Sunday, November 19, 2017

Jim and Andy's: A Musicians Bar

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“There were a couple of midtown bars where musicians hung out. Some of the staff guys at CBS spent their free time at the Spotlight, a little place near what's now called the Ed Sullivan Theater. Many NBC musicians went to Hurley's on 48th Street, near Rockefeller Center, where they worked. But by far the most popular bar for studio guys in the '50s and '60s was Jim and Andy's.

Back in those days it was located on West 48th Street, which was known for music stores, instrument repair shops, and rehearsal studios. The place was owned by Jim Koulouvaris, a Greek who'd named it after himself and his cat, Andy. During the day it was mostly patronized by studio musicians and other people from the record business—producers, arrangers, and copyists. Studio guys were also there at night, but some musicians from the Broadway shows were around too. I don't know why, but I never saw many string players in any of the bars. Maybe they had their own hangouts or spent time doing other things between dates.

Jim opened up the place in the morning and closed it down at night. He usually cooked lunch and dinner and left the drinks to Rocky, who was his bartender for years. The food was wholesome—meatballs, spaghetti, steaks, chops, and a couple of dishes like Shrimp Romeo, named after Romeo Penque, one of the studio guys who patronized the place. Most of the walls were covered with framed publicity photos of the patrons, and a lot of the records on the jukebox had been made by regular customers like Quincy Jones, Zoot Sims, and Clark Terry.

Over the years, Jim & Andy's became more than just a place for studio guys to relax between sessions. There was a shelf in the back for storing small instruments and upstairs there was room for a couple of drum sets, basses, and guitar amplifiers. There was a coat rack where guys could hang a jacket or a tux for weeks at a time. In fact, I used to leave a topcoat back there from winter to spring and no one ever bothered it. We could also leave phone messages, letters, packages, even checks with Rocky or Jim. We always knew they'd be delivered to the right person.

At one point, Jim had a direct phone line put in to Radio Registry, which was an answering service many guys used to take their studio calls. It meant they could check in every couple of hours without hassling with a pay phone. There were also times I was there when Jim or Rocky would announce a call from a musician working overtime who needed someone to cover his next date. Or from a contractor who'd been told to get another horn player for a session which was already in progress.

Jim was very sympathetic to musicians. He'd always let his regulars run up a tab that could be as high as two or three hundred dollars a week. He'd also loan money to guys who weren't good at budgeting and were always waiting for record checks to come through at the union.

About the only blacks you'd find in Jim and Andy's were the guys doing studio work. It had nothing to do with prejudice—it was purely economic.”
- Milt Hinton, bassist, author, photographer, Playing The Changes [pp.233-34]

I recently came across this Milt Hinton photograph of and reminiscence about Jim and Andy’s, the old watering hole favored by musicians on 48th Street in New York City.

It reminded me of the piece that Gene Lees had done on the bar so I thought I’d put the two together so that you could enjoy them as a blog feature.

Life is always made a little bit better when people care for one another.

You might not see the name “Jimmy Koulouvaris” on the insert notes of many Jazz recordings, but he was certainly there in spirit because of the aid and assistance he gave to a lot of guys who played these NYC dates in the 1950s and 1960s.

© -  Gene Lees, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“WHEN AND IF, in some far future, a definitive history of jazz is ever written, there will undoubtedly be justified mentions of the record producers and critics who were its champions. It is unlikely that any historian will give an appreciative nod to one James Koulouvaris. Jimmy did nothing but run a bar. But many a great jazz musician remembers that establishment, known as Jim and Andy's, with an almost mystical affection.

Jim and Andy's was one of those New York bars that become centers of an art or an industry. Over on Eighth Avenue, the actors had Downey's. On Sixth Avenue, surrounded by Rockefeller Center, there was the odd little enclave called Herlihy's, an Irish bar where the television people hung out. Jazz musicians had Jim and Andy's, located about sixty paces west of Sixth Avenue on 48th Street.

Its entrance was obscured by a flight of steps rising to an adjacent building. It was easy to pass by, particularly at night, for the small pink electric sign in its window, Jim & Andy, was muted by the more assertive neon voices around it. You descended into Jim and Andy's on a slight ramp with a fall of about a foot. The place had a curious cave-like sense of safety about it which, to men in an insecure profession, was undoubtedly part of its appeal. The bar was on the right as you entered. A line of booths ran along the left wall and another line of smaller booths split the place down the middle.

