Al McKibbon: May He Rest In Peace

Alfred McKibbon, born January 1st, 1919 at 12:00am in Chicago, Illinois, died this morning at Good Samaratin Hospital in Los Angeles. It seems like just weeks ago that Al and his daughter, Alison, were here at the house — we ended up going out for seafood dinner, Al loved seafood — but that was five months ago. My husband, John, and Al were friends for more than fifty years. When John put down his bass to become a fulltime manager, it was Al that he hired to play bass with the George Shearing Quintet. We will miss him.

Al’s first-person bio, which includes photographs from his personal collection, can be read online here. Also included are liner notes and audio clips from Tumbao Para Los Congueros Di Mi Vida, his first recording as a leader.

And here’s a Wikipedia entry that has links to info about many of the great artist with whom Al worked.

Also check out “Al McKibbon: a living history of Jazz/Al McKibbon and the Roots of Latin Jazz” a recent (April 2005) article by Nelson Rodriguez in Latin Beat Magazine.

Life & Death: Hank Jones, Kenny Burrell, and Luther Henderson

On Sunday, July 31st, pianist Hank Jones will celebrate his 87th birthday, just shy of one year for each key on the piano. Hank was born in Vicksburg, MS on July, 31, 1918, and NPR’s Jazz Profiles, hosted by Nancy Wilson, is celebrating. Check the NPR web site to see when the program airs near you and check out the audio clips of pianists Sir Roland Hanna and Billy Taylor talking about Jones’ personal approach to the piano, and Hank’s own reminiscences of listening to Fats Waller on the radio, watching Art Tatum practice, working on The Ed Sullivan Show, and constantly striving for excellence.

Last month Bookish Gardener heard Hank Jones on a different NPR program (Terry Gross’ Fresh Air – archived here) and wrote:

Disciplined and devout in how he lives, thoughtful and inventive in how he plays—Hank Jones is simply inspiring.

July 31st is also guitarist Kenny Burrell’s birthday — born in Detroit, MI in 1931, he will be 74. A prolific recording artist and composer, Kenny is also the Director of the Jazz Studies Program at UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology His UCLA faculty bio is here and the bio on the Verve Music Group web site is here.

Coincidently, both Hank and Kenny are on my Luther Henderson interview list. Kenny and Luther shared a love of all things Ellington. Hank and Luther both loved Fats Waller, and it was Hank who replaced Luther as the on-stage pianist for Ain’t Misbehavin’ on Broadway. Tomorrow, July 29th, is the second anniversary of Luther’s death.

Bea Arthur & Billy Goldenberg

I was working today on the list of people that I hope to interview for the Luther Henderson biography. It’s a diverse group of folks that includes singers and musicians, actors and actresses, choreographers and conductors, composers and arrangers, producers and directors, not to mention family, friends, and business associates. The variety among the females singers, alone — Barbra Streisand, Ruth Brown, Bea Arthur, Polly Bergan, Lena Horne, and Jessye Norman, to name just a few — attests to the ecclecticism and wide range of Luther’s talents.
Of the six ladies mentioned, I’ve met three: Ruth Brown is a friend, Lena Horne I encountered years ago during my days as a talent coordinator, and Bea Arthur attended the West Coast memorial for Luther in June of 2004. Last month I posted a description of the Canadian Brass’ appearance at the memorial. Here, then, is the excerpt about Bea Arthur and composer Billy Goldenberg:

Bea Arthur, accompanied by Billy Goldenberg, was on hand that Sunday to share some memories. As Billy got settled at the piano, Bea told us a story about her invitation to sing a song called It Amazes Me at an affair honoring Cy Coleman twenty-five years ago.

“I thought, ‘I know there’s going to be a lot of terrific talent honoring Cy,’ and I decided that rather than just slide in and go to rehearsal next day, I thought, ‘No. I’m going to go a day earlier and work with Luther and really kill the people.”

We had no idea how the story would end, but already we were laughing.

“So I did, and we worked; we worked all that day. Quite wonderful. And then the night of the event, which was, I remember, at Peacock Alley at the Waldorf – black tie, oh, I mean it was fabulous – a number of people got up and performed Cy’s stuff. And then Tony Bennett came and started singing and, of course, he leveled the place, just tore the place up to such a degree that – I don’t know if you remember this, Billy – that he had to do an encore. So Cy sat down at the piano and Tony sang…It Amazes Me. I never in my life … I was so devastated! So after that, we just went to the bar and got loaded.”

