Village Memories

The Greenwich Village stores and institutions that I grew up with in the 1960s are, for the most part, gone. But there have always been a few locales that have been in place for so long that you think they’ll exist forever…nothing is forever, not even Jon Vie, the local Sixth Avenue bakery with a city-wide reputation. Back in the days when roller skates were metal contraptions with four wheels that you fastened onto your saddleshoes and tightened with a key, I would roll around the corner, look in the bakery window, and one of the counter ladies would come to the door with a free cookie. One by one, the ladies retired and new clerks came and went, but the bakers remained and their rye bread and challah was the best in town. Now, I’m sad to report, it’s a store called Jeans USA stocked with brand new apparel made to look old.

Some of the long-gone landmarks that I remember include

    the Women’s House of Detention, a hi-rise jail built in the 1930s that rose above the old courthouse and took up the rest of the block from ninth to tenth street on the West side of Sixth Avenue, and from which windows the inmates would hollar to people in the street below. The Jefferson Market Courthouse was built in the 1870s by Vaux and Withers, and its famous facade, including the clock tower, still stands — now it’s the Jefferson branch of the New York Public Library, and the demolished prison is now a garden.

    Sutter’s Bakery on the northeast corner of Tenth Street and Greenwich Avenue where it was a treat to sit at one of the cafe tables and have a sandwich for lunch — now it’s a party store;
    International, just south of the south-west corner of Sixth Avenue and Thirteen Street, was a supermarket where I used to clerk; now it’s a Rite Aide. For a while there was a store on the corner where I would pour over huge Singer and McCall’s pattern books; I liked to sew. Across Sixth Avenue was a tiny little grocery/deli called was Smilers, where I used to buy the best rare roast beef sandwiches on rye break with Russian dressing, or Bialis for Sunday brunch. I think it became a Korean market (now closed and for rent) or maybe it was where the stationary store is – it’s hard to remember.
    Shopping for gifts was best accomplished at the Japanese store on Sixth Avenue, between Ninth and Tenth Streets, I think, where I could buy tea cups or pretty rice paper note cards, lanterns, or paper-covered boxes for cuff links and such. Then there was Fred Leigton’s on Eighth Street, where I was more likely to leave with a peasant blouse for myself than a present for someone else, or Papier Marche over on Greenwich Avenue, or in one of the many jewelry stores along those routes.
    Lowe’s movie theatre took up the whole triangular block bordered by Twelfth street, Seventh and Greenwich Avenues. It was there that I saw many a movie for 75-cents to a dollar-fifty, and paid 25-cents for a bag of popcorn. Across Twelfth Street was the Maritime building with windows made to resemble portholes — now part of the expanded Saint Vincent’s Hospital.

Expansion seems to be the name of the game, and I guess it’s a sign of prosperity, at least for those doing the expanding. The movie house on Fifth Avenue between Twelfth and Thirteenth Streets was taken over by The New School many years ago. Now I find that the bank where I had my first accounts has moved and that corner is being renovated for The New School. In fact, Walking about the Village I find lots of buildings now bearing the name of either The New School or New York University. I also see way too many nail shops, hair salons, and drugstores all within a few short blocks of one another. Ansonia drugstore on Tenths Street and Sixth Avenue has probably been there for more than fifty years (I can personally attest to at least forty-five), and Bigelows a block and a half south is ancient too. Both used to have a soda fountain, and I loved Ansonia’s root beer floats and Bigelow’s butterscotch sundays. But what I miss most is the diversity of all the little shops and unique stores.

And by the way…

Check out the Rifftides blog of Doug Ramsey. Maybe I’ll try to rev up my engines with his recipe (see the Food section under Doug’s Picks).

Add plenty of walnuts to a cup of yogurt and drizzle the honey over the top. I like to add raisins and mix it all together. My wife finds the mixing esthetically objectionable. Either way, it works, and it tastes terrific.

What I want to know is, what works? Is it adding the raisins, or that his wife finds it esthetically objectionable?

Missing In Action

Technological glitches, downed laptop, desktop mail snafus, telephone recording device used during interviews dies minutes before an important interview… if I didn’t know better, I’d say gremlins had invaded my office. Add in your basic case of overload mixed with mild panic and you have a picture of my unproductive day. I’ll be back tomorrow.