I was introduced to it by Art Farmer. I returned from a State Department tour with Paul Winter of South America in July of 1962 and called Art the minute I hit New York. Art said, "Meet me at Jim and Andy's."

"Where's that?" I said. Art told me.

Through the remainder of the '60s, Jim and Andy's was for me, as it was for almost every musician I knew, a home-away-from-home, restaurant, watering hole, telephone answering service, informal savings (and loan) bank, and storage place for musical instruments.

It was not uncommon to walk into Jim and Andy's in the late afternoon and encounter Gerry Mulligan, Lalo Schifrin, Alec Wilder, Eddie Safranski, Marion Evans, Mundell Lowe, George Barnes, Carl Kress, Clark Terry, Pat Williams (this was before a record company presented him with roses on the assumption that he was a girl singer, causing him to change it to Patrick), Al Klink, Nick Travis, Willie Dennis, Jo Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Grady Tate, Ben Webster, Richard Davis, George Duvivier. If you sat there for a while, you'd see Bob Brookmeyer, Doc Severinsen (then only known for being one of the best lead trumpet players in New York), Hank d'Amico, Will Bradley, Budd Johnson, Eddie (Lockjaw) Davis, Phil Woods, Al Cohn, Bill Crow, Milt Hinton, Claus Ogerman, Willie Rodriguez, Zoot Sims, and Richie Kamuca. Occasionally Harry Belafonte, Lena Home, Sarah Vaughan, or Tony Bennett would drift in. Once a certain famous jazz producer, noted for his light-fingered way with royalties, came in. Clark Terry muttered, "What's he doing in here? Looking for a friend?"

A postcard-covered bulletin board near the front door kept everyone up to date on friends who were out on the road. The coat closet was so jammed with instrument cases that nobody was ever able to hang a coat there. The jukebox had probably the best selection of any in the country but it was rarely played.

Willis Conover, the Voice of America's renowned jazz broadcaster, said once, "What the Mermaid Tavern was to literature in Elizabethan England, Jim and Andy's is to jazz in America today.''

He was not far from the mark. Jim and Andy's—known to its bibulous patrons as J. and A.'s, Jim's, and then the Gym, and finally, by a logical progression, the Gymnasium—had all the attributes of a private club, though it had no membership list, no dues, and no rules beyond the requirement that its clients behave themselves, which they did. Indeed, no bar in America could boast a more circumspect clientele.

The proprietor of this curious musical center was the aforementioned Mr. Koulouvaris, an ex-Seabee of Greek extraction, a veteran of the war in the South Pacific. He had a thick head of black hair and smooth, dark, Mediterranean skin. He was stocky, with solid shoulders and powerful cord-muscled arms. He always wore black shoes, shiny old black pants, and a white short-sleeved shirt open at the neck. He was a genuinely tough man, in the most admirable sense of the term.

Jim Koulouvaris operated the Gymnasium at that location from 1956 until, in the late 1960s, the encroaching steel-and-glass towers caused the demolition of that whole colorful block, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, of excellent dusty bookshops, music stores, and small restaurants. Jim had a big heart, a gruff manner, an uncanny instinct about people, a genuine affection for musicians, and a ribald sense of humor. "Jimmy gives something that has almost disappeared from society," Willis Conover said. "Service."

While other taverns were decorated with signs saying, "No Checks No Credit," Jimmy accepted checks and extended credit to all his regular customers. He would send each of them a bill at the end of the month. If a musician happened to be going through a time of hardship, the bills mysteriously stopped coming. They resumed when Jimmy knew his man had passed through the doldrums.

In fact, Koulouvaris not only permitted credit to continue when a regular was broke—the plain but excellent food from his small kitchen kept more than one later-famous musician alive during a lean time. He would, as often as not, reach into his own pocket to find the man a little walking-around money. Jim Hall said once, "We can't stop coming here. We all owe Jimmy too much money."

The most astounding example of Jimmy's generosity—and his faith, if not in the whole human race, at least in his specialized clientele—was recalled by one of the regulars who preferred to remain anonymous:

It was on a Monday or Tuesday. The man went in, long in the face. Jim asked, "What's the matter, H----?"

