Last night, on the way back from our local ice cream shop (Hershey's, not my favorite but my little guy likes it), my now twelve-year-old son picked up his skate board and crossed our street to an elegant Italian restaurant that often features live jazz, and other music, in it's front room lined with French doors facing the street. When they're all open, as they were last night, the room's not only easily accessible but totally inviting, especially when there's live music playing.
I always dig it when my son shows interest in things I find important, like good jazz. So I followed him across the street. It was a trio—piano, drums and upright acoustic base—and they were very good. Some friends were at the bar for a night out and one was outside talking to his young son on his cell and called out "Lally" and handed me the phone so I could say hi.
Meanwhile my son was watching the drummer closely, his hands and sticks since our vantage point from the street was behind the drummer, sort of over his shoulder. When I handed the phone back I checked out the piano player who was crouched over the keys, his face almost touching them at times, wailing away. Sweet.
Then I noticed the portable sign outside with the chalked info on the evening: Live Jazz! Nat Adderly Jr. Trio. Turns out my friend with the phone who used to work for Luther Vandross knew Nat Jr. because he played piano for Luther!
I couldn't believe it. Nat, the coronet and trumpet playing younger brother of the better known jazz saxophonist "Cannonball" Adderly, is one of my alltime favorite jazz musicians, particularly for an overlooked LP from the very early '60s called NAT TO THE IVY LEAGUE. On one cut on it he plays "The Nearness of You" initially in the standard way of the time, a pretty straight forward rendering of the tune the first time through, then a relatively straight forward improv on the tune the second time through, but then he takes the song and basically—as I would use it for for years—gives a lesson in jazz improvisation. He not only uses what seems like an infinite variety of alternate melodies over the chord changes in each bar, he introduces quotes from all kinds of other songs, including a TV commercial jingle very well know at the time for Alkaseltzer.
It's so much fun and so easy to follow, it was the perfect introduction to what improvising is about for novice jazz fans. Now here was his son, older than Nat, it looked like, when he made that record. What was he doing across the street from my apartment playing jazz so that when my son and I finally went home so we could go to sleep, we could still hear it wafting across our street from the open French doors in the restaurant?
My guess is he lives in the area, at least somewhere in North Jersey. New Jersey has always been a home base for a lot of musicians as well as the birthplace for many of the greats (I based one of my many lists on that idea a while ago). Like the most famous or at least the greatest for my taste, Frank Sinatra.
So it delighted me even more when in the car today on our way to a highway discount store to get my son new sneakers (the last pair fell apart from the intensity of his skateboard tricks and trying to learn them) we were listening to the Jonathan Schwartz show on WNYC and he was doing a special mini-tribute to Sinatra by playing choice live recordings from different shows over the years, the most amazing set being one from the late '50s where he swings "Night and Day" with a blasting brass dominated band followed by one from '62 (in Paris if I remember correctly) where he does the same song only as a really slow, bluesy ballad with only a single guitar for accompaniment.
It was so startling and so original, more so than any of the recordings I've heard him do over the years (some of which are on my iTunes now) that I almost cried in appreciation. But what really got me was my little guy appreciating it too and proving it by comparing some unexpected, more-than-an-octave drops in tone Sinatra made at one point—changing the intent and even the meaning of the line, bringing out other colors and aspects to it than the way it was written, yet still incorporating the original intentions of the songwriter—and my boy not only digs it but excitedly begins comparing it to his doing skateboard tricks and the ways that too is like making a kind of music he says—the variations on the basic themes (though he said that differently but that's the way I heard it) and format is the thrill in not just learning known skate tricks but adding and changing them in your own unique way to make them yours.
He even used the term "feeling the board" in a way that I knew, as a musician, exactly what he meant. Thanks Frank, and Nat, and Nat Jr. and New Jersey and music and skate boarding and my youngest child for keeping it all meaningful and worth while.