Tag Archives: Cafe Bohemia

“IT’S HOT DOWN THERE!” (Part One): SWINGING JAZZ FROM CAFE BOHEMIA: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, JARED ENGEL, ARNT ARNTZEN (October 24, 2019)

Wonderful music has been happening and continues to happen downstairs at the Barrow Street Alehouse on 15 Barrow Street, the hallowed ground of Cafe Bohemia.  Here’s the first part of the splendid music created on October 24 by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal; Jared Engel, string bass; Arnt Arntzen, guitar, banjo, vocal.

You’ll find so much to admire here: brilliant wise polyphony, hot and sweet soloing, respect for melodies and the courage to improvise.  Beauty is there for those who can listen without preconceptions.  And they swung from the first note of I DOUBLE DARE YOU:

Then, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, with or without comma:

Something memorable from the pen of William H. Tyers:

Evan offers the verse all by himself, gorgeously:

When I grow too old to take the subway, I’ll have these sounds to remember:

Cafe Bohemia is also offering a variety of musical pleasures, including sets by trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and a rare session by the two sons of legendary jazz bassist Jymie Merritt — keep up to date with their schedule here on Facebook.  Their website is still in gestation but will be thoroughly informative soon.

I will have much more from this band, and Jon-Erik will be back at Cafe Bohemia on November 14 and several more Thursdays in December.  And — if that wasn’t enough — Matt Rivera will be creating his own clouds of joy by spinning 78s before and after: see here for the full story.  The Hot Club is fully in operation Monday nights (by itself, which is wonderful) and alternating with the live music on Thursdays.

Thanks evermore to Mike Zielenewski and to Christine Santelli, aesthetic benefactors who are making all this joy possible. M.C. Escher would be happy to know that glorious sounds scrape the clouds even from the basement of 15 Barrow Street.  S0 find your gloves and that nice scarf Auntie made for you — the one you never wear — and come join us.

May your happiness increase!

AND BY POPULAR DEMAND: A LONG ROMP FROM CAFE BOHEMIA BY EVAN ARNTZEN, ANDREW MILLAR, FELIX LEMERLE, ALEX CLAFFY (October 17, 2019)

The people spoke, “Can you post more from that October 17 session at Cafe Bohemia?”  And I said, “Yes, I can.”

The sounds come from here (on the map, it’s 15 Barrow Street, New York City):

Good sounds, created by Evan Arntzen, tenor, Felix Lemerle, guitar, Andrew Millar, drums; Alex Claffy, string bass:

There are more beautiful notes to come from sessions at Cafe Bohemia, including one last night with Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan and Arnt Arntzen, Jared Engel, and a surprise visit from Mara Kaye.  And more after that!

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL THING, ONE FLIGHT DOWN: EVAN ARNTZEN, ANDREW MILLAR, FELIX LEMERLE, ALEX CLAFFY (Cafe Bohemia, October 17, 2019)

To me, this is living, breathing music.  Listen and see if you don’t agree.  And here’s one of the places it flourishes — Cafe Bohemia at 15 Barrow Street, New York City.

On October 17, Evan Arntzen (tenor sax, clarinet, vocal), Felix Lemerle (guitar), Alex Claffy (string bass), and Andrew Millar (drums) played two sets of lively, varied, heartfelt music.  And here’s a sample, Charlie Parker’s MOOSE THE MOOCHE:

Cafe Bohemia is hallowed ground — more about that here and here — BUT it is not a museum of archaic sounds.  Nothing’s dusty at Cafe Bohemia, and that includes the tabletops and floor — the music is alive, and that counts a great deal.

And it’s happening tonight: get tickets for a splendid evening of vivid sounds with Jon-Erik Kellso, Jared Engel, Evan and Arnt Arntzen here (the early show) and here (the late show).  Before and after the music, as well, the Fat Cat (that’s Matt Rivera) will be spinning his rare and delightful records, and you will hear vibrant music.

Because you love this art, come visit it in its native habitat.

Postscript: if any more skeptical readers ask, “Michael is pushing this new club with enthusiasm.  I wonder how much they are paying him?” The answer, dear Skeptic, is that I am not asking to be paid nor am I being paid: I want people to share the joy of fine music in a friendly new place with deep roots.  And as we know, sitting home soon means there is nowhere else to go but home.

May your happiness increase!

HALLOWED GROUND COMES TO LIFE, or THE SOUNDS AT CAFE BOHEMIA (15 Barrow Street, New York City): MARA KAYE, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, EVAN ARNTZEN, BRIAN NALEPKA (September 26, 2019)

Once . . . .

