First Time I Saw...


Billie's Last Chorus

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She came on last at a concert that started at midnight at the Lowe's Sheraton on Seventh Avenue in The Village. It was one of those big, everybody-gets-to-play jam sessions they called concerts then, and it probably cost the promoters less than what Kenny G spends on hair gel these days. But there were at least a dozen top-flight groups including Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Chet Baker's quartet, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims with Conte Candoli. But Billie Holiday was the only singer. And the only female. The “girl singer." A few of my friends and I, just ...


Connie Kay Plays the Drums Impeccably

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The impeccable Mr. Connie Kay plays perfectly." If you say that sentence out loud in a chamber where there is just the slightest echo, and emphasize the “p" sounds and the hard “c" sounds just a little, you get a feeling of what this remarkable percussionist's drumming actually sounds like.

In all music, I don't think there's ever been anything quite like Connie Kay's cymbals. You could detect the ping of his ride cymbal out of a thousand--dry and metallic with just a hint of sizzle. Like the drop of vermouth in a dry martini. He must have ...


Lullaby of Birdland

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This month, instead of writing about a jazz personality, I decided to write about a room. A jazz room which sadly no longer exists but that had a personality as unique as the great musicians who played there. I'm talking about a club called Birdland-- the original Birdland on Broadway near 56th Street in Manhattan's Times Square (before it got Disney-fied.)

It billed itself as “The Jazz Corner of the World," and in the sixties and seventies it undoubtedly was just that.

On any night of the week, you'd walk up to the narrow doorway and the doorman ...


Saturdays With Mort (Fega)

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Coming out of the fifties at 19 years old, I'd had my fill of doo-wop and R & B. One windy Saturday afternoon in April, I heard this music on the radio coming from a little station in New Rochelle, NY, WNRC AM & FM. There was no sledge hammer back-beat and no loopy falsetto singing, no adolescent lyrics or twanging guitars. This music had a story line; it had a delicacy and a pulse that got inside your chest and your head and invited you places you'd always thought existed but never knew how to reach.

After ...


Who's The Hippest Chick In Town? Anita.

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Who the hell shows up at a midnight jam session at the Loews Sheraton Theater in Greenwich Village wearing white, elbow-length gloves, a little, flowered print dress and a hat that looks like an inverted birdbath? Who dares to show up on stage like that where guys like Zoot Sims and Conte Condoli and Al Cohn are playing? And then proceeds to not merely hold her own on the scat vocals, but to actually kick some ass up there?

Blond, blue-eyed, sultry-voiced Anita, that's who. Anita O'Day. The “girl singer. The one who grew up in front of ...


Miles On A Good Day

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The men's room at Birdland was, like the rest of the club, pretty much about economies of scale. A pair of urinals too close together. One cramped toilet stall. One gray-jacketed, tired old attendant who maybe could feel the vibrations through the walls when Philly Joe was playing “Two Bass Hit. But there was no way of telling if he cared about the music or the people playing it.

The Miles Davis Sextet--the Kind of Blue ensemble--was on break. I'd just finished up at the urinal and was patiently submitting to the perfunctory brush down by the attendant ...


Cooking with Philly Joe

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Sitting over by the bar in the cheap seats at Birdland during a Monday night jam session, I watched a group of aspiring young drummers roll their eyes and shake their heads in disbelief. I saw them nudge each other, smile and even laugh out loud. They sat forward with their chins on their hands watching and listening intently to the great Philly Joe Jones.

Philly Joe was playing with his old buddy, Elmo Hope, on piano and young Larry Ridley on bass. Julian Priester was on trombone and a good alto player whose name I can't recall was also ...


Diana Krall

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The twilight skies over the aged wood shingled roofs at the Newport Tennis Hall of Fame were looking ominous. The air was damp and flecks of rain started and stopped as we walked into the beautiful Stanford White-designed courtyard with its hanging flowerpots and dark green shutters. It was like traveling back to another era of summery charm and Victorian opulence. The seats had been set up on one of the famed plush grass courts. The sight lines to the center stage were all pretty good. And the sound system this Friday night, the first of the Newport Jazz Festival ...


The Amazing One

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At Birdland, Pee Wee Marquette, the diminutive MC, had a way of shouting into the mike when he announced the names of band members. Anyone who has heard it can not forget it. It made your jaw ache like you'd just eaten a quart of ice cream on a bad filling.

“Ladies and gentlemen, he shrilled with the mike pressed right to his mouth, popping it and then causing ear-shattering feed back. “ We'd like to bring to the stand now, for your enjoyment... the one, the only...the Amazing One... Bud Powell. The Amazing Bud Powell TRIO!! Bud POW-ell, ladies ...


Crepuscules With Monk

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Something was happening down on the lower East Side of Manhattan, down south of 14th Street way down in the rusty Bowery as the summer of 1957 was beginning. News of it spread out through the jazz community like the subterranean rumble of the subways underneath the clubs up on 52nd Street.Monk was back.After more than six years holed up in his Harlem apartment, his grand piano crammed into a corner of his kitchen, Nellie cooking and the kids all climbing under and around him like house cats, the radio blasting hillbilly music, and Monk sitting ...


Mingus's Fingus

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On a chilly November night the fog from the River rolled up Hudson Street rubbing against the big plate glass window of the Half-Note Café on the corner of Spring. Inside, things were warm and busy. Charlie Mingus's sextet was setting up on the bandstand on top of the two-sided bar.People were finding their tables in the half-dark room. Al, the waiter with the smart- ass New York accent, was delivering drinks and wise cracks to the regulars. Mingus, his body shaped a lot like the bass he played, was wearing a red plaid lumberjack shirt and green ...


The Great, Late Show with Dakota Staton

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She seemed to come out of nowhere. In 1957, suddenly Dakota Staton's Late, Late Show album was even being played on the pop radio stations, as well as on the jazz stations. But she was clearly a jazz singer out of the Dinah Washington school. She had that natural swing built right into her voice, a wonderful feeling for the blues, and great spontaneous instincts when it came to interacting with her musicians.

When I heard she was appearing at the Village Vanguard, I dusted off my fake ID and headed downtown. It was a cloudy, late summer ...


Just Plain Trane

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He appeared on a bandstand that was at least two football fields away, at the Randall's Island Jazz Festival in 1960. I had already heard him on record and read what the reviewers were saying about him, and indeed, what seemed to be emanating from the bandstand on that breezy New York summer night were those infamous “sheets of sound." He was with Miles's “Kind of Blue" sextet: Cannonball, Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, Paul Chambers and Miles.

Miles had just finished his immaculate solo on “Straight, No Chaser," and as was his habit, left the stand ...


MJQ: Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise

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New York City empties out like a condemned playground on a Sunday afternoon in July. People cooped up in air-dried apartments and offices all week escape in search of sunshine and trees. The good things that still happen in the City on weekends happen mostly inside of little hidden enclaves, isolated places well below street level. Places like the Village Vanguard, a wedge-shaped East Village cellar smaller than a one-car garage, where not so much as a splinter of daylight has ever penetrated its night-colored walls.There is light in The Vanguard, but it's an artificial, blood-stained colored light ...

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