Monday, March 7, 2011

199. March 2011 NYC trip

It's been several decades since I've seen my closest friends from my Paris days (1971-72), David and Jamie ...

It's been a cool 40 years since I've seen two other friends from '72 Paris daze -- Peter and Andy!
Was this reunion overdue?

[GEICO commercial parody follows]:

[GEICO spokesman:] Is Muammar Gaddafi popular throughout Libya these days?

[Man in eastern Libya with a Gaddafi effigy and a sharp tribal knife, slicing off the head of the effigy: "I love you, Muammar! You are the greatest! You should rule for 40 more years, insha'Allah ..."]

*&)$^

Joannie made a huge sacrifice and left work at 3:00 on Thursday so we could be at the airport by 5:00 for our 7:00 flight -- Tucson to Phoenix to New York --

FRIDAY

We arrived at JFK at 5:30 AM. My original plan was to just taxi into town and see if On the Ave (77th & B'way -- a fine hotel!) would let us put our bags down and maybe get us into a room asap -- but we called and they said they couldn't check us in until noon ...

Tired. We decided to crash at a nearby hotel.

We were about to hail a cab when we were hailed -- "need a taxi?"

Sure. No meter. No nameplate. Just a black car and a dude who said $30. It's 5:30 in the morning. What the fuck. Who cares if we got ripped off for $10 or whatever...

We go to a Clarion nearby ... check in at 6; leave at 11.

$130 for much needed sleep. The value of money is equal to the value the person shelling out the cash places on the services or product.

I valued that short nap at exactly $130!

*&$^)*&#

Very nice cab ride to Manhattan. We check in and take another nap! ("Say man, you're gettin' old! Old! Gettin' Old!" -- Paul Simon from You're the One) ...

We're meeting David at an art gallery on 56th and 5th. Paintings related to the 50's New York School of Poetry, which is obviously near and dear to David's heart.

It was a small gallery but TONS of stuff to see (and watch -- film). From the moment David arrived, he started meeting people he knew and at one point, I observed as he met Frank O'Hara's niece! It was great to able to try and get a feel for what it was like back then through the eyes of probably the foremost scholar of the period!

I bought the exhibition book.

We lunched at Shanghai Joe's or Joe's Shanghai -- a place David said was famous for its dumplings. I ordered duck (which I love) and David explained how famous the place was for its duck. Isn't life wonderful? The duck was excellent, but I couldn't finish it all, full with fowl and general excitement ...

We said adieu.

The reunion is at Bar Breton all organized by Andy. One by one, dear old friends start to arrive -- enfin, 14 of us !

It was completely awesome to finally meet Margarit, Jamie's wife; and Diane, Andy's better half ...

It was a super fancy "taster" affair with little sushi wraps and scallops and all kinds of goodies constantly being put in front of you! Champagne and wine flowed freely, as did the conversation.

I spilled my glass of champagne and felt like an asshole.

Nothing mattered though because I was truly in heaven seeing and talking to all my buddies and their spouses (who -- like Joannie -- probably know more about me than I'd care to think about too carefully! :)-

The party went on til the wee hours and it was a complete blast.

Having had no previous plans for anything on Saturday, we were really excited when Andy said we were going to go to The Blue Note to hear Ron Carter and Billy Cobham!

SATURDAY

We had a FABULOUS breakfast at the slightly crowded "sit-down" section at Zabars -- which really brought back tons of memories, as I used to buy my pain chocolate there all the time!

We walked around a bit -- the weather was great, but a little windy and chilly. It was the humidity that freaked me out, mostly. I never feel that yucky and sticky here!

We decided to use the little black book that the hotel gives you with neighborhood restaurants. The first one we tried no longer existed and was under a different name.

We randomly picked a placed called Ocean Grill on Columbus Avenue and how lucky we were to find this place!

We were seated near the entrance, and it was a bit crowded, but I didn't get bumped as much as I thought I might. Girls, you'll get a kick out of this:

There was this strange party at the table next to us -- an elderly black woman -- Salvation Army/Jehovah's Witness-type (she left us a www as "homework"), a younger black woman, and this white lady and (presumably) her 6- or 7-year old kid -- who was sound asleep at their table as the ladies were preparing to leave.

