Friday, January 11, 2019

Breakfast Near a Beatle or How I Met Sir Paul in a New York Diner

Everything does NOT happen for a reason, but being at a certain place at a certain time can have an impact on a person. Sometimes it's good to just roll with things. I found that out yesterday.

I've been in New York since Sunday night. Monda and Tuesday were the two days that the conference known as Jazz Congress took place. Winter Jazz Fest officially started last weekend and there have been a few days of shows already that I've seen. The big, multiple shows/venues night kicks off tonight. I'll be writing about that for Pittsburgh Current so stay tuned. For now, there's another story to tell.

Wednesday, my wife and son came up to meet me. During the days, we're checking out museums and at night, they're whooping it up in a hotel while I go to hear music. Yesterday, we decided to check out a diner called the Lexington Candy Shop, because we liked the name. As we were leaving, I looked it up on a map. We're at 56th and Lexington. It was at the corner of Lexington and 83rd Street. That's a walk, I thought, but why not. Towards the end of the journey I realized there was a subway that we could've taken, which would've gotten us within a few blocks of it. But we got to check out the storefronts and the general populace of the Upper East Side, an area I knew even less than the area with the clubs that I frequent during the festival.

Everyone was a good sport and by that I mean my 11-year old son. In fact, when the thought came up of stopping somewhere else, Donovan said no, that we should keep going.

Finally we got to the Candy Shop which is a tiny, narrow diner with booths going down one side and around the corner. It's a diner from a bygone area, apparently one that's been around since 1925. The nice but no-nonsense waitress seated us and as she said down, my wife Jennie gave me a look. At first I thought it meant, "We finally made it." But she said, "Do you see who that is?" Then she gestured toward the booth behind us, which was kind of wedged into a corner, away from everyone.

And there was Paul McCartney talking on the phone as he ate.

We took all this time to walk up to this place and not only was it as cool and as quaint as I would've hoped, but Sir Paul is sitting behind us. I know anything's possible but that's not something I would've expected on a trip to New York for a jazz festival.

I'm the type of guy who will say hi to artists I like but Jennie is not. But I wasn't about to say anything to this guy, especially while he was in the middle of a phone call. So we just remained calm (outwardly), taking in the whole idea. Plus it was 11:00 and I really needed to eat. I tried to make out a bit of what he was saying on the phone, but it was impossible. Not because he was talking in a thick accent, but just because. It didn't sound all that enticing to the average tourist anyway. Perhaps some dry business stuff.

I have to say that Paul was extremely polite and gracious to the waitress, who was a professional. It was amusing when she came back to the table, telling him the credit card that he had given her needed a PIN to go through. He had to go up to the counter to type it in.

As Paul and the people with him, including I later found out a new wife, were putting their coats on, he turned towards us and I said hi. He asked how we were doing and I said something like, "Great," and little more. Then I went on to tell him we were visiting from Pittsburgh and wanted to stop in. He replied, "We're kind of like the local celebrities here." It felt more like a joke than a serious statement and I felt like I saw the everyday Paul, which I was something I always hoped I would see. With that, he put on his knit hat and they were on their way. No photos, other than one Jennie took of me and Donovan, where you can see a tuft of gray hair popping up behind us. But it felt better that way.

"Who was that," Donovan asked. I told him and he didn't seem exactly blown away by the fact that he had met one of the biggest names in music. Which is fine. We didn't tell him while Paul was there because I didn't know how he would react. As the day wore on, it seemed to have more of an impact.

The waitress asked if we had noticed Paul back there in the corner. She said he's been something of a regular there for years, having started to come in when he was with Linda, who lived across the street.

I've always felt that a meal would be the way to meet "legendary" musicians. If I wanted to get a good interview with, say, John Cale, maybe he would be put at ease if we talked over food instead of talking over the phone or in some office. My breakfast a few feet from Sir Paul isn't exactly the way I imagined that we would meet, but I'll take it.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Getting Back on Track/ Remembering Bart Wise/ Where Am I?

There should have been a 2018 wrap-up here, not to mention a few more album reviews and stories about shows. But...the holidays kept me busy. At the time, I thought they were driving me crazy, but they weren't. It was just business as usual in the retail world. Now that it's over, I'm in New York, getting ready for the Jazz Congress conference which starts in the morning. Winter Jazz Fest is already underway and there's stuff that I'm going to check out, beginning tomorrow night. This post is coming to you courtesy of my friend Sharon's apartment in Astoria. I rode up here on the Megabus this afternoon.

While I missed adding my two cents to JazzTimes' Albums of the Year list, I did get to sound off in the NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, which was organized by the venerable Francis Davis. The results can be read here. 

But before I move forward with the events of this trip, I start with bad news. My former Bone of Contention bandmate Bart Wise passed away on December 30, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. I was lucky to see Bart back in 2016 when the Bone got back together to play at RePunk 3. It was a momentous occasion not only because I never thought it would happen, but also because both he and Sean Lally were playing in the band. That was the first and only time they were onstage together, Bart having joined the band after Sean left in 1990.

The Bone's first album, 48 Points of View (recorded when Sean was in the band), might still be the most magical one to me, since it fulfilled my lifelong dream of putting out an actual record. But the lineup with Bart (1990-1993) might have been a more creative, fertile period. It's hard to say definitively. We recorded both a single and a CD (Stay Calm), wrote a lot of songs (the ones I wrote were some of the ones for which I'm most proud) and we played the Knitting Factory, one of just a few out of town trips we made.

The thing to remember in all of this was the band was pretty egalitarian. There was no front person. We all wrote and sang. Well, Bart's token song contribution was an instrumental, and he only did a little back-up singing, but he definitely had a hand in the arrangements. But he brought energy and enthusiasm to the band. If Lila, Barb or I had the song ideas, Bart was the one to say, "Okay, let's do it." And that often meant he wanted to run through a song one more time at practice to make sure we were where we needed to be.

After a certain point, we were getting tired of "Barbie Likes to Die," a song from 48 POV that was the closest thing we had to a hit. By the time the record came out, we had been playing it for two years. But Bart had an idea. Rather than adding the occasional guitar skronk to the riff (like Sean had), Bart offered to get out his trumpet, something he knew how to play just enough to add some well-placed blats to the song. Perfect.

There comes a certain time in a band's life when they reach the limit of what they can accomplish without taking a huge leap of faith to take it to the next level. Some bands don't want to do that, preferring to quit while they're ahead or while it's still fun. Sometimes reality sits you straight about things like this. Bart left the Bone when his doctorate studies at CMU began to take up more time and the shows were quite as exciting as they once were. I, of course, felt like we needed to ramp things up if Stay Calm was going to go anywhere, but deep down I knew Bart was right. I couldn't fault him for throwing in the towel when you've got all that work coming up for you. Clearly he was on a track because he later did post-doc work and got courted to go for a law degree.

His wife Nancy went to high school with me and we were in marching band together. Funny thing is, she didn't meet Bart until they were out in San Francisco together. They have two kids, a son and daughter. Lila and Barb are probably going to the funeral this weekend. If I wasn't here I'd be there too. The guy were a mere 54 years old. I hope he's looking down at me and helping me follow the right path. Maybe he and Pop Shanley are hanging out. I can only hope. Even when you don't see someone very often, just knowing that they're walking the same earth as you can keep you on track. When they're gone, you can feel the loss.