He replied, "My wife's divorce lawyer says if I don't come up with four thousand dollars by Thursday, he'll ruin me completely." Four thousand dollars then equaled twenty or twenty-five today.

"How do you want it?" Jim asked. "In cash, or a check?"

"Jim," the man said, "don't make jokes."

"I'm not joking. Cash? Or a check?"

"Really, Jim," the man said, "I didn't come here to borrow money."

"Look, H----, I'm busy! For Christ's sake, do you want cash or a check? I gotta get back to work, and you're holding me up."

"It'll take me a long time to pay you back."

"Why should we both worry?" Jim said.

"Well, okay. Check, I guess. Jesus, Jim, thank you."

"Come in Thursday morning at ten," Jim said as he walked back to the bar.
Jimmy claimed that in all the years he ran the place, he was clipped only three times. "The funny thing is that it's been for small amounts each time, twenty or thirty bucks.

"The guys are always good for the money," he said. "They may hold you up for a while, but they always pay in the end. Oh, I've lost out two or three times when guys died. No, I never tried to collect from the estate. Maybe the guy's wife needed the money.

"Musicians are good people. They always pay their debts."

Because of Jimmy's attitude, his patrons felt that their obligations were debts of honor. When a young trumpeter went into the Navy, he sent a postcard from Gibraltar saying, "Sorry, I didn't get a chance to see you before I left. I'm sending you the money I owe next payday. Regards to everybody."

Every so often someone would wander into Jim and Andy's and ask for Andy. This elicited laughter from the regulars. There was no Andy. In fact Jim Koulouvaris was not even the Jim of the bar's name. The original Jim and Andy opened the place in 1945. Ten years later they decided to get out of the tavern business and Koulouvaris bought it. Thus, when someone asked for Andy, he marked himself as an outsider, probably a salesman.

For a while Jim told everybody that Andy was the cat. "Oh yeah," he said, "we had a cat named Andy. Only one day one of the customers came in and said, 'Hey, Jim, Andy's a lady.' So I said, 'Are you sure?' He just grinned and said, 'That was no cat-fight I saw in the parking lot.'

"A while after that she had kittens, but we still called her Andy."

It was part of the tradition at Jim and Andy's that the customers answered the telephones. There were two telephones in booths at the rear of the place, and they never stopped ringing. Someone would answer, then lean out and yell, "Has anyone seen Jim Hall?" Or they would hang up and say to Jimmy, "If Stan Getz comes in, tell him to call Betsy at Verve Records." Jimmy never wrote any of these messages down, yet he never failed to deliver them.

Jim and Andy's served not only as a social club for its "members" but as a clearinghouse for employment. At recording studios all over New York it was known that the place was always filled with musicians and that they were among the best in the world. Outside of Los Angeles, there was not then and is not now a city in the world with as large a pool of great musicians, and the cream of New York's musicians hung out at Jim and Andy's. Often, when a producer or arranger needed a bass player or a trumpeter on short notice, he would bypass the standard hiring procedures and simply call the Gymnasium. Whoever answered the call would bawl out, "Are there any bass players looking for a gig?"

The building next to Jim and Andy's housed A and R, one of the best and busiest recording studios in the city. Its engineers ran a line down into Jim and Andy's and connected it to a small loudspeaker on the rear wall. Every so often it would crackle into life and the disembodied voice of engineer Phil Ramone would resound, "Hey, we need a trombone player up here. Is there anybody around?" He might get J. J. Johnson or Willie Dennis or Frank Rehak or Wayne Andre or, if bass trombone should be needed, Tony Studd.

What all the Gymnasium regulars did not realize was that this sound system worked two ways. The speaker was over the rearmost booth of the place, the one to which a romantically inclined musician would retreat with a lady, not necessarily his wife. With a flick of the switch, Ramone and the other recording engineers could hear the conversations in that booth.

"Sometimes we hear some pretty funny ones," Ramone said.

Funny stories abounded in Jim and Andy's. Some of them sprang from the late Zoot Sims. Zoot, a man of phenomenal stamina and a heroic capacity for alcohol, usually came in wearing a sweater and looking most casual. One noon he turned up in a dark suit, white shirt, and a tie. "Hey, Zoot," someone said, "you're looking mighty dapper today. What happened?"