New York City is full of vanished landmarks: one checks the address of what was once a place both sacred and thriving only to find that it is now a nail salon or, even more common, that its facade no longer exists: it’s now luxury apartments or university offices.  But resurrection, however rare, is possible and delightful. The “new” CAFE BOHEMIA, thanks to the labors and vision of Mike Zieleniewski and Christine Santelli, is one of those urban(e) miracles.

There will be divine music there on Thursday, October 24, featuring Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Arnt Arntzen, and Jared Engel as well as the Hot Club.  Tickets here for the 7:00 show; here for the 9:30 show.  And for those who “don’t do Facebook,” tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite.

Now . . . .

and another view:

LIVE MUSIC for sure.  And there’s also Fat Cat Matt Rivera’s HOT CLUB, which I’ve written about here.

But let’s go back to some of that LIVE MUSIC, performed on September 26, before the Club’s official opening — a delightful all-acoustic jazz and blues evening featuring Mara Kaye, vocal; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Brian Nalepka, string bass.  Incidentally, only people who regularly attend live-music events know how rare “all-acoustic” is, and how pleasing.

BLACK SHEEP BLUES:

For Billie, I WISHED ON THE MOON:

Also for Lady Day, NO REGRETS:

“How sad I am,” with a grin, for MY MAN:

I’ll have more music from this night, also from October 17 (Evan, Andrew Millar, Felix Lemerle, Alex Claffy) but I urge you to tear yourselves away from those electronic devices and visit the Cafe on the 24th.  It’s tactless to remind people but necessary that clubs, concerts, and festivals need actual human attendees (what a thought!) to survive.  So . . . see you there!

May your happiness increase!

IN A SPIN, TWICE: CLUB BOHEMIA OFFICIALLY OPENS! (October 17, 2019) and FAT CAT MATTHEW RIVERA’S HOT CLUB!

You might be walking along Barrow Street, on the Bleecker Street side of Seventh Avenue South (all this conjecture is taking place in Greenwich Village, New York City, New York, the United States); you could look up and see this sign.

You might just think, “Oh, another place to have an ale and perhaps a burger,” and you’d be correct, but in the most limited way.

Surprises await the curious, because down the stairs is the sacred ground where the jazz club Cafe Bohemia existed in the Fifties, where Miles, Lester, Ben, Coltrane, Cannonball, Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Pettiford played and live sessions were recorded.

Here’s the room as it is now.  Notice the vertical sign?

This isn’t one of those Sic Transit Gloria Mundi posts lamenting the lost jazz shrines (and certainly there is reason enough to write such things) BECAUSE . . .

On Thursday, October 17, yes, this week, the new Cafe Bohemia will open officially.  This is important news to me and I hope to you.  So let me make it even more emphatic.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17, THE NEW CAFE BOHEMIA OPENS. 

That is as emphatic as WordPress permits.  I was there on September 26, for the club’s trial run (more about that below) and I was delighted to find very friendly staff, good food and drink, pleasing sight lines and a receptive crowd, so it was a nostalgic return to a place I’d never been.

But back to current events.  On this coming Thursday, there will be two shows, an early show at 6:45 and a late one at 9:30.  These shows will be, as they say in retail, “value-packed”!  Each show will feature wonderfully entertaining and enlightening record-spinning of an exalted kind by Fat Cat Matthew Rivera, bringing his Hot Club to the Village on a regular basis, AND live jazz from the Evan Arntzen Quartet including guitarist Felix Lemerle, string bassist Alex Claffy, and drummer Andrew Millar.  Although the Bohemia hasn’t yet posted its regular schedule, their concept is both ambitious and comforting: seven nights of live jazz and blues music of the best kind.

Evan Arntzen, photograph by Tim Cheeney

Buy tickets here for the early show, here for the late one.  It’s a small room, so be prepared.  (I am, and I’ll be there.)  And here is the Eventbrite link for those “who don’t do Facebook.”

If you follow JAZZ LIVES, or for that matter, if you follow lyrical swinging jazz, I don’t have to introduce Evan Arntzen to you.  And if, by some chance, his name is oddly new to you, come down anyway: you will be uplifted.  I guarantee it.

But who is Matthew Rivera?

I first met Matt Rivera (to give him his full handle, “Fat Cat Matthew Rivera,” which he can explain to you if you like) as a disembodied voice coming through my speakers as he was broadcasting on WKCR-FM a particularly precious musical reality — the full spectrum of jazz from before 1917 up to the middle Fifties, as captured on 78 RPM disks.

It isn’t a dusty trek into antiquity: Matt plays Miles and Bird, Gene Ammons and Fats Navarro next to “older styles.”  Here’s Matt in a characteristically devout pose, at Cafe Bohemia:

and the recording (you’ll hear it on this post) that is the Hot Club’s theme song:

About two weeks ago, I visited the Fat Cat in his Cafe Bohemia lair and we chatted for JAZZ LIVES.  YouTube decided to edit my long video in the middle of a record Matt was spinning, but I created a video of the whole disk later.  Here’s the nicely detailed friendly first part:

and the second part:

and some samples of the real thing.  First, the complete WHO?

DEXTERITY, with Bird, Miles, and Max:

and finally, a Kansas City gem featuring tenor player Dick Wilson and Mary Lou Williams and guitarist Floyd Smith:

Cafe Bohemia isn’t just a record-spinning listening party site, although the Fat Cat will have a regular Hot Club on Monday nights.  Oh, no.  When I attended the club’s trial run on September 26, there was live jazz — a goodly helping — of the best, with Mara Kaye singing (acoustically) blues and Billie with the joyous accompaniment of that night’s Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass.  Here’s their opening number, ST. LOUIS BLUES:

The first word Mara utters on that video is “Wow,” and I echo those sentiments.  Immense thanks are due owner Mike Zieleniewski and the splendid Christine Santelli as well as the musicians and staff.

See you downstairs at Cafe Bohemia on Thursday night: come over and say hello as we welcome this birth and rebirth to New York City.

May your happiness increase!

UNHEARD MELODIES, 1944

I was browsing online in search of new images or information about one of my favorite musicians, trumpeter Frank Newton, who has been gone since 1954 — and I came across this treasure, taken at the long-gone Greenwich Village jazz club the Pied Piper — on 15 Barrow Street, later reincarnated as Cafe Bohemia.

The bassist looks like Jack Lesberg; the drummer is invisible but might be Mack McGrath; I invite speculation about the young pianist.  The band also had valve trombonist Frank Orchard, and pianists James P. Johnson and Willie “the Lion” Smith alternating between solo and band piano — letting a young Dick Hyman sit in now and again.  A version of this band — woefully without Newton — recorded for Black and White (under the Lion’s name) and for Decca / Commodore / World Transcriptions, thanks to Milt Gabler (under Max’s name).

But that front line of Newton, Max Kaminsky, and Rod Cless is precious.  I’d bet a 1944 ten-dollar bill, which meant much more than it does today, that this band was playing a slow blues.  Can’t you hear it?

Thanks to photographer H. Kratovil, of course — and to the AFRICAN-AMERICAN website for publishing this photograph.  I don’t know anything about this site —  http://www.africanafrican.com/negroartist/JAZZ%20IMAGES4/index6.html — except that they offer eight pages of assorted “jazz images,” of which this one is most gratifying.

And, in case you’re wondering, Keats was right — even though he never made it to the Pied Piper in 1944.

JOURNEY TO BOHEMIA: DICK TWARDZIK, SERGE CHALOFF, CHARLIE PARKER, and DYLAN THOMAS: THANKS TO SAM PARKINS

dick-t-photo-with-chetRichard Twardzik, Boston jazz pianist, was dead at 24.  And I don’t believe he ever saw any of his recordings issued.  His name has emerged once again in the jazz press (a fine appreciation by Ted Gioia at www.jazz.com) and there is a new biography out (BOUNCIN’ WITH BARTOK, by Jack Chambers, Mercury Press).  The photograph above shows him with trumpeter Chet Baker.

But The Real Thing is closer to home.  Sam Parkins, who never ceases to amaze, sent me this long essay — fascinating and heartbreaking in its immediacy — an excerpt from his book JOURNEY TO BOHEMIA, whose title refers both to the land beyond the familiar and to Cafe Bohemia.  Even if you’ve never heard Dick’s recordings, Sam’s essay-meditation is enthralling.

DICK TWARDZIK 1931-’55

Greetings gentle readers (that’s a 19th century locution. May not hold in today’s world): There’s a way over due bio published (back-ordered at Amazon) which may cause me to modify this and that – ‘though I bet I know stuff he doesn’t. As is true with all of these writings, this goes out to a dozen or so persons. Alta Ann is my first wife, member of my family and a good pal.

DICK TWARDZIK, d.’55; heroin overdose in Paris, with Chet Baker, age 24, is known to any even slightly modern jazz pianist because there’s a small recorded legacy. He’s the only junkie I knew – and I knew and loved this guy and could still weep for him – that wasn’t depressed. He had the joy of youth, always excited about what might come next. I wrote my first piano sonata for him, but death intervened…

$ [Alta Ann – you were in on the end – the night before he went off with Chet Baker. We had invited him to dinner; with desert I played him some of the Billy Banks sides with Fats Waller. He sat down at that great Bechstein grand in the living room and got very upset because he – a marvelous technician – couldn’t lay a glove on some of those triplet filigrees that Waller tosses off like cake frosting. It was you who asked – our friend now really clean after six months in the Bridgewater detox unit – “Dicky – why are you doing this – going off with all those junkies?” “To prove that I can do it”. You all know of course that he got dead in Paris instead. 1955]. Fine.

* * *

Dicky’s parents had restored the old house in Danvers (north of Boston) to its late seventeenth century state. Sure – it was central heated, had storm windows, sheep weren’t allowed to wander in and out of the kitchen. But they got it right, furniture and all – except for the big Steinway in the living room.

The kitchen was the showpiece. Discretely, at the far end of the big room, was a modern electric stove, refrigerator, butcher block island for chopping vegetables and having breakfast, but what you saw when you walked in the door, revealed by removing layers of sheetrock, plaster and wallpaper, was the ancient fireplace and chimney, with the hooks, rods and movable grills used to boil, broil, fry etc.; the oven to the right where bread was made, and the warming oven above it.

And on the left? A little door in the wall about a foot off the floor. Dick said that when they uncovered it and checked it out they left everything exactly the way it was:

He opened the door – and there was a little stairway – maybe a dozen steps, child-sized, that went nowhere. And, each exactly in the middle of its stair, climbing one at a time, were seven genuine, hand made, 17th century left shoes.

It’s late fall 1945. I’m on a long furlough, in the uniform of the buck-assed private I was. I get on a Cambridge bound trolley to Bobby Thayer’s house; he’ll drive us to the session.

But a note about Thayer, whom we won’t meet again. He had been in the trumpet section of the ‘kid band’ I played in through high school and early college, and had the distinction of being the first trumpet player in greater Boston – only a couple of months after those first mind-blowing Diz/Bird records – to master the complexities of Dizzy Gillespie’s style, which required blinding technique. He did make one little adjustment. He played all those licks at half-speed.

I meet his pretty wife, who spoke with a fashionable lisp. Go out to his ratty old Pontiac. Remember we’re all about 19. Head for downtown Boston to a jam session with (for me) mostly strangers – turns out to be the super stars of the region – Joe Gordon, Sam Rivers, Floogie Williams. Bobby, an otherwise lousy trumpet player, is accepted because of his curious quasi-mastery of Dizzy’s stuff. Turns out I can play with these guys because be-bop, which I never mastered, wasn’t the coin of the realm yet.

On the way, Bobby lights the first joint (marihuana) I had ever seen, let alone tried. Passed it over to me. Lovely.

The First Whorehouse. That was the working title in my early notes about Dick Twardzik. Most of the truly valid jazz joints I played in from 1944 on had a core ‘sin’ that defined them. The Golfers club, Ithaca, gambling. The Melody Lounge, Lynn MA, heroin. Harold’s House of Dixie, W. Orange NJ, money laundering and clubhouse for the North Jersey mafia. Barbara Kelly’s Glass Hat, Manhattan, blatant high-end prostitution. The Bowdoin Bar and Grill (where we’re going now) – really low-end prostitution. A sailor who had been all over the world said he never found a joint as rotten as this one in Calcutta. (To obfuscate matters – they weren’t all real ‘joints’. The Golfers Club was an old theater – take out the seats, add a bar and you have a dance hall. Gambling hidden in the back. Ditto Harold’s House of Dixie. College kids hangout. Bowling alley, cafeteria, two bars – and a big dance hall upstairs. Half a dozen hoods meet in an alcove under the stairs maybe twice a month. Black suits, navy shirts, silver ties, grey fedoras).

We’re driving but you could take the scenic route: Get off the trolley at Boylston St.; walk northeast (you’re on Tremont St.) the full length of the Boston Common past the Park St. Church. Tremont curves around to the left and becomes Cambridge St., headed for the river. If you’re walking in the 21st century you’ll come to a desolate moonscape called Government Center.

But if your journey is in 1945 you’ll find Scollay Square, the “Armpit of Boston”, a bustling market place with porn shops – dildos, vibrators, 8 m.m. ‘blue’ movies. Strip joints [being Boston, they didn’t quite take it all off – except for a flash when facing away from the audience – and toward the band], and the venerable Old Howard Theater, home of Sally Rand and Gypsy Rose Lee. As you keep going toward the river the sleaze quotient becomes more pronounced and you come to Bowdoin Square – the back-side of Beacon Hill, with its Christopher Wren houses and some of the oldest money in America. Hang a left on Grove St. and there’s The Bowdoin Bar and Grill.

As you tour around this neighborhood keep in mind that WW II is just over and the Boston Navy Yard has hordes of sailors and marines in need of entertainment.

Ambience? Wasn’t any. No amenities. Maybe forty feet square. Row of tables on the left as you enter; kitchen on the right – a square chunk subtracted from the room. Past the kitchen in the resulting indent, three booths, followed by the men’s room – and the bandstand stretching across the back of the room. No sit-down bar; kitchen acted as a service bar. ‘Bar & Grill’? Massachusetts law requires that any establishment serving liquor must serve food, so the ‘Grill’ part was covered by remarkably good hamburgers when needed. The rest was dance floor.

Personnel: The kitchen – and the staff (patience my dears) were utterly dominated by Mary, the chef/bartender/boss. What in those politically incorrect days was called a bull dyke. At least 280 pounds, and I’m afraid it was all muscle. And two waitresses named Dusty and Dry Run. (For non-military readers, a ‘dry run’ is when the troops hold their rifles up, aim them at something, the sergeant says “Fire!”, pull the triggers – and nothing happens. No bullets). Well into their thirties, good-looking in a rough and ready way.

This was a non-resident brothel. The ladies had an apartment nearby, and one or the other would disappear for a half-hour periodically. When asked they would dance with the sailors; when not asked they danced with each other, with running commentary. Sample: “Hey Dusty, you stupid cunt. Your fucking slip is showing”.

Bobby and I climb on the (crowded) bandstand. Band as good as it gets; launch into some variant of the blues. Never was introduced to anybody. The stage is about 2 1/2 feet high; I’m perched at the edge, blowing leaning back a bit, eyes closed – and feel an unaccustomed draft around my crotch. Look down. My fly is open. “Oh – Dusty always does that to the new boy”. She had danced by, and…

One last tableau of The Bowdoin Bar and Grill: It’s a long set, strenuous, serious blowing. The joint is mobbed – it’s Friday night. Payday, and the sailors have money to burn. A crowd at the middle booth on the left gets my attention – three guys on the far side, four jammed in the near side and another half-dozen leaning on the table or the booth, laughing like hell. The guy in the middle of the far side is slumped down, head back, eyes closed in an expression of ecstasy — I peer under the table at his outstretched legs and there’s Dry Run on her knees, administering – well – in the Clinton era it was called oral sex…

Funky club, great session, great players – but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to meet the piano player. The closet that was the men’s room stuck out into the dance floor right by the bandstand; the piano was tucked in behind it, the piano player faced away from us. All I noticed was a little guy, playing music I’d never heard before (but he had. Bud Powell) hunched over the piano with an inch thick pile of hand-written music on the bench beside him.

At eleven the trumpet player looked at his watch and said, “Hey Dicky – you gotta get outa here!”. We declared a break, the piano player turned around, slightly dazed – and I saw a kid.
Dicky said “Oh migod”, grabbed his music and fled. The trumpet player explained: “He’s only fourteen. His mother wants him home by midnight and the last train out of North Station is at 11:30”. I asked the obvious question, “Who is he?”

“That’s Dick Twardzik. He wrote out every tune we might play, but hasn’t memorized them yet – that’s what the pile of music is about…”

I didn’t see Dick again until I came back to Boston in 1950. He had been with Serge Chaloff’s band for about a year and that’s where the trouble started.  (If you don’t know who Chaloff is, you could start with the Wikipedia entry online: brilliance, heroin, cancer. )

There’s a back-story about Chaloff’s cancer that came from Dick Wetmore, the great cornetist/violinist I played with around Boston for years. It happened that Dick and Serge Chaloff developed testicular (NOT spinal – that’s later) cancer at about the same time. The treatment was to lose the infected ball, (leaves one ball and leaves you sterile so Dick, with no condom, could blithely screw his heart out – which he did). And to go for twenty weekly radiation treatments. Dick Wetmore did it and is living in Florida as we speak.

Serge went for two weeks, “Oh the hell with it”, stopped going for treatment, went back to music and junk (heroin) – and that particular cancer’s first migration is to the nearest bones, in this case, the spine…

Woody’s Second Herd? Formed in 1947 after the huge success of the First Herd (see ‘Woody ‘n Igor’, module 4). Propelled Stan Getz to stardom with his ethereal solo on “Early Autumn”. Getz, Chaloff, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn made up the most famous “Four Brothers” sax section mentioned above (other players not so illustrious came and went). All addicts. In fact half the Second Herd were junkies. The stated reason for the break-up of the band in 1949 was financial – the dancers didn’t understand heavily be-bop tinged music. David Young, who knew Woody and most of the musicians, told it a little differently:

“Woody had to break up the band because guys were throwing up all over the bandstand”.

Gene Lees, Woody’s biographer, says “Hiring him must be accounted one of Woody’s worst errors: Serge was a serious heroin addict and, like so many of his kind, a dedicated proselytizer for the drug”.

Band breaks up in ’49, Chaloff returns to Boston with enough of a reputation as a star to be able to start a band of very young men (age 19 or so) and keep them working. And still proselytizing. It is here that Dick Twardzik and his band mates became heroin addicts.

The yin and the yang of the Chaloff family: Serge’s mother, Margaret Chaloff, was considered one of the finest piano teachers in Boston, with a studio over Symphony Hall. Dick studied with her for years. Gene Lees has high praise for her in his bio of Woody Herman.

I came back to Boston June, 1950, and into a steady Saturday night ballroom job for the summer – Nuttings on the Charles (river) – near the end of the ballroom era. Sparsely attended, only one night a week. After a six-year absence I knew almost no one. Circulated, went to sessions, slowly got back on the scene – and started four years of graduate school in composition at the New England Conservatory in the fall (playing constantly to pay for it). In getting back on the scene I encountered Dick Twardzik all over the place. Sessions, the occasional gig – not much of that though. I veered away from bop into New Orleans while Dick forged ahead as one of the few major ‘modern’+ piano players – remember 1950 is early days in be-bop, est. 1945. (+ let’s dispose of that right here. There was a lot of silliness about terminology. Be-bop, modern jazz, with a slightly different twist, but inaudible to the un-hip ear, progressive jazz. George Russell in desperation called his version ‘the New Thing’. Composers in the early 14th century faced the same problem. Came up with the ‘Ars Nova’).

But I particularly I encountered him at The New England Conservatory of Music (likewise encountered the legendary avant-garde pianist, Cecil Taylor, who gets a long look later). Dick was studying composition, and – and this is one of the real artistic drags about his death: He was studying harp with Louise Pappoutsakis, the Boston Symphony harpist, and would have evolved into – not the first, but the only be-bop harpist.

There is a warren of practice rooms on the second floor of the conservatory; each with a pretty good grand piano (and a dungeon in the basement with maybe fifty cubicles with not so good uprights). I’d see Dick at one of those grands, join him and he would show me what he was pursuing at the moment. For instance, what he called his ‘speed bass’. True stride piano in the manner of Fats Waller requires the left hand to drop at least two octaves (a leap of about a foot and a half) for a bass note on beats 1 and 3, leaving the chord indicating the harmony back up in the middle on beats 2 and 4. Playing a lot of Chopin helps. Dick kept his left hand in the middle position and hit the nearest ‘correct’ note (bass equivalent) to the south with as little hand motion as possible. (Any readers who know Dave McKenna’s music will hear this technique in frequent use).

I went to hear him with Serge, and particularly with Bird when he came to town – unlike classical performers, jazz players on tour then and now almost always go out alone and are at the mercy of local rhythm sections.+ It’s the Hi-Hat club, described elsewhere (the second burned-for-insurance fire closed it permanently). Of course I went. But missed the first tune of the first night. [+one of those half-truths that are taken for gospel at the time. Two Charlie Parker CDs, both taken from broadcasts in Boston clubs, have Charles Mingus, bass, Roy Haynes, drums – and Dick Twardzik, piano. For the non-jazz reader – Mingus and Haynes, New Yorkers, were about to become international stars].

Music lesson: Pop music back into the mists of history has been pretty simple. During the Golden Age of American Song – Berlin, Kern, Gershwin, Porter et al – the harmony would change typically every two measures; once in a while, as in ‘The Song is You’, every measure, and on the lazy side, ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’, every four measures, with four beats to each measure. Until be-bop came along. The improvisers took to modifying the songs in the direction of complexity, putting in as many as one chord change per beat.

So Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker comes to the Hi-Hat and Dick Twardzik is tapped for the piano chair. “Ohmigod – I’m going to play with the Great Master”. Dick sat down at the piano and worked out complex re-harmonizations of every tune he could think of that might be in play and went to the gig*.

First song up is the above mentioned ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’. ‘F7′ for four measures, ‘B-flat 7′ for four measures and so forth. Dicky is ready. He has a different chord for each beat, totaling sixteen chord changes for every four measures where there had only been one. At the end of the song, Bird – having never bothered to shake hands with his piano player before the gig – comes around behind the piano and says in Dicky’s ear, “Kid – just play ‘F7′. I’ll do all the diddley shit”.

[* typical sad Charlie Parker story. He was hired to play seven nights – Monday thru Sunday – at the Hi-Hat. He actually showed up for only five. One absent night was a mystery, during the other he was found out cold in a gutter. And he was so revered that he was invited back anyway. His legendary absences were part of the mystique. I’ll say right here, noting as I read about the Hip-Hop world that nothing has changed except the be-bopping junkies of my youth didn’t shoot each other**, that the general irresponsible lifestyle of our heroes made great newspaper copy and influenced a lot of kids]. [**But once in a while someone else did. Lee Morgan was shot on the bandstand by an outraged wife; Wardell Gray was shot by the outraged husband of his girlfriend – or so said the tale that circulated at the time (1955). The current internet bio has a mafia/drug-tinged story instead. The joys of history].

Dylan Thomas made four trips to America, beginning in February, 1950. America didn’t interest him; he came mostly for the money. The job that got him here the first time was a reading at New York’s YMHA, which paid $500 plus airfare. Factor in inflation – in 2006 dollars that’s closer to five grand. Once he got here he took his show on the road, making substantial money, much of which he drank…He died in New York during the fourth tour, of acute alcohol poisoning, November ’53.

Of all the scenes described in these writings – some hazy memories, some Hi-Definition Technicolor – the most vivid is this:

Dick’s mother was an artist. Her day job was as an illustrator at MIT for books and scientific papers produced by the faculty. Dylan Thomas came to America for the third time in April of 1953 and his first stop was MIT, Cambridge, for a lecture/reading. 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon, end of the school week.

Mother picked us up at school (New England Conservatory) at 2:30 on a beautiful spring afternoon; Dick had those bright red spots on his cheeks that showed he was really flying. Mother says indulgently, “Oh Dicky…” (must have shot up in the men’s room after lunch), and drove us across the Harvard Bridge to MIT.

The reading was closed to the public; it took place in a very ordinary classroom – teacher’s desk up front on the left, equal size table on the right for the guest. We were almost late. Walked into a nearly full house and found seats just as the presiding faculty member was introducing Dylan Thomas.

What did he look like? The picture of him in the BBC bio shows an uncanny resemblance to Orson Welles as Harry Lime in ‘The Third Man’. Attractive, perspiring, mop of wild curly hair, red-faced, really drunk, but the kind of drunk that can function normally when he should be in a coma. He began his lecture, interspersed with readings from his poetry – and you couldn’t tell them apart. His language was luminous – beyond beautiful, and his presence eerily commanding [the Welsh and Irish can do that. Celts]. It isn’t often given to any of us to be in the same room with true genius. Palpable, vibrating genius.

So where am I? In the presence of two great artists, both doomed to die real soon of substance abuse – Thomas, gone at 39, with a substantial body of work behind him, the other, Dick, 24, with the barest hint of what’s coming in his sparse recorded legacy.

Here’s a glimpse of Dick’s genius. He is simply not ‘just another be-bop piano player’ In recordings with Chet Baker and Serge Chaloff he sounds more conventional, but that’s what a sideman is supposed to do. Not upstage the leader [and more than by-the-way, note his gorgeous piano sound. Gene Lees in his Woody Herman biography says that that sound quality is a hallmark of all of Margaret Chaloff’s students].

And there is a home recording, 1954 Improvisations. Boston. June-October 1954, where, in a fragment of Jerome Kern’s ‘Yesterdays’ the future really shows. He deconstructs the tune the way Charles Ives might have – and then he’s gone.

Dick’s is the only early death among musicians/composers that really bothers me artistically [it killed me emotionally]. Mozart made it to 35. And left a complete life’s work. I’ve always felt that he lived a compressed, accelerated existence and died of old age. Ditto, Bird, also gone at 35.

Charlie Christian? Dead of TB at 26, with less than two years in the public eye and ear. But heavily recorded, and – here’s the Internet quickie: “was the founding father and primary architect of the modern jazz guitar style”. And revolutionary. Someone else would have done it, but in fact it was Christian that set the stage for guitar driven rock and roll, comin’ at you a little over ten years after his death in 1942.

Dick Twardzik left only the barest hint of what was to come…

I realized, whizzing around the park on my bike yesterday, what I uncovered here. Note the extreme contrast of the house Dick lived in and the joint he – and we all – played in. A couple of observations: No matter what your background – in Dick’s case it seems clear that there was substantial wealth in his family – you were likely to play in the scuzziest possible circumstances unless you became a star and Storyville (or its equivalent in any city) could afford you. More likely in a joint with the mafia lurking in the background. And of course – as an only child from an affluent family, how could he not have been rescued from his virtual suicide? It wasn’t exactly a secret. Let’s look:

His father was one of only two stained glass window designers and builders in the United States. Had an atelier on St. Botolph St., the front 3 stories high so they could assemble a finished window, then take it apart for (very careful) shipping. St. Botolph – that funky little street that petered out behind the Conservatory, coming over from Mass. Ave. just across the tracks from the ‘colored district’. David Young’s studio was there in the early 50s.

[What follows is probably from my friend Jack Lawlor, the left-handed bass player who shows up on several records and attended the sessions we held at Dick’s parent’s home. As I write, the long promised biography of Dick remains back-ordered at Amazon and people in Dick Twardzik chat rooms are getting pretty upset. So 1) I have no confirmation of the health issue; 2) Jack Chambers, the biographer, could conceivably have missed this. Families are pretty close-mouthed about health disasters].

It matters that Dick was a sickly child. He had a rare disease – here’s the Internet word:

“…probably had polyarticular arthritis, a form that affects children in at least five joints. Samantha at 16 months had 11 swollen joints, in her knees, wrists, toes, elbows and fingers. NY Times 9.30/03, Health & Fitness”

People that knew him told me that by the time he was 11 Dick had every joint in his body operated on. Helps explain the indulgent mother. How could you not spoil an only child with such a dreadful illness?

There was just forming up when I returned to Boston in 1950 a consortium of young modern musicians that called themselves ‘The Jazz Workshop’+; their mission to provide a space where students and professionals could play and study together. They found a bar downtown that had a little used back room; they persuaded the owner that jazz would bring in customers and were given carte blanche to do whatever they liked. I paid my dues with saw, hammer and nails many an afternoon helping to build the stage. [+Those musicians, led by trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, became the core faculty of the internationally famous Berklee School of Music. They are now of course very senior faculty or emeritus]. It prospered; a Monday night big band session was laid on, with Jaki Byard writing the arrangements and sitting in the tenor sax chair rather than piano.

And eventually they had to move to larger quarters; a club called The Stable on nearby Huntington Ave.

Dick Twardzik was a frequent member of the Jazz Workshop ‘in house’ rhythm section and it was here that he asked his fellow musicians for help with his heroin addiction. We have seen that his family was no help at all.

Now look: This may be apocryphal in places; it went around town as scuttlebutt. But it rings true. He asked the guys in the band for help “…and they laughed at him”. So after the gig, at two o’clock in the morning, on a cold December night, he walked up to a cop on Huntington Ave. and said, “Officer – I’m an addict and need to quit. Can you help me?”

Bless that cop. I’m sure there was and is a city agency set up for this. They helped get Dicky into the Massachusetts detox unit in Bridgwater, where he stayed for six months, met a priest he really liked and started going to church. Came out squeaky clean and full of the joy of life. He had finally beaten it.

In a musical composition that returns to the beginning for the last few measures, there is a convention that we’ll use here. “Dal Segno” – “to the sign”, which is a squiggle not on the keyboard. We’ll use $.

“Dal segno $ al fine [finish]”

If you don’t want to bother, it goes like this:

$ [Alta Ann – you were in on the end – the night before he went off with Chet Baker. We had invited him to dinner; with desert I played him some of the Billy Banks sides with Fats Waller. He sat down at that great Bechstein grand in the living room and got very upset because he – a marvelous technician – couldn’t lay a glove on some of those triplet filigrees that Waller tosses off like cake frosting. It was you who asked – our friend now really clean after six months in the Bridgewater detox unit – “Dicky – why are you doing this – going off with all those junkies?” “To prove that I can do it”. You all know of course that he got dead in Paris instead. 1955].

Fine.

Copyright © 2006 Leroy Parkins

[Here’s Sam’s own biographical sketch, taken from his MySpace page:

Leroy (Sam) Parkins: born in reign of Calvin Coolidge. Heard Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton 1936 – 1945. Charlie Parker from then on. Normal life no longer possible. Cornell for composition; New England Conservatory for Masters. Saxophonist-in-residence two whorehouses (Bowdoin Bar & Grill, Boston, 1945; Barbara Kelly’s Glass Hat, NYC 1960), the Heroin Capital of the North Shore (Melody Lounge, Lynn MA, 1954 but didn’t sample the wares); Carnegie Hall (one-shot, 1976) etc.etc. Sixteen years with two major society orchestras. Duties included playing New Years Eve for the Carnegies and Mellons at Rolling Rock Country Club, Ligonear, PA.; deb parties as far away as St. Louis, MO. Joined production staff CBS Masterworks 1967. Recorded the complete Charles Ives chamber music. One Grammy (European); four Grammy nominations. Recorded Milton Babbitt, John Cage, Charles Wuorinen et al for New World Records, 1975. Black composers series, various labels: Music of Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Eubie Blake, Cecil Taylor, Benny Carter, Scott Joplin. Stravinsky’s ‘Ebony Concerto’ with Richard Stolzman and Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd, RCA Victor, 1987. Grammy nomination. As featured soloist, ‘Take Me To the Land of Jazz’, Aviva records. Stereo Review, Album Pick of the Year, Acoustic Jazz, 1979. Recorded ‘Preservation Hall Live!’ for Sony Classical, 1991. Miscellaneous recordings since; clarinetist-in-residence, Cajun Restaurant, NYC; ditto weekly stint New York Public Library. Commence writing ‘Journey to Bohemia’ 1997. Lived.]