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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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