Zoot looked down the length of his own splendor and said, as if puzzled, "I don't know. I woke up this way."

On another occasion, Zoot turned up during the morning after having worked until four or five a.m. He'd had no sleep and faced a heavy day of recording. Lamenting his condition, he asked if anyone might have a pill to help him through the day. The fiancee of a fellow musician offered him one.

Zoot looked at it lying on his palm. "I've never used this kind before," he said. "Is it strong?"

"Sort of," the girl said. "You can take half of it and throw the rest away."

"What" Zoot said in mock indignation. "Throw that good stuff away? Do you realize there are people in Europe sleeping?"

On one wall of Jim and Andy's there was a cartoon showing Jimmy answering the telephone and saying, "Zoot who?" On each of the four walls was a sign. One said Jim and Andy's East, the others Jim and Andy's West, North, and South. All were on the wrong walls. In the doorway to the small kitchen at the back was a centerfold from Playboy. Across the girl's bosom the arranger and composer Gary McFarland had written:

To Gary, dearest:

As you strive to make your way to fame and fortune in Gotham, I hope you won't forget this homely bit of backwoods philosophy: It doesn't matter how you play the game—it's who wins, baby!!!
Love from . . . Your Mom

A few non-musicians hung around Jim and Andy's. One of them was a loan shark, who never plied his trade there. There were one or two hookers as well, nor did they ply their profession: they came in there not to be bothered, and the musicians accepted them with that tolerance that seems to go with playing jazz. One of them was named Marge. Everyone liked her. She died at thirty-six of alcoholism.

Still another regular I'll call Buddy Butler. He was getting on in years, had one eye that was rheumy and another that was whitened by a cataract. He was heavy-set and had a pocked face. Everybody knew Buddy's history. He was a semi-retired thief. His specialty had been shoplifting, or boosting, as he called it. He once showed me the big pockets of a raincoat that facilitated his activities in department stores. "But I can't do it any more," he growled in an accent out of Damon Runyon. "Legs are shot." After that he startled me with "I'm trainin' my daughter in the business."

The staff of Jim and Andy's consisted of Jimmy, Pete Salvato, the pint-sized cook, and Rocky Mareno, a Brooklyn-born bartender whose stub of cigar looked as if it had been welded into his face. Rocky would curse the customers, and they would curse him back. He had especially insulting names for some of them—his favorites, one suspected. His pet form of address was, "Hey, stiff, what're you drinking?" The first time Rocky would yell to a customer, "Why don't you answer the goddamn phone?" the man knew he had become one of the regulars.

When the place got more than usually busy, Buddy the Booster would be impressed into duty as assistant bartender. Jimmy trusted him with his cash register, and the musicians, sometimes with large sums of cash they didn't want to carry in the streets, trusted him with their money. Buddy never stole anything from any of us. It would have been unthinkable to him.

Once he acquired a quantity of blue-black gabardine raincoats, which he sold to the regulars for twelve dollars each — so many in fact that they had to write their names inside them. At closing time it looked as if the Navy were leaving. Another time he unloaded some hot radios. A musician who bought one set it on a table in one of the booths and walked away to talk to a friend. Buddy said to him, "Hey, somebody's gonna steal that!" The musician gave him a quizzical look that prompted Buddy to shrug and deliver himself of an outstanding piece of folk philosophy: "De second t'ief is de smart t'ief."

For the most part, the musicians were family men, and many of the bachelors were on their way to that condition. As often as not, their courtships were conducted in Jim and Andy's, with, no doubt, many of their tenderest sentiments overheard by Phil Ramone from that back booth. On Christmas Eve, the musicians would sing carols. Christmas Eve one year found Judy Holliday singing a high, sweet, and sensitive soprano lead and Willis Conover singing basso, with various jazz musicians working on the inner lines. Gerry Mulligan was the conductor.

Jim and Andy's began to be a musicians' bar in 1949, more or less by accident. Phil Sapienza, a widely respected repairman of reed instruments, came in one day, bringing with him Paul Ricci, a clarinetist on the staff of NBC, which was just around the corner on Sixth Avenue in Rockefeller Center, and Irving Horowitz, an English horn player at ABC. They continued to come and brought other musicians. In the middle 1950s, as more and more jazzmen turned to studio jobs, they too discovered the place. By the 1960s, they had begun to feel that they owned it. When Koulouvaris tried to redecorate it, the regulars complained. "What are you trying to do?" one of them demanded. "Make the place ritzy?" The pink leatherette seats in the booths were torn and patched, having taken severe and prolonged beating from the instrument cases that musicians would casually sling into them when they arrived. They liked the place as it was.

Jimmy used to close up in July, which disoriented everyone. As one patron put it, "My God, I ended up meeting a buddy of mine in a tea room. It was awful."

For countless musicians the historical events of the 1960s are linked in memory with Jim and Andy's and, faintly, to the flavors of a sauteed dish known as shrimps Romeo and a crisp Greek salad made with feta cheese. During the week of the Cuban missile crisis, when people walked through supermarkets almost on tiptoe and everyone in New York knew we were at Ground Zero of Target Number One, I spent every afternoon in J. and A.'s with Bob Brookmeyer, drinking — with gallows humor — Moscow mules.

On that ghastly afternoon when John F. Kennedy died, Gary McFarland and I went listlessly up the stairs to A and R Studios, where Woody Herman was recording an album for Phillips. The band was playing Bobby Scott's A Taste of Honey. Everyone had heard the news and there was in that performance a mournfulness that is not in the arrangement, not in the notes themselves, but in the attitude of the band, whose personnel at that period included Nat Pierce, Sal Nistico, Phil Wilson, and Bill Chase. You can hear it in the record. It is a striking track, deeply sad, and it shows how jazz can reflect public events and the consequent moods more immediately than any other art. Woody finished the take and canceled the rest of the date. Everyone went down to Jim and Andy's for a drink before going home to continue the numbing vigil in front of the television set.

But most of the memories of J. and A.'s are happier stuff. Late one afternoon I was having an early dinner with the great arranger Marion Evans, disciple of Robert Farnon and teacher of many other arrangers and composers, including JJ. Johnson, Pat Williams, and Torrie Zito. A strange looking woman, who resembled Yvonne DeCarlo in The Munsters, except that she wore a wide floppy hat and a loose flower-print blouse, was looking intently at a sheet of paper in an adjacent booth. "Are you fellows musicians?" she said.

“I guess you could say that," Marion replied in a soft Georgia voice.
She approached and stood by our table and showed us a piece of sheet music, pointing to a whole note, second space up on the bass clef. "What's this note?" she asked.
Well just think about it," Marion said. "All Cows Eat Grass."

"I know that," she said, "but what's this note?"

"It's a cow," I said. I thought Marion would choke.

When he had recovered his composure, he told her the note was C. She left, satisfied, and Marion crossed his arms at the wrists, fluttered his hands like an ascending bird, and whistled a rising tremolo.

Another time, as we sat at the bar, Marion was telling me about his troubles with the recording engineers at Columbia Records. He had written the charts for an album by Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme. Hearing the mix at home, he went into a slow steam. He took the tape to the chief engineer at Columbia (he always argued that Columbia promoted janitors to engineers) and demanded that the man play it. He asked the engineer how many musicians he could hear.

"You could see the wheels turnin' in his head," Marion said. "He knew it was more'n ten an' less'n a hundred. Finally he said, 'About twenty.'"

"That's what I hear too," Marion told him. "An' I used thirty-five men on that date. Now I have a certain interest in finance an' I have worked it out that Columbia Records is wastin' about three million dollars a year on recordin' musicians who never get heard."

Marion did indeed have an interest in finance. Disgusted with writing, as he put it, "music by the pound," he quit the business to devote himself to the stock market, growing wealthy in the process.

Everyone who went to Jim and Andy's remembers something— or someone—funny. Bassist Buddy Clark recalls a trombone player, a man of dapper manner and attire, who used to come in after gigs, take off his coat and hang it up, take off his hat and hang it up, then take off his toupee and hang it up.

Around four a.m., Jimmy would start clapping his hands and calling out, "All right, you guys, everybody out!" And we would find ourselves on the sidewalk in little groups, bidding our good-nights.