As they try to wake the kid up, he starts to tantrum -- BIG-TIME!! It was a 15-minute process getting him from the table to a waiting cab (poor cabbie!) because none of the women attempted to pick him up (he was pretty small); instead they begged, cajoled, pleaded and fawned over him as the tantrum got worse and worse.

Of course, this being New York, everyone -- from the restaurant management to the customers -- were extremely amused at the entire spectacle!

Finally, we had some peace.

Joannie ordered a glazed fish (I forget what) and I ordered 10 oysters and a 2-1/2 pound lobster! The oysters were among the best I've ever had (they had 6 different varieties and after discussing the subtle differences ["this one is a bit brinier, but with just a touch of salty ocean followed by a smooth finish!"] {I wanted to try them all!} and I finished them in no time.

The lobster was sweet tender and melt-in-your-mouth Flashdance-scene-type of orgasmic experience!

No room for dessert. Coffee is wonderful.

Terrible time catching a cab on Columbus Ave. Too far a walk in the cold with the wheelchair...

*)&(*$&(*%

Finally, we get Mr. Asgurh (as I recall), a Pakastani (I asked).

Man, this guy definitely had a massive grudge against the world, New York City in particular -- and a very serious anger management problem! I've been in many cabs in my lifetime in NYC, but this guy was about the worst EVER! He honked and weaved his way down the West Side Highway and told us about how hard it is to make a living and everyone thinks cabbies are rich and yada repeat

Joannie had written down Blue Note and 3rd & 6th -- and I totally recall Andy saying 3rd Street and 6th Avenue -- but this clown took us to 3rd Avenue and Sixth Street, where -- of course -- there was no jazz club to be found. As we made our way to the right address, he warned us that we'd certainly be killed and left for dead if we tried to hail a cab after midnight in such a neighborhood, etc. etc. I gave Joannie a look and I think she got that this guy was pretty much a lunatic...

But I gave him a big tip and he suddenly raced to the trunk and helped Joannie with the wheelchair and started thanking me and his voice had a calm, much more mellow tone to it. Perhaps his next customer got slightly better treatment.

We were early (7:30; meeting Andy at 9:30; set starts at 10:30), so we walked around, looked at all the tattoo and S&M shops and moseyed back to 3rd & 6th.

A crowd was gathering and all kinds of interesting characters were being animated excited New Yorkers at a thang and suddenly the guy comes out and asks who has reservations?

I took a wild guess that Andy had made them, so I yelled out his name and the guy said, "six?" -- I nodded -- and he said we'd get in first with my wheelchair.

Andy, his gorgeous wife Diane, their son John and Peter show up. That's six.

We're ushered in to a table just to the left of the stage. Tight quarters. I took my pills (1-1/2 dose!) and prepared for the worst. [It wasn't that bad -- the music put me into a space where the occasional kick just made me fly a little higher!]

What music!

An unusual trio -- bass, drums and alto sax.

Billy Cobham (drums) -- one of the first drummers (before Bozzio, Erskine and Colaiuta) to extensively feature poly-rhythms in his playing (esp. soli) -- my favorite BC is when he was with Mahavishnu Orchestra in the early- to mid-70's. Some of the finest music ever created!

Ron Carter (bass) -- nothing more need be said. Certainly not the greatest technical bassist in history (Jaco? Buster Williams? Mingus? Eddie Gomez?) -- but he is definately the smoothest, coolest, hippest, musical man to ever touch the instrument. [Andy reminded me of when he played cello on a Dolphy cut -- not that well, either!] His sound and soli were (for me) some of the great highlights of the set.

Carter earned a bachelor of music degree from the Eastman School in Rochester and a master's degree in double bass from the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. He has also received two honorary doctorates, from the New England Conservatory of Music and the Manhattan School of Music, and was the 2002 recipient of the prestigious Hutchinson Award from the Eastman School at the University of Rochester.

Donald Harrison (alto). I wanted so much to like what he was doing. Andy agreed with me that part of the problem was the complete lack of any comping (no piano, guitar, vibes -- anything to fill in the middle!)

His soli never had the direction and compositional stature of Carter's (or Cobham's for that matter) -- he must use the hardest alto reed known to man -- because it was like 50% sound and 50% air!!

His solo on "God Bless the Child" was very cool -- but I had to hear all those gorgeous substitutions in my head -- they didn't exist!

Cobham's soli were really incredible. At times, he got into a ppppp kind of thing -- [the show was being recorded] -- you could not hear a pin drop {no one dropped one} and his tastiness in phrasing and building on foundling rhythms to create new dynamic strata was unbelievable.