We, too, were ready to go to the bar and get loaded, but we quieted down as Bea, casually dressed in white pants, tunic top, and sandals, regal as ever, began to sing. Even without a microphone, her voice was strong and sure, her delivery, striking. She gave us two songs, It Amazes Me, and Don’t Miss the Chance to Sing, composed by Billy with lyrics by Tom Jones. I didn’t learn until later that while I’ve been at home watching twenty-year-old reruns of The Golden Girls, Bea has been on the road with her one-woman musical show And Then There’s Bea, later renamed Bea Arthur On Broadway.

Billy Goldenberg had a story too. It was 1964, Billy was in his twenties, and had been hired to do the rehearsal piano and dance music for a show called High Spirits with Tammy Grimes and Beatrice Lillie, directed by Noel Coward. Hugh Martin, the show’s composer, asked Billy if he’d like to write the overture. Billy was ecstatic, and petrified. It was Luther, a man had had never met before, who came to his rescue by helping him to orchestrate the overture.

“Luther came in and he looked at this sketch and he said, ‘This is really interesting.’ ‘Is it really, Luther? You’re the best. If you can do it, make it sound good.’ I said, ‘You know, I’ve done my best here, but I can’t really orchestrate.’ He said, ‘What do you mean, you can’t orchestrate?’ He said, ‘You’ve already done it here.’ He said, ‘I’ll add a few things and see if you like it.’ I said, ‘See if I like it!’ I said, ‘What does that matter?’ I said, ‘You do your genius thing,’ you know. Anyway, he did it, and well, everybody, the whole cast, they all stood up and clapped after the first orchestra rehearsal. And Luther came over to me and he said, ‘Next time you’re going to do it.’ And I did. And from then on, I did all my own things: stage, and then television and movies, and all of it. But it was Luther who said to me, ‘You can do it.’ That’s all he had to say. For someone who was so important to me, really to say that, changed my life. It really did. I’ll always remember him for that. Thank you, Luther.”

Every Day

Fifty years ago today (and tomorrow), vocalist Joe Williams and the Count Basie Orchestra made their first recording together. The trumpet section included Thad Jones and Joe Newman, Bill Hughes and Benny Powell were among the trombones, Marshall Royal, Frank Wess and Frank Foster were taking care of business in the saxaphone section, and Freddie Green’s guitar anchored the rhythm section. Over two days, (July 26 and 27, 1955) they recorded eight songs:

Every Day I Have the Blues
The Comeback
Alright, Okay, You Win
In the Evenin’
Teach Me Tonight
Send Me Someone to Love
My Baby Upsets Me
Roll ‘Em Pete

all of which remained an active part of Joe’ repertoire for his entire career. The album was a hit around the world and that year Joe won his first Down Beat polls in two categories: Best New Male Singer and Best Male Bandsinger. This photo was taken two years later, but Frank Wess and Marshall Royal can be seen here, along with Bill Hughes Thad Jones, and Freddie Green.

I miss Joe every day. It was Joe who introduced me to my husband, and Joe who sang to me over the phone when I hospitalized with cancer. As Joe’s longtime friend and publicist, I wrote the text for his funeral service program, and a copy is posted on my website, here, where I can see his smiling face, every day.

Luther who?

Luther Henderson is not a household name, not even a B-list celebrity in the eyes of the general public. Finding a publisher for his biography has been a lengthy and difficult process, but I am pleased to say that I am in negotiations right now and hope to announce a signing very soon. Meanwhile, people are asking me “Luther who?”

Luther Henderson was a composer, arranger, conductor, musical director, orchestrator, and pianist. He was a proud black man who graduated from the Julliard School of Music in 1942, and in 1956, married a white woman, his second wife. He was Duke Ellington’s “classical arm,” orchestrating music for Beggar’s Holiday, Three Black Kings, and other symphonic works. Duke spoke highly of Luther, but seldom gave him the credit he was due. Luther was Lena Horne’s pianist and musical director. During his sixty-year career in music, he worked his magic on some of Broadway’s greatest musical hits, including Flower Drum Song, Funny Girl, No No Nanette, Purlie, Ain’t Misbehavin’, and Jelly’s Last Jam, starring such performers as Barbra Streisand, Laine Kazan, Robert Guillaume, Savion Glover, Andre Deshields, Tonya Pinkins, and Gregory Hines. His music was heard on television programs such as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Bell Telephone Hour, and specials for the pop stars of the day including Dean Martin, Carol Burnett, Andy Williams, Victor Borge, and Polly Bergen.

