by the early 1960s, I’d added Small’s, Club Baron …
So one “night”, near 3 AM, I’m in Small’s Paradise remembering how Frank Lunser had sworn on the quality of MissyMiss’s grits and biscuits across the street: best in NY. Hey, I’m hungry, I go into MissyMiss’s restaurant, the only customer at the moment, hop up onto a stool, put my elbows on the counter, and ask for eggs-over-easy, and grits, biscuits too, please. So I’m eating, very good too, and in walks Wilt. I’m deep along the counter toward the rear, Wilt takes a stool only a third of its length in, looks straight ahead, pays no attention to me. Is he thinking, That’s that same white kid who comes into my place? I have no idea: I’m eating, he’s eating.
But I’m watching him, now and again, out of the corner of my eye: and I notice something:
Wilt moves, stretches, reaches for something, the ketsup … Seated the Stilt was only a little taller than me; half-risen, Wilt keeps going and going and going. His body was tall, sure, but not freakish; it was his legs that kept going, no quit, like a grasshopper.

I don’t remember that restauranteur’s name, so I invent a substitute. The real name was feminine, southern, double … LulaMay, MaryBelle …
I wonder what ever happened to Frank Lunzer, he sure knew his jazz, and his Harlem … his soul food, his neighborhoods. Hey, Frank: if you see this, make a note, correct the name. Don’t tell me it wasn’t biscuits; it was biscuits.

Well, it’s funny to remember that, particularly when contemplating mismatches in Celtic uniform sizes, Cousy’s number identifying the jacket but nothing but sheer inordinate length giving a hint about the trousers, because it reminds me of another leggy experience I had in Harlem, in Wilt’s Small’s Paradise as a matter of fact:
Art Blakey was playing. Fabulous. I drank my beer standing at the bar on the uptown side, far enough back to be near the bandstand. Blakey and his Messengers played a great set, as always. I was careful to follow bartender Bill’s advice, Bill, of Minton’s, sort of looked out for me, dumb white kid hanging out in Harlem. Bill told me to remain at least 1% facing the bar and the bartender: don’t turn your back on the bartender in Harlem: local custom, they’ll take offense. So I’m corkscrewed from the bar toward the band stand, and Blakey finishes wht set, puts his sticks down, and stands up. !
Or stands down! What did he do?
Art Blakey was so short legged he was taller seated at the drums than he was standing: standing up he got radically shorter!

What if he and Wilt were twins? Not identical, not fraternal, something else, something were the junior gets all the leg, or 90% of it.

I don’t remember how or when Small’s Paradise became a drug terminal as depicted in American Gangster: that must have been further into the 1960s; or, I was unaware of it: quite possible.

Blakey was billed that night as “Art Blakey”; not as Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers; but a couple of his regulars were there, playing, on the stand, whether they were billed, or paid, or not.

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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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