I was thinking about Maine this week, especially jazz in Maine. Lest you believe that Maine is mostly autumn leaves, lobsters, sailboats and long, cold winters, I’m here to tell you that there’s more…including jazz.
When I moved to Portland, Maine, in January 1993 as an art student, I sublet an artist’s studio/loft for a couple of months. The studio was in an old brick warehouse near the waterfront and was not quite a legal residence.
Not an ideal arrangement, perhaps, but the trade-off was a jazz club on the ground floor right under my feet. There’s noise in the city and then there’s noise. The noise of a jazz club was sweet, indeed. And I didn’t even have to go out in the frigid weather to get there. Heck, I didn’t even have to get out of my pajamas.
Café No catered to an interesting all-ages crowd – art students, professors, fishermen, snazzy tourists. I particularly liked seeing younger enthusiasts in the mix. The owner had just become a father, and his wife and baby son, Thelonius (I’m not kidding) often dropped by during the day when Café No served inexpensive soups and sandwiches for the art students.
The owner brought in both local musicians and jazz cats from Boston or even farther away – those touring who happened to be in Boston for a gig and wanted to see Maine. It was a great scene. Sadly, like so many good jazz scenes, Cafe No and its owner eventually ran out of steam and money and closed. But those were fine times for a while.
The owner continued to bring jazz to the small city and I often recall one particularly memorable night with Branford Marsalis who arrived late. As he made his way through the crowd of us waiting outside the door on a chilly night, he stopped often to offer quick but sincere and personal apologies for being late. During the performance in an old and beautiful church, someone let him know the audience couldn’t hear the changes. Branford stopped the music, conferred with the band, and announced that they were changing the program to suit the acoustics. Live jazz at its best.
One of the Maine musicians I became acquainted with was a pianist aptly named Tom Snow. And here he is in an encore performance at a gig at the Mast Cove Galleries in Kennebunkport. That’s Gene Daniels in the background with whom he’d shared the main event. I like this clip because you see Tom playing. His smile and laugh are charming, indeed. Visual art and music often go together in Maine, so enjoy the art and Tom’s style on “All of You.” I always detect a little of Bill Evans in Tom’s phrasings. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1ynJyOY-Qo
A friend in Portland, Oregon, (“the other Portland” as it’s known in Maine) sent me a note a few days ago about the passing of jazz pianist and cellist Fred Katz. Katz was a particular kind of Renaissance man who studied with Pablo Casals, was a high school dropout, scored films, backed Lena Horne and Tony Bennett and taught college anthropology. Among other things. Here he is with Chico Hamilton on “My Funny Valentine,” Montreaux 1989. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9Bq_VFoyVs
We’ve had more rain (hey, I’m under the Seattle umbrella) and while watching the streets get wet, I realized I’d forgotten one of the great rain tunes last time: “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” from “The Fantasticks.” Let yourself fall right into Julie London’s deep, smooth sound. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lx_tYho6NDc
And now we come to autumn…just a few days away, and here are a couple of jazz standards on the subject. The first is “Autumn in New York” which always makes me so nostalgic for my old apartment at 72nd and Columbus in Manhattan that I have to hide my VISA card to avoid hopping the first jet out of Seattle. My friend Jane will also remind me of the reasons I left New York including the pushy guy who kept running into me at the Fairway Market one Saturday. Still… I’m including two versions of “Autumn in New York” here to scratch the itch of that New York state of mind.
The vocal is by you-know-who https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NO2Ij1eO-GQ and the lovely instrumental is by Kenny Burrell. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vef9dp-Qc2o Meet me at Rockefeller Center and we’ll wander down to the Village.
I’ll wrap it up with a swingin’ version of “Autumn Leaves” with the Keith Jarrett Trio. I have a hard time watching Jarrett, and once almost got thrown out of a concert because I couldn’t stop laughing as he climbed in and out of the piano, but I cannot deny his talent. Listen for the little musical “quotation” near the end, a completely different tune woven into “Autumn Leaves.” For a tune with melancholy lyrics for a melancholy season, this one will have you bouncing. Just like Keith. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=io1o1Hwpo8Y
Ciao, Jazz Babies