One solo he used four sticks for awhile -- creating heavy African-like tribal sounds in 5 and 7 and 9 and then he just as suddenly went back to 2 sticks and started be-bopping like crazy.

My knowledge of Cobham is mostly from Mahavishnu -- so to hear him play "straight-ahead" was really really cool!!!

*&)$

We hung out on the sidewalk for at least 15 minutes and chatted with everybody. I hated to say goodbye. What a great way to spend our time together. Thank you Andy and Diane. Thank you Peter. (btw, it did have a nice beat and it would have been easy to dance to, don't you think?)

Andy helped us hail a cab (a normal human-type) and we delightfully crashed in our wonderful On the Ave (thank you, Jamie!!) soft bed.

SUNDAY

Brunch with David and Stacey at 12:30.

This time we timed it perfectly, getting to the apartment at 12:20.

I walk in and see bagels galore and -- ohmygawd -- SMOKED SALMON!!! [with pepper on it, maybe?]

David tells me that Stacey just got back from Cape Cod and had been smoking the fish herself all morning. (His sense of humor is a bit more -- er, dry -- than I remember it!?)

Delicious and ditto that for the coffee, which I mainlined.

Now, I knew way ahead of time that I was going to be listening to Frank Sinatra. In fact, I had specifically asked David months ago to show me what was so great about this guy!

(My love of the music from that period is confined to the Billie Holiday/Teddy Wilson Columbia stuff and perhaps the fact that I what standards I do know come from my years of playing with bands like Atmosphere, where we gigged with both originals and standards for many many nights at Gentle Ben's here in Tucson.)

But I never really got what was so special about the skinny dude with the tilted hat and the toothpick in his mouth ... [not to mention the fact that -- to our mothers -- he was like the Paul and John of their day!]

He played me some early stuff which left me sort of cold -- it was okay. But what I really wanted to hear was the stuff with Nelson Riddle -- whose work I first discovered via the two Linda Ronstadt albums she made with him. Those versions rival Billie, imho.

Now we're talkin' -- instead of syrupy strings (tremolo, of course! ) we have punching brass landing on the "and of 4" and other such cool things. Five saxes climbing up a harmonic vine -- only to have Frank finish it off with a beautiful glissando (I had never heard that before!) ... I really liked that.

Not quite ready to go order the complete FS at this point, however. Did enjoy the Riddle stuff.

Another surprise. David does paintings (on postcards -- a very cool medium). They are unusual -- completely different than what I would have expected based on his writing (who knows what that means?

He gave me one that I had said I particularly liked and even made a pencil mark on the back to show me which direction it needs to hang! I'm definitely getting it framed.

Also an Ashbery book (I only vaguely remember some poems D read me in Paris 40 years ago!) and several years worth of the anthologies which he edits.

Bekah, we watched the You-Tube performances of the Sonatina and Toad March -- judging from their applause and big smiles, I think they really liked it!

We hated to say goodbye, but we had a plane to catch and David helped us hail a cab in the drizzling rain. David -- you are my closest and dearest male friend, and I can't wait until we meet again! Come visit us some dreary wintertime!

*$&^

The La Guardia to Philadelphia flight was a complete nightmare.

It was a tiny prop plane; first delayed; and then I had to walk through the pouring rain much further than I would have preferred to and climb the slippery steps to the Wright Brothers Special.

There were about 16 of us on the flight and it was a bumpy 20, 30 minutes.

We get to Philly and discover that our connection to Phoenix has already left.

Except it hadn't -- it too was delayed and we barely made it.

Actually got a few seconds sleep (in between studying for next week's Scrabble tournament in Dallas!) --

-- but when we got PHX, we discovered that the Tucson connection had already left and THAT WAS IT FOR THE NIGHT!!!

They already had a voucher printed up for the nearby Hilton, and our boarding passes for the 8:30 AM flight (today). Inconvenience, but a free night in a nice hotel...

Got home at around 9:30 and Joannie dashed off (late) for work!

It's so nice to be back in the nice weather (high 70's -- supposed to hit 80 by Wednesday!) -- I really do have a problem with the stifling gray angst of the continuous drizzle, not to mention the sticky humidity ...

BUT IT WAS WORTH IT ALL!

One of the best vacations of my life!