Jazz and Poultry

Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Beta testing liner notes to my upcoming CD.

There comes a time in every New York musician's life, when he must load up his vehicle, point it east, and embark on a journey to the largest of New York City's five boroughs, Queens. In order to reach this strange and wondrous place, one must travel on a road which begins at the exit of the Midtown tunnel, and terminates 71 miles later at Riverhead, Long Island. Its name, which strikes fear into the heart of the most punctual of musicians, is the Long Island Expressway.

Our intrepid musician emerges from the tunnel onto a modern three lane highway, the urban sprawl of Queens in front of him, and the majestic skyline of Manhattan in his rear view mirror. He is pleasantly surprised at the ease in which he is able to achieve speeds of upwards of 50 miles an hour, and he begins planning a diversionary trip to Starbucks to kill the inevitable hour of free time that awaits his early arrival. That is until, mere minutes later, he crests a hill and is confronted with the stark reality of bumper to bumper traffic. He begins to formulating an excuse for his late arrival when he spots a possible escape valve.

There is an alternative, but few have possessed the wherewithal and the moxie to attempt it. I'm speaking of the infamous Maspeth cutoff; which has been rumored to have shaved as much as forty minutes off of driving time. Developed by Henry Hudson in the 17th century as a trading route with the Massapequa tribe, it eventually fell into disrepair and was forgotten, resurfacing for a brief period in the 1920s when Franklin Delano Roosevelt used it to decoy press and paparazzi on his way to the Jamaica OTB.

That was the last anyone had heard of the Maspeth cutoff until, one afternoon, late for work and stuck in traffic, I had the gall to exit the L.I.E. Off I went into the bowels of western Queens, confident in my ability to succeed where untold others had failed. This is the story of why I failed, and why others after me will fail:

The L.I.E.is not a straight East/West road, but a series of long, arcing curves. The city streets are not perpendicular, but veer off at 40 degree angles, confusing the driver into believing he is heading east, when, in fact, he is driving south. I shudder with terror as I recall the series of one way streets which lead onto narrow, pock-marked roads, which dead-end at vacant lots. There were chop shops, a towing pound, warehouses that produced toxic gases, and chemical factories. Each road steered me further and further from my destination.and it soon became apparent that I had lost my sense of direction. I broke out in a cold sweat as the minutes became hours. I asked for directions but no one could tell me how to return to the L.I.E. Very few of them had ever left Maspeth. Eventually I came to the cold realization that I could never leave and I began to look for an apartment. I found a cold water flat on Eliot Ave, eventually marrying a Romanian slubberdoffer named Uzana. You see, one does not escape from Maspeth, he settles there.

And so, a cautionary tale for you. the reader. Do not leave the highway for any reason whatsoever. The choice is yours. You can be late for a gig, or you can live in Queens.

Notes on the music. This date, inspired by the perils of Western Queens, represents the composing and the playing that I have done with my trio over the past three years. Bim Strasberg and Taro Okamoto are not only two of my favorite musicians, but two of my closest friends. I met Taro on my very first gig in New York City, over 25 years ago. He doesn't remember that muscle-bound kid with the young Burt Lancaster looks and the Mercedes convertible. And it's no wonder -- that wasn't me. Taro, however, made a great impression on me, and I was delighted when years later we would reconnect as members of trumpeter Richie Vitale's quintet. Taro has worked, and recorded with Richie Vitale, David Schnitter, Hank Jones

I have known Bim Strasberg for almost as long, working in a myriad of musical situations, some dubious, but most great. There was the time we played for Madonna's CD release party wearing asbestos suits while on fire. But I've said too much. During the early 1990s Bim and I became co-leaders of the NY HardBop Quintet. Through several tours of the U.S., Japan, and Switzerland, countless club gigs in New York, and four CDs on the TCB Music label we forged a close personal, as well as musical friendship. Bim has worked and recorded with Charles McPherson, Bootsie Barnes, Mickey Roker,

