Today, one of our great heroes and pathfinders turns 90 — the down-to earth jazz deity of the Upper west Side, Dan Morgenstern. (He’ll be celebrating with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band at Birdland this afternoon into evening.)
I’ve been reading Dan’s prose and absorbing his insights for more than fifty years now, and in the video interviews he’s graciously encouraged me to do since 2017, I know I have learned so much and I hope you all have as well. And some of what I’ve learned is about Dan’s generosity and the breadth of his interests.
During those interviews, he has often caught me by surprise. We were speaking about another musician who had played with pioneering string bassist George “Pops” Foster, and Dan said . . . hear and see for yourself:
I’d seen this documentary on a DVD and was thrilled to find it was still for sale — so Steve Pikal (a serious Pops devotee) and I will have copies in a short time. You can, too, here.
and Roger Tilton’s astonishing 1954 film JAZZ DANCE, once vanished, now found, on YouTube (featuring Jimmy McPartland, Pee Wee Russell, Willie the Lion Smith, George Wettling, and Pops):
Those who want to understand the glory of Pops Foster — there are recordings with Luis Russell and Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Art Hodes, Sidney Bechet, and many more.
You’ll notice that I haven’t included more of the interviews I’ve done with Dan here. They are all on YouTube — stories about everyone from Fats Waller to Miles Davis onwards (with more to come) which you can find as part of my YouTube channel “swingyoucats”.
The tense shift in my title is intentional: it pleases me to think of Pops making dinner for friends in some eternal present. I just got through idly perusing a new book on the relationship between brain health and diet, where the ideal is greens, grains, wild salmon, and more. Now I wonder: are ham hocks the secret ingredient to health and longevity? Or do we have to have Pops Foster’s recipe?
To quote Lennie Kunstadt, we need “Research!” But whatever has kept Dan Morgenstern with us for ninety years, we bless that combination platter.
As we bless Dan. So let us say as one, “Happy birthday, most eminent Youngblood!”
P.S. The Birdland tribute was heartfelt and too short. David’s band had Will Anderson, Jared Engel, Arnt Arntzen, Bria Skonberg, Alex Raderman, and Jim Fryer — with guests Joe Boga, Ed Polcer, Evan Arntzen, and Lew Tabackin. Dan (with piano backing from Daryl Sherman) sang WHEN YOU’RE SMILING. And we were.
May your happiness increase!