Monday, May 4, 2009

Live Music and Background Music

Last week I brought a CD of Blossom Dearie to to our weekly International Happy Hour at the Circolo of Acqualoreto to honor her memory (she died in February at 82) and celebrate her birthday. For those who don't know, hers was the anonymous female voice on King Pleasure's classic recording of Moody's Mood for Love. That bit of information I picked up from either Symphony Sid or Mort Fega in the 60's when their midnight to 4 AM shows were the only jazz to be found on the radio in NYC, the Jazz Capital of the World.

We talk at the Circolo so probably nobody heard her. (A critic once said her voice couldn't make it to the second floor of a dollhouse.) That's OK, because this wasn't a concert, she's dead, and we come to socialize, not to listen to music. However, it got me to thinking about the idea of background music vs. live music.

I'm neurotically respectful of performing musicians. When my wife calls saying "dinner is ready" and I'm listening to a record or CD, I have trouble turning it off in mid-track since it feels disrespectful. Logic would suggest that it's more disrespectful toward her. This isn't something I learned at home. My older brother took violin lessons and I don't recall being overly reverential when he practiced. More likely, it was fear, the fear induced years later at the Half Note in New York when the volcanic Charles Mingus reacted to the lack of respect he detected in some of the club's noisy patrons (not me, I hasten to add). Mingus, a giant
physically as well as musically, had an ability to intimidate his audience every bit as impressive as his compositional skills. Thus, the lesson that musicians are to be respected was permanently etched into my consciousness some fifty years ago.

My most recent encounter with similar purposeful truculence was at Iridium in NYC six years ago. Tony Scott, my former neighbor in Rome, was in town to play a week with another veteran clarinetist, Buddy De Franco. On the evening that I knew to be his 82nd birthday, I went to celebrate, bringing him a nice bottle of Italian wine. His children and wives were all in the room for the occasion and I sat at a tiny central table at the edge of the stage. At one point Tony was in mid-solo, standing right over me, when a waiter, seeing my empty glass, insistently asked if I wanted another. Embarrassed, I silently waved to signal yes, but it was too late. Tony stopped the music and let fly a string of expletives at the waiter before returning to his interrupted solo.

One of the unsung joys of life in Italy is that jazz clubs often have separate bars for talking and drinking, and listening rooms, where the music is played and listened to.

Mingus and Tony Scott are no longer with us, and now Blossom Dearie too is gone. I never had the pleasure of seeing her perform. She played exclusive clubs, such as the Hotel Carlyle, in New York's upper East Side, which are out of my zone. I wonder how those patrons behaved with respect to her dollhouse voice and her magical way with words.

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