The Group begins the date with a great introduction from Taro, and after some hilarity involving a B flat minor chord and various household appliances, the song reaches it's conclusion. Jerome Kern's Nobody Else But Me, features Bim, who is one of the most lyrical players I know. It was pleasure to hear his conception of this song. Every record needs a boogaloo -- at one point, I believe, it was in the bylaws of the union. Ours is a tribute to my best friend, the Bronx's finest, Jeff Mazzei. Lucy is my daughter and this, along with the old HBQ songs Little Jake, Leevin Von Cleefe, and Debra, completes my bevy of family songs -- unless I start on the cousins. Bim and I came up with some interesting changes to Cole Porter's I Concentrate on You many years ago when we were perforrning it during an early HardBop (Trio!) tour of California in 1992. We never quite worked it out for quintet, but about a year ago I came up with a fresh arrangement and began performing it. The vamp was a lot of fun to come up with, but tricky to play over as there's no real tonal center. A little vodka usually solves that problem on the gig, but for the recording I used the motivational technique of donning lederhosen and screaming "damn the torpedoes!" Now it plays itself.

And that, my friends, is a show. We hope you enjoy this affectionate tribute to the borough of Queens, and remember, don't drive drunk.

Posted at 12:05 am by commish
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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

    I read a somewhat depressing article in Sunday's Times stating that the amount of abandoned blogs are increasing exponentially as more and more people migrate over to Twitter and Facebook.  I felt a pang of guilt as I read the article, not the least because I am guilty of the same. 

   I have kept this blog for almost 5 years and feel a loyalty to my small, but treasured readership.  But I too have become enamored of the immediacy of twitter, and the nostalgia of reconnecting with old friends that facebook offers.

     I have no intention of abandoning this blog, however.  I am nothing, if not stubborn, and I intend to keep this going as long as I have fingers to type with.   Who would have thought that blogging would count as long-form media?  Attention spans are decreasing to be sure, but there must be some room for paragraphs on web 2.0.


Posted at 10:30 am by commish
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Friday, May 22, 2009
accent or affectation?

   A few months ago I had a post about a certain accent or dialect  that I have noticed around New York City.  Here is an excerpt:

I know one thing that confounds me is the hard O.  For instance the O sound in Tom or com.  It sounds like it comes from way back in the throat.  Not quite British and not quite New England.  If any of you listen to WNYC there is a woman who does the promos and she speaks this way.  It's the way that I imagine a Vassar or Barnard grad speaks.  "You're listening to WNYC dot cahhm."    

   Then there is "Thank you so much" (I hate that expression)   That comes out sounding "Think you so much."   And the general elongating of the vowels leading to that valley-girl sound.  Towtally.  

   I realize I'm probably talking about more than one accent here.  The valley girl accent -- oh muh god!!! --  is different than that preppy way of pronouncing the hard Os.  Emyn commented on the valley girl portion of my post:

  Emyn: I know how that sound. It's like, ya know, towtally immachurr. With a tone that's, like, tilting at the uhnd of uhvry sentuhns. It's, like, so awfuuuuhhhlll!

   She is dead on in her assessment.  But for now I am obsessed with the 'preppy' accent.  I even catch myself doing it.  Is it Northeast regional?  I was even thinking it could be a Manhattan thing -- they don't have the hardcore New Yawk accent in Manhattan.  That's more a Brooklyn/Queens/Bronx/Long Island trait.  I just want to know where this originates from.  Is it something that has always existed and I never noticed until now -- or is it a recent phenomenon? 

Posted at 10:58 am by commish
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Star Trek

Am I the only one who wasn't blown away by Star Trek?   See here's the thing: The original show was idealistic, corny and had special effects that looked like they were invented in, well, 1968.   But for all it's flaws and bombast, it had a sincerity about it -- a sweetmess, if you will, that gave it integrity.

   Even though this Trek looks better, and has much better acting, where is the soul? I feel like the filmaker is winking at me -- "Remember this?  And this?  Remember how gruff, yet loveable McCoy was?  How Chekoff couldn't pronounce his Vs?"  I'm tired of being winked at. I get it -- I'm a boomer and so everything must be eternally hip.  Give me some grease.

Posted at 12:01 pm by commish
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009
More on Bea

   Was reading yesterday about the two part episode of Maude where she has an abortion. I actually remember watching this as a kid. I'm not sure how it registered for me back then, but can you imagine there being a sitcom today dealing with this issue? Not only that, the episode aired a few months before Roe v Wade was enacted.