Jim and Andy's was a Mecca not only for all the musicians of New York but for those of the West Coast as well. When any of the Los Angeles crowd would get into town—Shelly Manne, Johnny Mandel, Jack Sheldon, Frank Rosolino—they would usually turn up at Jim and Andy's shortly thereafter. There was a joke about a shy West Coast jazz musician who arrives at then-Idlewild Airport and tells the cab driver to take him to Jim and Andy's on West 48th Street. The cab driver turns out to be one of New York City's licensed psychopaths, weaving in and out of traffic at high speed and pounding over the potholes. Finally, the L.A. musician, squirming in the back seat, says, "Oh, man, just play melody."

Bob Brookmeyer was once asked the question that became anathema to jazz musicians: "Where is jazz going?"

"Down 48th Street to Jim and Andy's," Bob said.

Brookmeyer was the author of another much-quoted line. A rumor swept Jim and Andy's that a certain musician, politely detested by his fellows, had undergone open-heart surgery. "What'd they do, take one out or put one in?" Brookmeyer asked.

Many of the Jim and Andy's patrons of those days are gone now. Willie Dennis died in a car crash in, of all places, Central Park. A lot of impromptu wakes were held in Jim and Andy's, all of them quiet and sad. Nick Travis, one of the great lead trumpet players in New York, died of a heart attack. A week or so later, on the West Coast, Conrad Gozzo, another great lead trumpeter, died. A sad little joke went around Jim and Andy's. Nick dies and goes to heaven. Gabriel greets him at the gate, his own horn in hand, and says, "Hello, Nick, we've been waiting for you. We're putting together a new band and we want you to play lead." Gabriel takes Nick to a rehearsal. Nick plays through the charts and says, "Hey, Gabe, this is a tough book. I think we'll have to have a split lead." "Who do you want?" Gabriel says. "Gozzo," Nick says. "You got him," Gabriel says.

Jim used to close the place for certain of the holidays. On one of those days, Gary McFarland met a friend at some other bar, a civilian bar, as it were. Someone slipped liquid methadone into their drinks. Gary died right there, his friend a day or two later. Jim was haunted by this, wondering if Gary would still be alive had J. and A.'s been open that day.

When Jimmy received notice that the building was to be torn down to make way for the continuing dehumanization of New York, he found a location on West 55th Street. He tried to make it as much like the old place as possible. The seats in the booth were the same pink as the old ones. A brick from the old building was on display in a small glass box, and the old neon sign hung in the window. But somehow it wasn't the same. The new J. and A.'s was too far west and too far north. It was also close to Eighth Avenue, which had long since gone to seed, and the neighborhood didn't feel as safe as the old one.

And finally Jim Koulouvaris, who used to come to work at noon and stay until four a.m., when he threw the last customers out, died of a heart attack. At home, and behind their backs, he used to refer to his customers as "my boys." For their sake, his widow, Catherine, tried to keep the place going with the help of Rocky Mareno, but it couldn't work without Jimmy, and she closed it forever. Long into the 1980s, Jimmy's boys stayed in touch with her, hovering over her a little.

Jim and Andy's was hardly Camelot, but for a time there it was indeed a most congenial spot and an extraordinarily important part of musical Americana. Perhaps its ultimate tribute came from Phil Woods who, excoriating a certain critic noted for obscure theorizing and impenetrable prose, said, "What the hell would he know about jazz? He never comes into Jim and Andy's."

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Alone Together with Rein de Graaff and The Metropole Orchestra

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Rein de Graaff is a man of contrasts. He is one of Europe's foremost jazz musicians, but he describes himself as "a jazz fan who happens to play the piano." He turned down many offers to go on tour with American stars like Sonny Stitt and Archie Shepp because he has not much time to travel; he is a businessman on weekdays who gigs only in the weekends.

He will explain to you at length that he considers himself a jazz musician rather than a pianist: "I don't play the piano like a pianist does. I comp like a drummer and play single-note lines like a horn player." However, he has recorded some of the most fluent, swinging and beautiful piano solos I've ever heard in the Low Countries.”
- Jeroen de Valk, Jazz author and critic

Although, the general focus of most of the postings to JazzProfiles is about Jazz musicians and Jazz styles, there are occasions in which we like to spend time with Jazz interpretations of our favorite tunes.

