Saturday, July 23, 2005

Scrapple from the Apple










I went out for a couple of beers after work the other day when a waitress called in a service order for a couple of Absolut White Russians and a flurry of memories came rushing back into my head. I caught myself thinking of this bartender I hooked up with back in the NYC -- Sharon. She poured a some of the smoothest White Russians in town - or whiteboys, as I called them. Not too much of either ingredient but her cocktails would "get you wherever you were going." Sharon didn't cotton to me initially because, like the 1000's of club crawling schlubs she'd, no doubt, served before me, I mistook her beauty and occupation as a means to a prurient end. Not all first-impressions hold water -- the first time I really heard her laugh at one of my jokes, though, the hook was in me. I've been told that, "one of the quickest ways into a woman's heart is to find out what makes her laugh" so I killed her with kindness and tipped her far beyond my means - an ill advised tactic for struggling artists no matter where you are...sometimes, however, the gamble pays off -- to me, the experience of the journey is what life's all about, yo...


For whatever reason Sharon decided to drop her "Cold-Meiser Veil" of indifference one night and we started talking about our favorite scotches and then music. One glass of Glenfiddich led to others as our topic of conversation shifted to the sorry state of affairs that the corporate music biz had gotten to and the conundrum that lovers of "hip sounds" were mired in when it came to finding any. We stumbled on the topic of jazz, specifically hard-bop and how the intentions of artists like Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Miles got lost in the sauce. The latter took us into a debate about John Coltrane whereupon our perspectives diverged...


Sharon's beef was that the saxophone god didn't really get godly until he decided to leave Miles Davis' crew and strike out on his own, with which I concurred to a degree and I told her as much. In my estimation, 'Trane had, in fact, found his voice before he officially jumped ship and went his own way. I continued and summed up my bullet point by revealing to her that I could pinpoint the exact moment that Coltrane, like the biblical Paul, started really preaching his gospel on record. Of course, she disagreed, "Coltrane didn't get real on acetate until he cut the Giant Steps LP. " The force was strong in you, young Skywalker...but you are not a a Jedi yet," I deadpanned while impersonating Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. "One might be inclined to think that if they don't do their homework," I retorted, reeling her in. "But I got a liner note or two up my sleeve that say otherwise...you seem to have forgotten who you're talking to in your youthful froth... As Billy Strayhorn would say, let's take the A-Train over to my place and I'll show you a thing or three," I punned. She laughed at me in mock derision. She got the joke -- cool points for her, yo -- Strayhorn wrote the tune but everybody thinks it's a Duke Ellington composition. "Knows her shite, this one," I thought, grinning like a cat with his teeth filled with yellow feathers, as I watched her reach behind the bar and grab her coat. We were off...


Back when I was in New York City, I walked everywhere. The antithesis of Los Angeles (even Atlanta, for that matter) it's the most pedestrian-friendly city in America, in my opinion. There's really no need for a gym membership if you stick to putting one foot in front of the other and use the subways. Whenever I headed home full of courage, after a night of carousing around lower Manhattan -- and I was on a solo flight back to home base -- I'd walk off a couple of pints with a brisk trek by cutting over on St. Mark's Place, hooking around Washington Square Park and catching the A, C or E line back to the Upper West side from the West 4th Street Station over by NYU -- believe it or not I've never been mugged...knockwood. Easy Peasy, Lemon-Squeezy...


In the spirit of keeping everything on the real side, I suggested that we take my traditional path and she was into it. Sharon and I started to stroll it but by the time we'd gotten in front a throng of trannies streaming out of Lucky Cheng's -- great cuisine/ floorshow, BTW -- the fact that we were both shellacked began to obviate itself, so without further discussion, we quickly hailed a cab to truncate our late-night cross-Village hike. We got out a couple of blocks North of Yoko Ono's pad at the Dakota; on the corner of 103rd Street and Central Park West as a dusting of snow began to fall -- just in the nick, yo.


We walked back up my street and then five flights up to my studio (called a room on the planet outside of Manhattan Island). Our conversation continued and we began to compile a set list for the tunes to check once we arrived. We settled on cuts like Rahsaan Roland Kirk's " Handful of Fives," Dizzy and Bird's "Salt Peanuts," Thelonious Monk's "In Walked Bud" and Ellington's "Second Line Step" with a sidecar of "Black and Tan Fantasy." Charlie Parker's "Relaxing at Camarillo" was a no-brainer, we both decided because, "Round Midnight" got way too much press in cinematic yarns and inclusion on tribute-movie soundtracks made it too mainstream to be hep. Soon, our palaver revealed that we shared a grip of other faves like "Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am" (Charles Mingus) and "Parchment Farm" (Mose Allison) on and on. When we got to my door I was immediately reminded of how small my "bed sitter" actually was with two people in it - to her credit Sharon didn't appear to be fazed, so I nixxed taking the off-ramp that went into Negative Town...


"What you are about to witness is one of the greatest moments in music history caught on tape," I explained in my fakest Casey Kasem impersonation. "Unlike the Miles Quintet at the Plugged Nickel," I continued," where everyone knew the musicians could and would improvise on the fly (and Davis clicked the metronome up a notch with high-speed renditions of his classics). This cut contains the precise moment that John Coltrane found his voice, in the Spring of 1959." "You're so full of yourself, she groused, "let's hear it then. We can dot i's and cross t's later." Without missing a beat, I put the needle in the groove of the first track on Miles' Kind of Blue. The lightness of the whole evening took on a germane, more intimate feel. Miles and co. began to infuse my cramped crib with azure clouds of deep-blues that one always finds tucked between the notes of "So What?" I could tell by the way her shoulders relaxed, as she peeked outside through the curtains at the falling snow, that she was finally feeling me for real. Now was not the time to pull any clownish, half-assed moves and give the whole circus away, so I pulled a "Stanislovsky" and stayed in the moment...

I began to support my case about 'Trane's breakthrough moment in time with the "so, what" brass refrains "Okay,the moments coming," I noted. -- so, what -- Paul Chamers, Bill Evans and Jimmy Cobb (bass, piano and drums, respectively) have begun setting everything up," I continued between the horn licks that lead up to John Coltrane's solo. "Now the vamping begins...everything's slinking along," At this point I was whispering the play-by-play into her ear. "Now Chambers rides into the mix and starts to lay his foundation...then, after Miles' first solo - about two minutes in - he closes out with that languid and shrill rhetorical question." -- so what -- Everything was in it's right place...Sharon sipped from the glass she held in her left hand and I from behind her, from the right, while we shifted into a "standing spoon" -- with her head resting in the crook of my neck; her back on my chest. Things were definitely looking up...


"Here's where Coltrane slides up in it with a tone that oozes all over you like tantric honey," I noted. "Here's where he tucks into the harmonic gliss that would become his trademark in the years to come," I whispered. "This is where you'll first hear the Coltrane voice that you thought you recognized on Giant Steps which he recorded a little later that year after he left Davis' outfit to go solo at a label around the corner: Atlantic Records. "Speaking from a chronological standpoint, The Kind of Blue recording is the first on which he began to preach to the choir with what became his signature style." Sharon agreed. "I'd forgotten all about that -- you win." By the time the LP got to "Flamenco Sketches" we'd forgotten the list, statistics -- the world shrouded in white outside my window sill too -- and started discovering other things instead...Sharon turned out to be everything I'd imagined...sometimes things work out for the better...we never hooked up again after that night though we stayed tight up until I left Manhattan for the Left Coast. Haven't spoken to her since...and it's been a minute. Some things are best left unsaid -- I like that. She'll remain forever cool on that basis because time, as they say, marches on...Laters...

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