THE SET OF ALL BLIND PIANO PLAYERS: FEDERICO CERVANTES, FREDDIE GAMBRELL, LENNIE TRISTANO, MARCUS ROBERTS, HENRY BUTLER, THE SET OF ALL BLIND PIANO PLAYERS.
Honorary mention: Dick Fregulia, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, Lee Konitz, Jack Walrath. (Note: not all these people are blind. Not all these people are pianists, but we mention them to honor them so “honorary mention”, ok?)
I started this account because I wanted to post a comment on a site run by Anna Cervantes about her father the late jazz pianist Federico Cervantes aka Freddie Gambrell. I learned of Freddie Gambrell based on reading this excellent article on Matt Bowling’s Palo Alto history site by Dick Fregulia:
Excerpt from “How I Got Jazzed in Palo Alto – by Dick Fregulia”
Harlem it wasn’t, but it’s where I was first introduced to and learned to play jazz. I’m speaking, of course, of Palo Alto, my home town, a quiet middle-class, college community about as far as you could get from New York, Chicago, or the Mississippi River. During World War II, pre-school rhythm classes at the Community Center introduced me to the basic concepts of jazz. From there I mixed piano lessons and trumpet playing in school music programs with lots of sports, which literally brought me to the other side of the tracks and the necessary cultures of color.
But real jazz – bebop in particular – didn’t come to my life until I turned 14, in 1954. It started in the listening rooms of Palo Alto’s two downtown records stores: Hagues on University near Ramona, and Melody Lane, further down University by the Varsity Theater. Each had a row of glass-enclosed phone-booth sized rooms, with a three-speed record player and small bench that would squeeze two if you had a date. The rooms smelled thick with the sweat and stale cigarette smoke of the preceding listeners, who sometimes had tattoos. You could bring in several l.p.’s at a time to sample. Shrink-wrapping had not yet been invented, and you wouldn’t consider buying a record (lp’s were $3.95) without thoroughly sampling both sides.
Dick Fregulia is a Palo Altan who played piano for many years at Washington Street Bar and Grill in San Francisco. A digression lead me to read an obituary from last month of Ed Moose, the founder of WashBag and Moose’s, who died at 81.
The post I was trying to send Anna was in response to something where she gave away cds to fans at the Salt Lake Jazz Festival in July 2009 in seems. I wanted to say:
Hi, Anna. I am writing about your father Federico Cervantes aka Freddie Gambrell, who I only just learned about by reading Dick Fregulia’s excellent article about the history of jazz in Palo Alto. http://www.paloaltohistory.com/jazz.html. Would you like to donate a cd to the Palo Alto Historical society? We are creating an archive of artists from here or who were associated with our city.
Anna writes back: I am just now seeing these messages. If you are still interested in some music, perhaps I can find something for you. A lot of his music has now been placed in storage in the state of Washington. Get in touch with me and we can figure something out!! Thank you.
I got started this morning because Terry my girlfriend asked me to guess what music was coming out of her computer, her Itunes. It was a sax solo and I lazily said “Coltrane?” and she said “No, that’s Dave Brubeck” and then I tried to correct her a little by telling her the name of the alto player being featured, whose name was escaping me. She suggested Gerry Mulligan. I had to boot up her little iMac to find but of course Paul Desmond. The wiki on Paul Desmond led me to search for Band Box or Bandbox which was apparently a little club on El Camino but actually probably in Menlo Park. It said Desmond’s first steady gig was at the Bandbox in Palo Alto.
Still want to suss out Lee Konitz “Palo Alto” — is it about here? Probably about New Jersey. It was the street his piano player lived on. Forgetting his name, Lennie Tristano? Also, I think, a blind pianist?
Meanwhile, I was trying to read LogicComix by Doxiadis and Papdimitriou when this digression occured. (about Bertrand Russell, A.N. Whitehead, Wittgenstein etc). A paraphrase: a useful definition of insanity is confusing a map or model of the world for the world itself.
Now she is playing Marcus Roberts “Blue Monk” funny segue or full circle, Euclidian trick. We almost saw a Marcus Roberts show while in Santa Fe for Indian Market. The self-referential bit above is also a Bertrand Russell allusion, about the set of all sets, does it include itself? Apparently not. Don’t be fooled by little computer tricks.
I am wondering if I will learn more about Freddie Gambrell and think of him as a cross between my two former clients Henry Butler and Jack Walrath. I am always hot to learn about the early days of either rock or jazz in Palo Alto, and the ghosts of former venues, their fans and performances, still lingering in the air, perhaps?
II. “Jump Around” (published September, 2010)
I’m on an art bender. I meant to be on the way to the gym, but I somehow could not stop myself from logging on for a minute. I meant to check on someone named Anna Maria Hong, who was in residence at Djerassi Resident Artists Program — Terry had visited their open house recently and skimming the notes from that event, this named popped out at me. She is a poet from Yale with a MFA from Texas Austin, who will be a fellow at Harvard. Calls to mind: Terry Hong, my Dartmouth classmate now at the Smithsonian, plus all my Austin literary artsy set, especially my former client DS.
But when I logged on I was curious about the Jemez Pueblo potter Lorraine Chinana, who I met recently at SWAII Indian Market in Santa Fe. My parents, Paul and Barbara Weiss, the pot collectors, bought a beautiful silvery slip scriffito humming bird pot from Lorraine. I bought a wee rosebud mini thingy that is signed L Chinana Walatoma Jemez that I was told was actually a collaboration between Lorraine and her daughter who I also met Angela Chinana. I didn’t actually meet but saw there also in their booth I guess it was Tito Chinana, the father. My mom spotted Lorraine’s masterpiece at the Friday judging and we sought it out on Saturday and they closed the deal. The Weiss’s added generously but judiciously to their collection in this expedition. Terry and I each made purchases from the gift shop at the Wheelright Museum, where she also befriended the young potter Julian Coriz, who was there to be honored as a scholarship fellow to continue studying and learning his craft.
Next I found myself digging or searching (but not actually G——-, I’m trying to avoid using the corporate name) next for Redwing Nez. Terry and I bought a great little oil at the Wheelright Museum silent auction — very much in our price range, perhaps donated by a collector, not the artist directly. It is called “Perphelia’s Trailer Home” (fr0m 9/08) and shows a beautiful colorful sunburst sunrise or set (but not “the set of all sets”) with a humble abode (but not adobe) in the foreground and desert flowers lining the driveway. We spoke to a woman at the auction and she wasn’t bidding against us, merely admiring the piece. She said she owned a couple Redwing Nez pieces, which we found reassuring.
I hope it is not a slur to, instead of the ubiquitous big corporate name, to try “search-injuning” especially regarding Native Americana.
I found a vimeo of Redwing installing a mural in Flagstaff, AZ for their Centennial. Maybe we can contact him and tell him of our admiration and suggest he apply for a public arts work here in Palo Alto. Someone named Gaby Lampkey I think was singing along as they worked, is credited in the clip, a worksong.
I had a fun but intense time in Santa Fe. Terry and I probably swallowed more art than we can digest.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, I popped in on Smith Andersen Gallery in Palo Alto to say hello to Paula Kirekeby and her lovely and talented assistant Melissa — I wore my Cody Sanderson cuff in her honor. They have hanging a group show of San Francisco collage artists including my friend Matt Gonzalez, Gustavo Romero, Theophilus Brown, Kathryn Kain — apparently they gather and do work together. I bought one of Matt’s pieces — he has three red dots now, and it was the show’s first day, off to a good start. It is my fifth piece of Matt’s in my little horde, but the first I bought at market prices — too long to explain how I ended up with the first three. Well, okay, he donated a piece to my Earthwise 15th Anniversary concert at Bottom of the Hill and it didn’t sell, then likewise to my one-day political art show last fall at Smith Andersen, part of my campaign for Palo Alto City Council — I was running on an arts platform. My first I bought cheap at an auction for Beth Custer’s tour; another piece Matt gifted each of us one day Beth and I visited him at this office. I asked Paula if she has considered having a clarinet player at the party coming up.
