Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Yours truly emerging from the Irish pub in NYC near Wall St. where I saw on Karan Casey on my birthday, March 14. Also saw the amazing Irish band Lunasa there a few days before.
The Ulysses pub lies on the corner of Pearl and Stone Street in Lower Manhattan. Stone Street, narrow and cobblestoned as per old Amsterdam or Napoli, was said to be the first paved street (1658 by the Dutch) when it was known as Hoogh Straet - high Street. Although the cobblestone that lines the ground now is a modern "recapturing" of the original and oft filled with bustling Wall Street types, in a quiet moment you can gaze out down the lane and imagine, at least a glimpse of, what once was.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Though bookish and somewhat nebbish-like in appearance Desmond was a great lover of women and they in return flocked to him in droves. His famous quote - "Sometimes I get the feeling that there are orgies going on all over New York City, and somebody says, `Let's call Desmond,' and somebody else says, 'Why bother? He's probably home reading the Encyclopedia Britannica."
In the thorough and absorbing bio "Take Five: the Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond" by Doug Ramsey there is a great story related by some of Desmond's friends about his unrequited passion for Audrey Hepburn.
While he was in New York, Paul would steal away from the club where he played just to catch a glimpse of Audrey coming out the stage door of the theatre where she performed. He'd stand across the street smoking his cigarette, but could never bring himself to approach her. He did go home and write an instrumental called "Audrey". It has a lovely late hours-minor sounding melody that gives way to a light-hearted ce'st la vie major blues in the conclusion.
Desmond and Audrey never met.
Desmond died in 1977 at 52 of lung cancer "In a business where booze and drugs abound, his drinking was legendary, but it was three packs a day that caught up with him in May of that year. Much to his own amusement his liver was fine, "Pristine, one of the great livers of our time. Awash in Dewars and full of health." (from Paul Caulfield's Pure Desmond website).
Meanwhile, Audrey Hepburn, who went to her grave without knowing "Audrey" was written for her, told friends that Desmond's piece was her favorite and that she loved to listen to it through her headphones it while she tended her garden.
Like many would-be card-carrying jazz hipsters I somewhat avoided Paul Desmond when I first took jazz seriously - the association of him with the Brubeck group smacked of commercialism, and all the great geniuses of jazz - Charlie Parker for example - seemed to get short shrift in the public eye because of the success of Take Five. I've since realized that Desmond was up there among the geniuses (ironically Parker named him as his favorite alto player) and what superficially seemed soft and overly intellectual in his playing belied an intensity, and "human" quality much like a great conversation; whether flippant, profound, or tender and intimate.
I've only had 2 memorable compliments about my own tenor-playing; one guy came up when i played on the street and said i sounded like Gene Ammons and another told me i sounded like Paul Desmond playing tenor. Both are major idols of mine, but I'm totally, laughably, unworthy of either compliment (someday, maybe before i die)...but i will say this about the Desmond compliment: I think it was more about the glasses.
recommended cd listenings Desmond-wise:
all his records with guitarist Jim Hall, especially -
and the records with the later quartet -
Paul Desmond Quartet Live
Like Someone In Love
my favorite desmond renderings, Alone Together, A Ship With No Sails, The night has A Thousand Eyes, Samba de Orfeu, Audrey, Bewitched, Song to a Seagull....
Sunday, January 08, 2006
Some friends, well-intentioned, have asked me for the reason behind my use of Lefty O'Doul as a personal e-mail moniker...
Lefty O'Doul's baseball fame is based on three distinct achievements;
* his tremendous hitting record (lifetime batting average of .349 which is only fourth behind Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, and Joe Jackson - he also is tied for the National single season record for hits , 254 in 1929)
* Lefty almost singlehandedly organized Japanese baseball in the 1930's and fostered goodwill between the Japanese and Americans after war through his dedication to Japanese baseball and respect for Japanese culture.
* His achievements as a manager in Pacific Coast League. Most notably with the San Francisco Seals where he mentored Joe DiMaggio before he arrived on the Yankees.
Outside of baseball Lefty cut quite a figure in the city of San Francisco, where he was oft seen in his green suit (for good luck) and Cadillac.
Francis Joseph O'Doul born in SF on Mar. 4th 1897 (A few weeks after another San Francisco native, the beautiful silent film star Alma Rubens - if there are any early cinema buffs still reading!).
Lefty's legacy to SF lives on at his "Lefty O'Douls" pub on 333 Geary St.near Powell where you can get a hefty plate of corned beef cabbage and good beer.
"Some ballplayers say that he had the perfect swing, and that includes the great Ted Williams. An interview with Williams in the November 14, 1994 Sporting News describes the young Ted Williams sneaking a look into the field and watching the "most perfect swing" of Lefty O'Doul. "A kid copies what is good. And if he's never seen it, he'll never know. I remember the first time I saw Lefty O'Doul, and he was as far away as those palms. And I saw the guy come to bat in batting practice. I was looking through a knothole, and I said, 'Geez, does that guy look good!' And it was Lefty O'Doul, one of the greatest hitters ever." Lefty O'Doul was an inspiration to many."