Despite the success of these shows, on both stage and television, his contributions were never properly valued. What reason, or combination of reasons, led to this oversight? Certainly there were those who usurped credit, whether due to ego, carelessness, or resentment of Luther’s training and talent. Was he caught between two worlds – the elite classical world embodied in his Julliard training, and the world of jazz, his own heritage? Both worlds viewed him with suspicion; neither took him seriously. Was it due to the racial biases of the times? Or was it just the inevitable fate of a background man?

Those in the business understood his talent, but it is hard to communicate to an audience just what Luther really did. We value a composer above an arranger or orchestrator, thinking that one is more original and creative than the other. When music is described as ‘incidental,’ the word used for background music as opposed to featured songs in a show, we assume it is, well, incidental, not very important. Even ‘background’ conveys lack of importance. Most of Luther’s major projects were based on songs written by others, but the difference between a song in its original form and Luther’s orchestration based on that song is vast. Luther’s interpretation is every bit as creative as the original song. He tried to explain it in an interview for American Theatre magazine in 1997:

Sometimes I call it ‘translating’ the music, but it’s more like transporting the music. It’s going through me, and I’m enjoying it going through me, and I’m adding to it what happens when it passes through me. I don’t try to imitate Duke Ellington. I can’t copy Jelly Roll Morton. I can’t be Fats Waller. But I can express what Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, and Duke Ellington mean to me. I can be the conduit.

Luther lived his life largely in the shadows, yet he never saw it that way. He was an affable man who appeared to view his experiences through proverbial rose-colored glasses, and for the most part, that is truly how he saw things. He lived as though he had plenty of money, but he was poorly compensated and he never liked to ask for proper recompense. He believed his work was important, but he said he enjoyed it so much, that it didn’t seem right to be paid. He thought everyone loved him – and most people did, but some didn’t. Growing up black in America, embracing both jazz and classical music – one, an American art form that has yet to be fully appreciated, and the other, a field not truly open to blacks at that time – was not a path to fame and fortune. But with a love of music, a prodigious talent, and an optimistic outlook, that is the life he chose. It was a life that required extreme dedication and concentration, sometimes to the detriment of family relations and his role as husband and father.

Fabulous dinner!!!

Every writing instructor and editor I’ve ever known has told me that exclamation marks are to be used sparingly, if at all, and never more than a one at a time. However, the dinner we had at Bond Street, an upscale contemporary Japanese restaurant in NOHO (that’s not Japanese; NOHO means North of Houston Street), was so amazing as to merit many more than the three I used in the title above.

How we came to dine there is a story in itself – a story about a young girl, a guitar, and a dog (actually two dogs) — no, it’s not about me. The girl is Eliza (ten years old, I’m guessing), and she lives in the building next door with her parents and their bird dog, Maddy (or is it Matty?). Eliza loves music, jazz, and studies guitar. The friendship began when the dogs meet on the street one day, and evolved with talk of music. Jim and Eliza became fast friends, attending one another’s concerts (luckily her parents like jazz, too, and they were all at the Y the other night), and sharing music (Jim wrote out the music to Sonny Rollins’ St. Thomas for her, which I understand she has learned to play quite well.) The bond between the two families was forever cemented the day Eliza’s mom, a veterinarian, made a house call and saved our dog’s life. (Django had been previously misdiagnosed, and she discovered and treated him for Lyme disease.) So what’s this got to do with a fabulous Japanese dinner? Eliza’s dad is one of the owners of the restaurant.

Housed in a brownstone, Bond Street has no restaurant signage, just a discreet awning displaying the address. The staff is genial, and the waiters are not only well-versed in the smallest details of the menu, they can describe the nuances of each of the twenty-something different types of sake available.

Kateigaho – Japan’s Arts & Culture Magazine posts this description in their piece about Japanese Cuisine in NY:

Executive chef Hiroshi Nakahara presents innovative sushi made with the choicest, most elusive ingredients from all over the world, such as hon-maguro tuna from Spain and crabs from Alaska. He has impressed diners since the three-story restaurant opened in 1998. There’s seating for 200; high-spirited chefs welcome guests to counter seats, while the dining area is cozier.

“Luxe sushi served in a nightclub atmosphere makes for an enduring scene,” writes Ben Williams in a Citysearch Editorial Profile. I don’t really know what is meant by “an enduring scene,” but here’s what he wrote about the food:

“High-end Japanese goodies are sprinkled throughout the menu: Toro-caviar sushi comes with a decorative gold twist on top, foie gras meets seared tuna to intoxicating effect and arctic char garnished with truffles has almost too much flavor. Yellowtail is superb enough to make a special featuring four different types a highlight. Blue fin toro is the gorgeously soft center of a special roll. If you want variety, the excellent 6 Bond Nigiri special delivers six exotic combinations.” says:

This celebrity hot-spot offers an attractive setting, chic diners and an excellent menu to delight even the most fussy of palates. The creative kitchen comes up with delectable offerings such as oba-leaf sorbet and sushi topped with gold leaf. Order one of Bond Street’s many sakes, sit back, grab a cell phone and bask in the excitement and frantic activity that is New York. Business Casual, with a flair.

We sat in the back room on the second floor, one of the quieter rooms, where our party of four shared appetizers of Crispy Himeji Rouget with tomato ginger dressing, Crispy Goat Cheese Crab Cakes with pounded rice crust and carrot lemon coulis, and sashimi. For an entry, I opted for a sushi and sashimi plate that included the most delectable mirugai, ebi, hamachi, and other morsels, plus some kind of roll encrusted with sesame that came with a dipping sauce. The Broiled Chilean Sea Bass, marinated in saikyo miso, was melt-in-your mouth delicious, and the Grilled Rack of Lamb with Asian pear and shiso sauce was equally tasty. Even the desserts were out of this world – my favorite was Banana Milk Chocolate Dim Sum with hazelnuts & sweet sour cream dipping sauce, but others at the table raved about Chocolate Meltdown with coffee ice cream & fresh cream, the Ricotta Cup with yamamomo granita, and the Lychee Panna Cotta with strawberry rhubarb compote and vanilla syrup.

Check out the menu (I found one online here) and don’t forget to make a reservation.

6 Bond St, New York, NY 10012 • 212-777-2500 (between Broadway and Lafayette)

Notes on the Writing Life

Friday, 10 AM: Gone is my corner coffee bar where I could sit on a stool and look out the window and see the Jefferson clock tower on Sixth Avenue. It’s been replaced by a men’s shirt store with lime, orange, and raspberry sorbet colored polos on display. So I’m sitting at a window table in a trendy Village coffee spot one block north called Cosi, drinking a vanilla latte and staring at an as-yet-unfilled three-ring single-subject notebook. Some writers might say there is no difference between a blank page and a blank computer screen, but my fingers are lost without a keyboard. Besides, I think too fast to print neatly, and my scribble is barely decipherable. Outside the window I watch a steady stream of passers-by, walking dogs, pushing prams, juggling bags and books with coffees and cell phones, everyone in a hurry. If I were a fiction make up writer I’d make up stories about who they were and where they were going, and I’d mix in snatches of overheard conversation, not that I can hear much over the “music” – contemporary jazz a la Kenny G. I’m not going to get anything done in here.

Friday, 2 PM: Yesterday I had lunch with a writer who is working on a fiction book for teenagers. She was facing a dilemma that I share in writing adult nonfiction — how to balance specificity of detail with a desire to be general enough such that the story will not feel dated or otherwise limited. We are taught, not only by teachers but also through experience as both readers and writers, that specific details can make the printed page come alive. I’m not talking about burying a reader in trivial minutia, but a reader’s image of wind whipping through the palm trees is very different from the image of wind whipping through the pines. Specifics also impart additional information, often setting the time period or locale. If your character is wearing a hat, and you specify a fedora or a Stetson, readers will make certain assumptions, and as an author you have to be aware of what those assumptions might be. You want to use the details that advance and enhance your story, and keep away from those that place unnecessary limits or make it harder for the reader to identify with the characters. This is less of a problem in nonfiction, where the time periods and details must be factual. My fiction-writing friend, however, must be very careful because not only do kids require currency, what is “in” may very soon be ‘passé.’ How likely is it for a teen today to sit down and write a letter? Do they even write emails anymore? Is it all IMing (instant messaging), or is there something even newer than that? If she wants her story to be of interest to teenagers ten years from now, she will have to choose her details with great care. In nonfiction, the author’s only choice may be whether or not to include a detail, and even then, the choice may be dictated by the impact that the inclusion or exclusion will have on the veracity of the story rather than stylistic concerns.