Or to put it another way, no tunes, no Jazz for as the late bassist Charles Mingus stated: “You’ve got to improvise on something.”

As Charles implies it’s all intertwined as one thing leads to another and I generally find myself recounting who the Jazz musician or Jazz group is that’s performed one of my favorite tunes.

Or to rework the tile of this piece a little, Alone But Together; you really can’t separate the Jazz musician from his/her music.

Which brings me to a tune that has always fascinated me - Alone Together.

These excerpts from Ted Gioia’s continually fascinating The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire go a long way toward explaining why.

Alone Together - Composed by Arthur Schwartz, with lyrics by Howard Dietz

“At 14, Arthur Schwartz played piano accompaniment to silent films in his native Brooklyn, and from an early age he showed a knack for writing his own songs. At his father's urging, though, Schwartz put music on the back burner and pursued a career in law. With degrees from NYU and Columbia in hand, he was admitted to the New York bar in 1924, and practiced law for four years before turning his back on the legal profession to work full-time as a songwriter. Around that same time Schwartz met up with lyricist Howard Dietz, another Columbia University alum (where Dietz had been a classmate of Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein), and the following year they launched their first Broadway production, the successful revue The Little Show. ...

Alone Together made its debut in the 1932 show Flying Colors, which closed as a financial failure after 188 performances, ...The song fared better than the show, however, and Leo Reisman enjoyed a top 10 hit with his recording that same year.

"Alone Together" has an unusual form, with a 14-bar A theme that resolves surprisingly in the tonic major, but in the last restatement is truncated to 12 bars that conclude in the minor. The form can confuse the uninitiated, and don't be surprised if you hear the pianist at the cocktail bar try to squeeze "Alone Together" into a standard 32-bar AABA form. Yet I suspect that the very peculiarities in the composition, especially the major-minor ambiguity, account for much of the appeal to improvisers.

Artie Shaw played the key role in establishing "Alone Together" as a jazz standard, recording it with his band in 1939,  … When Dizzy Gillespie recorded "Alone Together" in 1950, he followed the Shaw playbook with a somber rendition over string accompaniment. Miles Davis adopted a far more modernistic approach in his 1955 recording, with the countermelodies and shifting rhythms bearing more the stamp of Charles Mingus (who was bassist on this date) than the trumpeter.

The personality of this song would change gradually over the years, as it lost its exotic, mood music origins and emerged as a dark, minor-key song in a straight swing rhythm. In the right arrangement, "Alone Together" can sound like a hard bop chart written for a Blue Note session. In fact, given the dark, brooding quality of the tune, I'm surprised it didn't show up on more Blue Note dates, but when it did (as on Stanley Turrentine's 1966 session with McCoy Tyner for the Easy Walker date), it fit perfectly with the grit and groove of the proceedings. Sonny Rollins takes a similar tack on his 1958 performance for the Contemporary label [Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders].

The composition is still typically performed at a medium tempo, not much different from what Leo Reisman offered back in 1932 — although usually more medium-fast than medium-slow nowadays. But fast, aggressive versions are increasingly common —.”

The version of Alone Together that prompted the development of this feature is the one that Dutch Jazz pianist Rein de Graaff recorded on October 3, 1992 in Hilversum, The Netherlands with The Metropole Orchestra conducted by the renown Rob Pronk.

You can located in it on the Timeless CD Nostalgia [SJP 429] which is a compilation CD made up of five tracks with Rein performing with the Metropole in 1992, two tracks of Rein performing with Barry Harris in Groningen, Holland in 1991 with a rhythm section of Koos Serierse on bass and Eric Ineke on drums and four tracks recorded in 1994 in Monster Holland, with alto saxophonists Gary Foster and Marco Kegel and Rein, Koos and Eric.

Thanks to some visits together during his recent trips to the United States, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Rein somewhat. In conversation - by the way, his English is better than mine, - he is soft-spoken, extremely polite and mild-mannered. He loves “a piece of bread” with all manner of food and in a conversation over a meal he is relaxed, unassuming and an attentive listener; although I suspect that on the subject of most things to do with bebop, he could finish my sentences for me, but demurrers [did I mention that he was polite?].