Posted at 12:14 pm by commish
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Sunday, April 26, 2009
My Bea Arthur encounter

   Bea Arthur, the actress who portrayed Maude in the 70s, died.  I always liked this brash, bold comedienne.  Here is a recounting of meeting her.

   25 years ago, when I still lived in L.A., I had a solo gig at a trendy restaurant in the Palisades.  One night Bea Arthur came in with her husband and some friends. On the way out she was smashed, and as she passed the piano she commanded, in her best Maude voice, "Play Lady is a Tramp!" I obeyed and she proceeded, in the middle of this staid, understated restaurent, to belt out "Tramp."  Her husband was doing his best to get her to leave. "Cmon honey, let's go..." And she shouted back to him, "Don't worry, honey, I'll fuck ya later!"


Posted at 03:00 pm by commish
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Sunday, April 19, 2009
Peppers and Onions

   At last it can be told...or can it?  This is one of those stories that should be filed under 'you had to be there,' but I am willing to give it the ol' college try so that I can share a special memory with you, the reader.

   Some years ago I worked in a trio that backed up a group of rhythm tap dancers.  Actually, I still work with them, but now our gigs are far and few between.  At that time, the early to mid 90s, we were working and touring quite a bit.

    One autumn day we found ourselves in Richmond Virginia.  Our gig was early, ending around 6PM, and by 8PM four of us found ourselves ensconced in one of our motel rooms in front of the TV watching a Yankee/Oriole playoff game.  

   The drummer, bassist, one of the dancers, and yours truly were there, and not wanting to miss a pitch of the game, we decided to order in for pizza.    We settled on a pie with peppers and onions.  I must have not had much say in the matter -- I hate both of these toppings.    

    Of course we had some beers, and the dancer was a big pot guy so I'm sure we must have indulged ourselves.  As it happened, I was the person doing the ordering so I phoned Dominos pizza.  

   Me:   Hi, I'd like to order a large pie with Peppers and Onions.

   Dominos:  Peppers and what?

   Me:  Peppers and onions.

   Dominos:  Pepperoni and Onions?

    Me:  No, no, peppers and onions.

   Dominos:  Peppers and Olives?

   Me.  Peppers and ONIONS.

   Dominos:  Please hold.....OK, One large pie with Onions and pepperoni

   Now...at first the other guys were watching the game, but gradually it began to dawn on them that I was still on the phone and repeating peppers and onions over and over.  They couldn't hear the dominos guy -- all they heard was me growing more and more agitated and repeating PEPPERS AND ONIONS.  They began to laugh, which in turn set off a chain reaction, caused me to laugh.  Eventually this morphed into hysterics.

   Dominos:  Peppers and what?

   Me:  Pep...pep...pep...BAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

  Dominos:  I can't understand you.

   Me:  Just put whatever you want on it!

    So there you have it.  From that day forward 'peppers and onions' became a rallying cry for those of us who experienced the strange vortex of the Richmond, VA Dominos.  Now, whenever i see Josh, the tap dancer,  he and I call out to each other 'PEPPERS AND ONIONS,' and then we hug.





Posted at 11:06 pm by commish
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Thursday, April 09, 2009
Sorry for the layoff

    I've been a moddy bitch lately, but I hope to channel some of this negative energy into some killer posts.  So stay tuned, poultry lovers...more to come. 

   In the meantime I'm enjoying the Mets fast start and the onset of spring weather.  (well...sort of. There were a few snow flakes yesterday)


Posted at 10:40 am by commish
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Friday, March 27, 2009
I love this dirty town!

Broadway and 58th st looking downtown.


Posted at 12:08 pm by commish
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009
The Battery's down

  A view out the wondow of my wife's office in downtown Manhattan.  You're looking from the bottom of the Island of Manhattan where the Hudson and East Rivers meet.  The land mass in the background is Brooklyn.


Posted at 11:27 am by commish
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Born in a small coal mining town, I combine the ability to play I Got Rhythm in all 11 and a half keys with my love of washing machines to form a perspective so skewed that my wife insists on seperate seatings at dinner.


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