Not to jump around too much more but Tommy her preparator also showed me some amazing and wacky and scary John Beech monotypes her created there recently. I said that I cannot afford them but maybe someday I will be able to and they might not all have sold through.
Ok, now to the gym to actually jump around, or at least stairmaster, universal, dumbbell curls and elliptical cardio. But no “Everlast.”
III. “Cohen, Pull Me Down Hard, and Smoked Meat” (published September, 2010)
I’m thinking about Leonard Cohen today. Not thinking too hard, mind you. I’m holding my copy of Leonard Cohen, “Live in London” (Sony, 2009) while sitting this morning at Printers Inc and asking myself a couple questions. To wit:
1. What is it that I can learn about Leonard Cohen?
2.What is it that I can learn from Leonard Cohen?
3. How will it shape my future to invest some time in Leonard Cohen?
4. Will it help me to live to be 73?
5. How am I like Leonard Cohen?
6. How am I unlike Leonard Cohen?
7. Is Leonard Cohen, the study of, a sufficient way to spend Yom Kippur?
8. Does he actually look like my grandfather?
9. Could we actually be related?
10. Would he submit to a 23andMe “spit” session?
11. Will I someday wear a fedora (my grandfather did. When I was 16 my mom gave me money to buy a fedora for my birthday and in the card commented that Pops like hats)?
12. When will I visit Montreal and why? (when I was last there — I’ve been there twice — Brian and I caught an Expos game and saw an unknown pitcher named Pedro Martinez strike out a dozen batters. I also remember the artificial turf looked like crap. The previous time I was in Montreal was “spring break” in 1986. I just last week wore my Schwartz smoked meat shirt and wonder if they are still in business. I like to check out Jewish deli’s where they still exist in urban cities. Schwartz’s I recall was by a Jewish tombstone maker. Smoked meat is there version of corned beef. It was, I recall, the week before the Montreal Jazz Festival; I could see the bandstands. I think I recall that Action Plus or maybe the Orange Symphonnete — local bands, both feature Joe Gore, were to appear).
13. Should I read his — Leonard Cohen, not Joe Gore’s — books and poems?
14. Should I at least do a close reading of his lyrics?
15. How many artists have covered “Hallelujah”?
16. Which artists?
I think I saw it on “Glee” and “American Idol” — 17. What kind of performance rights fees do the writers of such songs get and or do they stimulate downloads and sales? I wondered this when I heard Matt Nathanson’s song on “Idol”
18. Will I learn to spell “Hallelujah”? I first wrote hallejlelaedslja or something. I recall reading something interesting about the etymology of that word. Also, I should dig into my research on the word “Yiaweh” and why I think it is related to “yud yud” which, when I was in Hebrew school was a way of denoting the Almighty — to the uninitiated you might try to pronounce it “Yih-Yah” which to me is suspiciously close to “Yiaweh”. Also, “yud yud” to me looks like ” “” ” like “ditto” or “air quotes”. When did the concept of quotation marks — as empty sets — begin to be used for a substitution for an unmentionable or questionable term? Around the time of alegebra?
19. This is not Cohen but I found it interesting that I was reading a comic book about Jack Kerouac and then noticed that a Sports Illustrated columnist did a Kerouac column in the football preview issue. He used a quote about Kerouac stating that he felt he could score on every play, the optimism and energy in a new start, a new season, shana tovah. Also, I am meaning to look into the oft-repeated statement that JK earned a football scholarship to Columbia? Did his career pre-date the Ivy Agreement or are people para-phrasing the terms of his agreement with Columbia?
20. What did Steven Bernstein do with or for Leonard Cohen?
21. Did he notice that I texted him a photo of The Webb Sisters — Charley and Hattie Webb?
22. How did Laura Thomas meet the Webb Sisters?
23. Who was Sharon Robinson before?
24. Is “Democracy” inspiring?
25. What did my former client CB see in Leonard Cohen? (Truth be told, I don’t think I had heard of him before she spoke of him as an influence. This was 2002 or so. “Heather” era).
26. What do The Conspiracy of Beards?