Musings at 38,000 feet
“ Charlie Mingus must glance down from the Big Band in the Sky every Tuesday night with a big smile and a “Umm-umm, right on!” ”
Aboard SK910 to Copenhagen: The night after I flew into Newark from Denmark for a short visit this summer, I had dinner with Herb Spitz over in Greenwich Village. That's where I lived for five years before marrying a Dane and moving to her country to start a new career as a freelance writer.
Herb is a retired history professor and dear old friend from that late-fifties golden era.
"Do you remember the day you gave me a ride on the back of your motor scooterwhile I held onto your bass fiddle? Herb asked. No, I did not. I remember my girlfriend, Joan Sheckley, doing that, and our scooter trip up to the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival without the bass. But a bass-aboard scoot with Herbie? I couldn't imagine it.
"You were playing at a jam session somewhere uptown, and you brought me along to hold your bass. Herb, now 84, explained that the bulky instrument rested on its end pin on the right running board of my little green NSU Prima. "I had my right arm around the bass and my left arm around you, hanging on for dear life.
We must have made it uptown and back to Seven Cornelia Street again, unsighted by New York's Finest. That was Herb's first and last ride on a motor scooter. I went on to start and edit America's first motor scooter magazine. Scoot began as a special interest organization's newsletter, in this case the American Motor Scooter Club, based in Executive Director Stanley Barr's west side apartment.
Cornelia Street. Dearer to me than Basin Street. Bill Crow, a real bassist who played in the Marian McPartland Trio at the Hickory House on West 52nd Street, lived across and further down the little street, which starts where Sixth Avenue joins West 4th and ends one block later at Bleecker Street. Future U.S. poet laureate W. H. Auden lived in my building and strolled the street in his slippers. Bill tells me that Dave Lambert, who had just formed Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, lived on the top floor of his building, No. 24. I visited Bill once and he showed me his new stereo system. "I turn bass and treble all the way up, he explained. "That seems to give me maximum fidelity.
Cornelia Street. Famous a half-century ago for its resident poet and a glorious Italian bakery, Zampeiri Brothers. "A trio of musicians often worked the block, Bill recalls, "a guitarist, a bassist and a singer/catcher, who wielded a fedora like an outfielder's mitt, catching coins people tossed from their windows. The bassist toted his axe on his back and played many wrong notes.
Today the street is famous for the Cornelia Street Café, a jazz club with a cellar platform for poets and playwrights. The façade fills a big, in-your-face, super-realistic painting by the Danish artist Ole Ziger, which hung in his show this summer at Galerie Grothe in Charlottenlund, north of Copenhagen. That's where this old scribe lives. Small world, dear reader, and shrinking fast.
Near the North PoleWe must be flying past the southern tip of Greenland, world's biggest island, where Reader's Digest sent me in 1982 to cover Denmark's sled patrol Sirius, up near the North Pole. Now my thoughts zip to a full week of friends and music in New York and New Jersey.
Old clarinetist gumba Dick Joseph and I caught the first set of Mingus Dynasty at the Iridium Club, on Broadway. This seven-piece, crack modern unit is part of the family of Mingus Big Band and the Charles Mingus Orchestra, whichthanks to Sue Minguskeeps the departed bassist's spirit and works alive and cooking. Charlie must glance down from the Big Band in the Sky every Tuesday night with a big smile and a "Umm-umm, right on!
Up in Dobbs Ferry, on the banks of the Hudson, Dick and I pitched two old folding chairs and, home-fried chicken legs in hand, watched as the drumming legend Chico Hamilton and his young-person combo dipped into the treasure chest of yesteryear. "Ladies and gentlemen, Chico's aging voice (he's 86) crackled over the speakers, "I am so very happy to be with you this evening. He paused. "The fact is, I am so happy to be anywhere this evening. Chico sat out the second set as a younger drummer mounted the throne. I gazed across the darkening Hudson at the purple Jersey Palisades, fading into nightfall.
The other musical delight happened by chance. On a Sunday afternoon stroll through Washington Square, in Greenwich Village, the sounds of trumpets tweaked these ears. (Yes, ears also tweak.) I followed them and saw two trumpets at the lips of one trumpeter. Richard 'Rasheed' Howard also plays one trumpet in the NuQ-Leus sextet, under the white-haired-and-bushy-bearded direction of keyboardist Charles L. Carrrington. On drums that day was Jay Lepley, a composer and arranger out of Seattle. Blues and mainstream jazz ("Georgia on My Mind ) this was, and supportive backbenchers filled the trumpet case with green bills, including my $10 for the group's CD, NuQ-Leus.