Lefty started his hitting career in the major leagues late in life. He started out as a pitcher with the Yankees in 1919 but threw out his arm and went down to the minors. To survive he worked on his already natural hitting and running ability and resurfaced in the majors as an outfielder (albeit a lousy fielder with no arm left!) at age 31 with the NY Giants in 1928. The Giants traded him to the Phillies the next year where he batted .398 to lead the league : he also had a record-setting with 254 hits and 32 home runs. Still, Lefty's age and lackluster fielding gave him only a few yrs remaining in the pros. He was traded to Brooklyn and won his second batting title with them in 1932 (thus the "32" in my email!). He ended his his career back with the Giants in 33-34 and made to the '33 World Series as well.
A note about the O'Doul name -
"His name is certainly famous, firstly because of his own career, but now also because of a non-alcoholic beer sold by Anheuser Busch, O'Doul's.
Another incident helped to make the O'Doul name famous . When Hollywood made the movie Pride of the Yankees, starring Gary Cooper, they hired Lefty O'Doul as an uncredited consultant to coach Cooper in the fine points of batting. The movie, considered one of the finest baseball movies ever made, doesn't have much to do with baseball but it includes a humorful reference to Lefty by the scriptwriters, in tribute. In the movie, Lou Gehrig is skulking about his girl friend's house, and is accosted by Officer O'Doul, a stereotypical Irish police officer. This famous scene helped popularize the "Irish" name of O'Doul. It is not, it seems, Irish.
Lefty's last name O'Doul was fabricated by his father, whose real name was Doul. His father was trying to impress his mother's family, who were Irish and supposedly wouldn't have understood her dating anybody but Irish . A check of the Irish registry show no names of O'Doul. In fact, there are very few in the entire United States of America. However, when Anheuser Busch tested names for their non-alcoholic beer, they found a strong identification with "O'Doul's," and so named it . Such is luck, but not, in this case, the luck of the Irish."
Lefty went over to Japan in the early 30's on a barnstorm tour with American All Star players, including Babe Ruth.
Here's a little from Lefty's interview in "The Glory of Their Times" (the greatest baseball book ever written!) about Lefty's experience in Japan:
"I kept going back and finally went to work organizing a professional set-up, like we have here. I'm the one who named the Tokyo Giants...."
"See, I like people who you're not wasting your time trying to help. Teaching Americans and teaching Japanese is just like the difference between night and day. The American kid, he knows more than the coach. But not the Japanese kid. They want to learn. They don't think they know everything. Entirely opposite psychology.
"Take when we blow an automobile horn. We want the pedestrian to get out of the way, right? Horn blows: Get out of the way. We're coming through. Honk, honk: Get out of the way. Well when they blow the horn they're telling the pedestrian it's OK: we see you. Horn blows: we see you. Honk-honk: we see you. So, when the horn blows they don't jump or anything. They know they won't get hit...Just the opposite from us."
At age 59 lefty was managing a PCL team out of Vancouver and put himself in the game to pinch-hit. "..I hit a ball between the outfielders and staggered all the wayaround to third."
"A triple. Fifty-nine years old. How about that!" Right there - forty years too late - I learned the secret of successful hitting. It consists of two things. the first is clean living, and the second is to bat against a pitcher who's laughing so hard he can hardly throw the ball."
Francis Joseph O'Doul 1897-1969 ..may he rest in peace!
Sunday, January 01, 2006
While being walked by my black labrador Lulu one day down a nearby by alleyway, out back of the local pawnshop, i came upon an unexpectedly beautiful image spray-painted on a wall. It was like stumbling through the jungle and finding Angkor Wat or finding Venus De Milo in a rubbish heap.
The signature said "Siloette"
Quite independently, a week later I bumped into my friend Bruce, who has a photographic, elephant-to the hundredth-squared memory for numbers, people, and all things metropolitan; he mentioned Siloette as a creative "spraypaint" artist, with a website, no less! (siloette.com - check it out!)
I would describe the main body of her work as Alphonse Mucha-meets-Anime-in a bed of contemporary graffiti - often depicting enigmatic, "sullen" (here i use the artist's words), sensuous young women with somewhat Puerto Rican features.
Found out that Siloette has been around the world from Japan to Paris spraypainting and illustrating on and in various media. Shucks, here was her work in my very own neighborhood alley!
Months later, on another dog-walk I chanced upon Siloette herself putting the finishing touches on a new painting. She was very affable and not at all the unapproachable artiste. Her partner "Mac" was also there (a great artist in his own right) - Siloette said the Renaissance primer-green skin tones she oft uses were inspired by him.
...and to think, the fate of this stuff is to be sprayed over, sometimes after a few months, to make room for something new. Part of the charm I suppose....