I’ve Got Mail: Sleepless in Emeryville

Levy StoryCreative nonfiction, sometimes called narrative nonfiction, is my genre of choice. Actually, it’s more of a content description than a genre – to me it simply means using creative writing techniques such as scenes and dialogue and description to tell a true story. Storytelling is what it’s all about, spinning a good yarn that happens to be factual. That true story might be a biography, or a memoir, or about a subject such as a racehorse or heart transplants or orchids. When I began writing John Levy’s autobiography, I knew that it would never be a bestseller. I wanted to preserve John’s legacy as a manager who believed in building an artist’s career for the long-run (as opposed to today’s “one hit wonders”) and to give jazz fans an entertaining look behind the scenes. With one thousand or so copies sold over the last few years, the book continues to sell, a few at a time, here and there, and we occassionally get a piece or two of fan mail like this one received last Friday:

I finally received my copy of Men, Women and Girl Singers on Tuesday. I ordered it through Borders Books here in Emeryville. They got it for me within one week which was really fast.

I can’t put it down…last night I read through to daybreak… Thank God I’m on vacation this week…I’m usually up for work at 5 am. I simply could not stop reading… you are a good storyteller. The story about Otis Wilson tickled me to near ’bout death. I could not contain myself as I visualized it.

This is very interesting and entertaining reading…thanks for writing and sharing this era.

Here’s the Otis Wilson story mentioned by our correspondent:

Joe Williams used to tell my favorite story about Art Tatum and a policeman named Otis Wilson, with whom I went to school. Otis became a policeman working nights in this real tough neighborhood. When he got off work he used to come by the after hours joint and listen to the music. One morning when Tatum was playing, some drunk started up the jukebox. According to Joe, “Otis Wilson grabbed this cat and beat him all the way down the steps and put him in jail. It was like he’d broke the law.”

When the paddy wagon came and the white cops asked what the man had done, Otis said, “He disturbed the peace. Book him for disturbing the peace.”

You can read more about John, and the book, on his website.


“Diablog” — wish I’d thought to coin that word. I don’t know that he’s the first, but I just read it on Doug Ramsey’s new blog site called Rifftides. If the first day’s offerings are any indication, and I’m sure that they are, this site is going to tie with About Last Night as my absolute favorite. In the spirit of full disclosure, Doug is a good friend with whom I share a love of jazz, journalism and je ne sais quoi prose. Go see for yourself.

The Merry Merry Month of May

DevraDoWrite is now one month old, and I had to look back to see where the month went so fast. At a glance, my May calendar shows not enough live music – only the one concert celebrating Gerald Wiggins’ birthday. I’m hoping to make up for that next month and especially have my eye on a tribute to Oliver Nelson (June 6th at Catalina’s), as well as the trio of giants — Ron Carter, Russell Mallone and Mulgrew Miller — appearing at The Jazz Bakery June 14-19). My new bass-playing friend has a few gigs in June and I’ve noted in my planner her trio appearance at The Westin Hotel near LAX on June 29th.

I only saw one movie in May – Ladies in Lavender starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. A couple of weeks back The New Yorker published a wonderful short piece about these two ladies – Two Dames – by one of my favorite writers, a dame of another sort named Lillian Ross. I felt as if I was right there, sitting at the table enjoying a lobster salad and glass of wine, before embarking on a whirlwind of interviews when I’d rather go shopping. I also enjoyed the movie immensely, and loved the scene where a bunch of towns people get all dressed up in their Sunday best to sit in a living room parlor and listen to a classical concert on the wireless.

Also in the leisure mode, I had three lunch dates with girlfriends, and today (Memorial Day) my husband and I went to the home of Roy and Pat McCurdy (jazzers know Roy as the drummer for Cannonball Adderley and Nancy Wilson, among others) and ate some finger-lickin’ bbq.

Work wise, I had a handful of meetings and did some interviews for my school district marching band story, and also watched on Book-TV (C-SPAN2) Nonfiction Page Turners: Finding the Story, a panel discussion with Dava Sobel, Sebastian Junger, Hampton Sides, and Melissa Fay Greene, sponsored by Authors Guild Foundation.

The month ended with a crunch of activity: I attended the 3-day National Critics Conference and on the last day was a panelist on The Art of the Interview session. With Q&A we ran a tad overtime, and I had to speed my way from downtown Los Angeles to the Rose Bowl to catch Clairdee’s vocal set. Clairdee is a wonderful singer based in Northern California, but she came down here to be part of the Playboy Jazz at Summer Fest, one of Playboy’s annual free events leading up to the big Playboy Jazz Festival that takes place at the Hollywood Bowl. (Disclosure: my husband is Clairdee’s manager, so don’t take my word for it, check her out for yourself.)

I’ve got high hopes for June — time will tell.