May 2, 2007

All that jazz

I saw a lot of jazz greats when I lived in N.Y. I lived next door to Miles Davis for a time. Never heard him play at home though; maybe he had a soundproof room. I used to see him on the street - wizened and wary, slouching toward West End Avenue.

My best friend lived a block away from the bistro on 10th Street where Blossom Dearie sang every night. We'd drop in and catch a show - there she'd be, sitting at the piano, the cafe singer nonpareil, surrounded by the rapt and the recherché, spinning the standards with a voice both impossibly delicate and "full of money", far into the night.

I went to a keyboard seminar at NYU hosted by Herbie Hancock; there were about sixteen of us in the room. He sat down at a baby grand six feet away and held us spellbound, talking and playing, all morning long.

I saw Bill Evans in Greenwich Village. Michael Franks at Town Hall. Stanley Clarke at Madison Square Garden.

We went to a concert at Avery Fisher Hall to see Nina Simone. She was, as usual, contemptuous and surly. The audience ate it up. I saw her in Central Park one autumn afternoon, disguised as a housefrau. The look that she gave me when she realized that I recognized her was enough to pucker my testicles cold. Amazing Nina. Part Malcolm X. Part Julliard. All diva.