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First Time I Saw...

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 ...

FIRST TIME I SAW...

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 ...

FIRST TIME I SAW...

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 ...

FIRST TIME I SAW...

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 ...

FIRST TIME I SAW...

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 ...

FIRST TIME I SAW...

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 ...

FIRST TIME I SAW...

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 ...



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