Daily Archives: October 15, 2008

“SITTING IN” by WHITNEY BALLIETT

Searching online, Marianne Mangan found something I treasure — Whitney Balliett’s January 1998 piece from The Atlantic, “Sitting In,” his recollection of playing drums on one of Hank O’Neal’s jazz cruises.

This semi-autobiographical piece was the only time I know that Balliett wrote about himself.  True, it was possible to intuit his shadowy presence in the Profiles published in The New Yorker — after all, a human being was sitting with Ruby Braff in that coffee shop, a person was getting ready to eat peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches with Bobby Hackett.  But Balliett was as far from a narcissist as it is possible to be without vanishing utterly behind the wallpaper, and he kept out of sight.

I told Balliett more than once that I loved this piece and thought he should be writing his autobiography.  He only laughed and shrugged his shoulders.  So “Sitting In” offers us glimpses of a young Balliett, sitting in for a brief hapless interlude at Sidney Catlett’s drums, losing his way with Hackett and Dave McKenna, then finally vindicating himself with pianist Bob Greene on the jazz cruise.  I’m sorry that I never heard him swing the band, and I miss his gentle, perceptive view of the world.

I was sorely tempted to shoplift the whole Atlantic piece directly into this blog, but I have some vestiges of respect for intellectual property remaining, so I will try to keep my criminality down to a minimum, and simply say to my readers, “Pssssst!  Check out http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/98jan/jazz.htm for some irreplaceable reading.”

P. S.   I have had trouble with the link above — for whatever reason — so I went back to Google and accessed the piece that way.  I never promised my readers a high level of technological finesse, but I apologize in advance!

THURSDAY NIGHT AT SMALLS (October 16)

You won’t want to miss this triple-feature.  At 8, pianist Ehud Asherie and reedman Dan Block will embark on an hour of duets, introspective to fiercely swinging.

Visual aids: a photograph of Ehud at the piano, taken by your humble correspondent.  Dan Block and Harry Allen (in that order), photo by J. Elkins. 

At 9:30 and 11, “The Italians are coming!  The Italians are coming!”

Don’t be alarmed, though: these Italians are extraordinary jazz players, led by the inspiring pianist Rossano Sportiello — someone we hope to hear on a regular basis in New York City.  Rossano’s friends — as he tells me — are the noble bassist Joel Forbes (he’s the “silent J” of BED), Luca Santaniello on drums, and “two fantastic young Italian brothers, Luigi and Pasquale Grasso, alto sax and guitar.  They are only 22 and 20, but they play the most amazing stuff.  They are students of Barry Harris since they were babies!”

Smalls lives up to its name, so be sure to get there early.  It’s on 183 West Tenth Street, near Seventh Avenue South (www.smallsjazzclub.com).

And here’s Rossano Sportiello, characteristically cheerful, in a photo by Duncan Schiedt: