The Beloved and I made our way uptown on a very cold Friday night (January 29, 2010) to Roth’s Westside Steakhouse to hear the chamber jazz duet of trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and pianist Ehud Asherie, both well known to readers of this blog. Perhaps everyone there had read in the papers that the economy had grown, because the air was loudly festive, although no one’s birthday was being celebrated.
Our waiter, a dramatic fellow with a dramatic upsweep of hair (“Pomade,” he told the Beloved) went around being cheerful. One memorable exchange was: “Having a good time?” he inquired of a table of diners. “Yeah, fine,” one of them said. “Well, keep having a good time!” he countered. David Mamet has nothing to fear.
In the midst of this, Jon-Erik and Ehud went about their work: medium-tempo James P. Johnson, a little Fats Waller, some Edgar Sampson.
The enthusiastic woman to our left (who occasionally applauded in the middle of a four-bar exchange) leaned forward in the middle of the set and asked the duo, “Can you play something torchy?” a request that caused some discussion and thought. Jon-Erik and Ehud settled on this Frank Signorelli-Matty Malneck composition, I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (originally called LITTLE BUTTERCUP when it was an instrumental). That song, not incidentally, was first associated with Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti; later, Billie Holiday and Lester Young.
I am sure that the management at Ruth’s has informed the busboys (they look grown-up to me) that an uncleared table will be dealt with severely, so the staff makes frequent — if not incessant — visits to diners, taking a bread plate away here, a knife there. Perhaps it’s an unspoken law in the restaurant trade that a table almost devoid of utensils makes diners go home or makes them order dessert and coffee and then go home. I don’t know. But in the middle of this seriously lovely performance, a gentleman came to remove some plates and assorted debris and lingered in front of my camera long enough for it to lose its grip on reality. Hence a brief out-of-focus interlude, but the microphone continued to work.
These capers aside, I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME is a wonderful, serious lesson in deep-down melodic playing and subtle, touching embellishment — much more difficult than ripping off harmonically-adventurous scalar lines over shifting polyrhythms. And this kind of playing is second nature to Jon-Erik and Ehud.