Friday, 11 PM: A similar quandary is deciding when to leave enough space for the reader to imagine whatever comes to his or her mind; it is one way to allow the reader to make the story her own. To tired to think this through tonight.

Friday, 11:50 PM: Deadlines – can’t live with them, can’t live without them. I said that I’d blog on Friday, and here I am, with less than ten minutes to spare. I’ll be flying home on Sunday and promise to get back on track next week. Have a nice weekend.

Concert at the 92nd Street Y

Last night I attended a concert at the 92nd Street Y titled Jazz Legacy: A Portrait of Jim Hall. My reaction is favorably biased, of course, as Jim is my dad, but it was a great concert, really. I’m not going to review it — hopefully someone else will, but I will tell you that my favorite part of the program was the second half. That’s when an unusual string section consisting of six cellos and six violas played on three compositions: a Jim Hall original titled October Song, an arrangement of John Lewis’ Django featuring Jim along with guitarist Peter Bernstein, and Goodbye by Gordon Jenkins featuring Joe Lovano on clarinet and soprano saxophone. Jim recorded all three on 1998 Telarc CD called By Arrangement — but he seldom has an opportunity to perform them in concert, and as I mentioned earlier this week, there is an added dimension to live performances that cannot be captured on recordings. In addition to the ambiance of the concert hall, and the palpable collective concentration of the audience magnified on this occasion by the low volume/minimal amplification of the instruments, part of my fun is watching how much the string players enjoy playing this music. They seemed almost gleeful when playing the pizzicato sections in Django, and the smile on the face of violist Orlando Wells during his brief solo on October Song could have melted a glacier.

Goings On

I had lunch yesterday with Bill Kirchner and his wife Judy Kahn. You may have read about Bill lately at Rifftides or About Last Night as both announced the new paperback edition of The Oxford Companion to Jazz. (To see their posts, which include a list of the essays included in this tome, go here or here.) In addition to being editor of the Companion, Bill wears many hats including those of composer-arranger, saxophonist, bandleader, educator, record and radio producer, and jazz historian. (Bill’s web site.)

We ate at a little bistro around the corner called The French Roast. Open 24-hours a day, it is a popular spot, and rather noisy when crowded. (When I was a kid, that corner location was Blimpie’s, a precursor to Subway sandwiches and the local neighborhood teen hangout.) Judy had just come from a desktop publishing class at The New School and gave me sneak peek at her latest layout of ther CD booklet for Bill’s new CD (more about that when it’s released). Judy is also a professional organizer and her business card reads Re-thinking Space, Designing Systems, and Organizing Homes, Buinsses & Files. Her website is currently under revision, but I love the name — De-Stress That Mess — and if you’re the disorganized type that might need help, you can bookmark it for future reference.

We talked about the jazz world and people we knew in common (coincidentally, one of those people mentioned was Annie Kuebler, who figures prominently in today’s Rifftide’s posting), shared ideas for our respective projects, lamented the price of tickets for live entertainment, and waxed nostalgic about the old days when for the price of a few drinks we could hang out at Bradley’s and hear the legendary pianists — Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Roland Hanna, Jaki Byard, and others. I have a CD library well-stocked with the works of these artists, but there is magic in the moment of creation that can never be captured and replayed.

Technology and the Internet provide wonderful tools for promoting one’s projects, sharing one’s thoughts (and art), and connecting with people across great distances (or even across the street), but I’m always glad for the in-person encounters.

ps. I am taking a couple of days off, so I will not be posting again until Friday.

What He Said

“Love, having no geography, knows no boundaries.” ~ Truman Capote

“Making money isn’t hard in itself,” he complained. “What’s hard is to earn it doing something worth swvoting one’s life to.” ~ Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind