As much as I love jazz, I love the stories that attach themselves to the players, the records, the places the music inhabits. Earlier today, on WNYC-FM, Leonard Lopate spoke with Kent Jones and Philip Lopate about the flim critic and painter Manny Farber, who celebrated subversive “termite art.” I never met Manny Farber, so my connection to him, perhaps tenuous, exemplifies two or perhaps three degrees of New York separation.
It was, however, my privilege to know the actress and entrancing personality Julie Pratt Shattuck, born Julie Follansbee. Julie died on August 16 of this year. She was 88. I was introduced to her by her dear friend Harriet O’Donovan Sheehy (widow of the great Irish writer Frank O’Connor — and my benefactor as well).
Julie wasn’t tall, but she seemed regally so — without being stuffy. Her diction was elegant, but she delighted in delivering tiny hilarious shocks. I was standing next to her at a downtown art show when, for whatever reason, she turned to me and recited the limerick about the young man from Madras. I still haven’t recovered.
Her blue eyes would flash and she would laugh uproariously. She was one of the most vividly alive people I have ever met; she loved a party, and until her final illness, the word “Whee!” punctuated her talk. Lucky me! — to have been invited to 242 East 68th Street for tea, the occasional tiny glass of bourbon, dinner — and wonderful stories.
Julie knew that I was immersed in jazz. I gave a party at her brownstone where the great guitarist Craig Ventresco played and awed everyone. I also remember a wonderful evening when a trio of Julie, myself, and her friend Roseli Olivera went to the Cajun to hear Kevin Dorn’s band play, where Julie sat, awash in the music, her eyes closed, her head swaying, her face a portrait of bliss. Once, she mentioned that she had a small collection of 78 rpm records. Would I like them? Yes, I said, I would.
Sometime in 2007, then, I went to her brownstone and Julie gave me these 78 rpm records:
Jack Teagarden (Brunswick): Ol’ Pappy / Fate-thee-Well to Harlem
Duke Ellington (Victor): Jubilee Stomp / Black Beauty
Gene Krupa’s Swing Band (Victor): I’m Gonna Clap My Hands / Mutiny in the Parlor
Bessie Smith (Columbia): Empty Bed Blues, Part I and 2
Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers (Victor): Shake It and Break It / Wild Man Blues
Old Man Blues / Nobody Knows the Way I Feels Dis Morning (as printed on the label)
Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven / Five (UHCA): Potato Head Blues / Put ‘Em Down Blues
Sister Ernestine Anderson acc. Bunk Johnson’s Jazz Band (Disc): Does Jesus Care / The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow
Kid Ory’s Jazz Band (Crescent): Creole Song / South
J.C. Higginbotham / Frank Newton Quintets (Blue Note): Weary Land Blues / Daybreak Blues
Boris Rose acetate disc: Body and Soul (Hawkins) / I Can’t Get Started (Berigan)
Dizzy Gillespie (Manor): I Can’t Get Started / Good Bait
Bob Wilber’s Wildcats, with Dick Wellstood at the Barrelhouse Steinway (Rampart): Chimes Blues / Old Fashioned Love
I was thrilled: Julie had always been generous to me, and she saw the joy on my face of even having these precious artifacts to leaf through. The records had been well-played, which I found touching, and they, taken together, suggested someone’s deep love and understanding of jazz in its many manifestations.
“Did you collect jazz records?” I asked Julie.
“Oh, no, these weren’t mine,” she said.
I looked at her quizzically.
“Do you know of Manny Farber?” she continued, and I was happy to say that I did.
“Well, when I was living in the Village, sometime in the late Forties, he came around to call. I don’t recall how I met him. But he brought these records with him, and he left them behind.”
Sensing that there was some bit of narrative hidden under that calm surface, I just looked at her.
Julie said cheerfully, “Oh, he wanted to sleep with me. But I wasn’t interested in him. And he never came back for the records.”
At that time, Manny Farber was still alive, 90 or 91years old. Julie and I discussed, whimsically, whether I should write him a note and say, “By the way, would you like your records back? Julie has been keeping them for you,” an idea that never took shape. For those who savor coincidence, Manny Farber died on August 17, 2008, one day after Julie did.
I miss her. I’m sorry I didn’t visit her more often. And I’m sorry that when I looked for a picture of her on Google, none came up — although the many DVDs of the films in which she appears did. I say “Whee!” in her honor, and thank her for this story and this gift, one of so many.
P.S. And my hero Eddie Condon signed people’s autograph books with “Whee!” Great minds think alike, exuberantly so.