My time machine won’t go back to 1935 and the Reno Club, nor to Fifty-Second Street, no matter how hard I twist the dials, but it does go back to 1970 — audio only — and 2009 — adding video. One of the great pleasures of this century for me was being allowed to bring my video camera to what was Jazz at Chautauqua and then took on different names and a different venue. We miss it terribly. But some wonderful evidence remains.
It was held during a long weekend late in September at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York, and its founder Joe Boughton had certain rituals in scheduling. Friday afternoon, solo piano recitals in the parlor; Friday night, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon were for organized sets in the large ballroom.
But Thursday night was informal, because musicians and guests arrived as they could — for me, it was about a seven-hour trip there whether I drove or flew to Buffalo — but certain rituals were observed. I believe the open bar opened itself around 5 PM, and the line for the buffet dinner began also. At around 6, music began in the smaller back room, and I learned quickly to bring my plate, my knapsack of video equipment there rather than dining like a civilized person at a table among others. (“I can always eat, but I can’t miss this set,” I reminded myself.)
I’m not exaggerating when I say some of the best musical moments of this century, for me, took place on those Thursday evenings. Sometimes the piano wasn’t perfect, or I had to sit behind friends and shoot video with their heads as part of the scenery, but those sessions are joyous memories. And they exist to be shared with the faithful. The little ad hoc groupings didn’t have official leaders, but someone might suggest a tune that everyone knew, they would agree on a ley and tempo, and magic would happen.
It did on Thursday, September 19, 2013, thanks to Dan Levinson, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Andy Schumm, cornet; John Sheridan, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Pete Siers, drums. They did three classic standards; they had fun; so did we.
A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT, which suggests what might have happened if Bix had lived into 1937:
Irving Berlin’s always-gratifying RUSSIAN LULLABY:
and, after some discussion, the 1928 SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, more a sprint, and such fun:
There will be more, in time, and all memorable.
All hail the living Gentlemen of the Ensemble: long may they be vibrant. But, damn it, how we miss John Sheridan.
May your happiness increase!