But all of that vanishes when he sits down at a piano keyboard and becomes a take-no-prisoners, monster improviser who is capable of unfurling line after line of dotted eighth note, syncopated melodies that are loaded with bebop licks that you’ve heard before, but never quite combined in this manner. He becomes an original by the way in which he weaves together the unoriginal as he tries to get as close as possible to the nirvana of interlacing chorus after chorus of uninterrupted improvisations [what Jazz musicians referred to as “lines”]. Sometimes, ideas seem to come to him so fast and furious that he can barely put them together before moving on to the next set of musical thoughts or suggestions. It’s like he’s managed to memorize every piece of bebop ever played in the past, deconstruct them and put them together in a new and different way - instantaneously.

And he doesn’t rush - he pushes the time because he plays ahead of the beat - but he doesn’t rush.

In listening to a lot of Rein’s recordings lately [he’s sending me more!!] - I always suspected that one of the keys to his success as an improvisor was his ability to chose the right tempo to play the tunes he favors.

And what do you know, he confirmed this in a recent conversation about his playing on the tune Flamingo on a CD that he along with Marius Beets [pronounced Bates in English] on bass and Eric Ineke on drums made with tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton. [You can find this track in a video montage at the end of this piece.]

I was sharing with him how the sequence of choruses he plays on this eleven [11] minute track had literally reduced me to giggles they were so good when he blurted out - “It’s the tempo!”

Bingo! - the implication being that the tempo was just right in leaving him time to think and connect one well-constructed, improvised line [melody] with the next.

Of course, notwithstanding his incredible talent, I imagine it helps to have been doing this for 50 years!!

Jeroen de Valk who recently published a revised and expanded biography of trumpeter Chet Baker wrote these insert notes for the Nostalgia  CD.

“Rein de Graaff is a man of contrasts. He is one of Europe's foremost jazz musicians, but he describes himself as "a jazz fan who happens to play the piano." He turned down many offers to go on tour with American stars like Sonny Stitt and Archie Shepp because he has not much time to travel; he is a businessman on weekdays who gigs only in the weekends.

He will explain to you at length that he considers himself a jazz musician rather than a pianist: "I don't play the piano like a pianist does. I comp like a drummer and play single-note lines like a horn player." However, he has recorded some of the most fluent, swinging and beautiful piano solos I've ever heard in the Low Countries.

The most astonishing aspect of Rein's artistry is his understanding of the bebop language. He is almost entirely self-taught as a pianist and has been living most of his life in a small town in the north of the Netherlands. But when he visited New York for the first time as a young man, he felt at home right away. At a jam session in Harlem, a big fat mamma from this black neighbourhood hugged him warmly, with tears in her eyes. "You sound like a black man!", she shouted. This was obviously the highest praise that could possibly be bestowed on Rein.

Although it may sound weird, it is perhaps his jazz fan status that makes him sound so consistently inspired and professional. He makes music because he loves to do it and for no other reason. Music is for him, to quote Zoot Sims, "serious fun". He always plays with at least a hundred per cent dedication.

On this record, you hear what Rein does: playing bebop piano. While listening to the duo-tracks with Rein's favourite pianist, bebop master Barry Harris, you will notice how much they sound alike. Their solos are characterized by clarity; each phrase is a small melody with a beginning, a middle and an end.

Rein plays the first seven choruses in Au Privave, Barry the next five. Then they alternate eight choruses, followed by 'fours' until the last theme. In the next tune, you hear

Rein plays Nostalgia and Barry Casbah, two tunes based on the chords of Out of Nowhere. Barry plays two choruses, Rein the next two. Then they take half a chorus each, they alternate 'eights' for one chorus, followed by a chorus of 'fours'.

Another passion of Rein's is the musical world of Lennie Tristano, the legendary pianist, composer and guru of the cool school who died in 1978 at the age of 59. In four tracks, he plays with two alto saxophonists who know a thing or two about Tristano's concept: Gary Foster from LA (right channel) and Marco Kegel, a 22-year-old from Holland. Their collective improvisations will remind you of Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz, Tristano's great saxophone team.

As usual, the themes are complicated lines, based on standards. Tristano used to say: "That's our link to the people." Ablution is All the Things You Are. Lennie's Pennies is Pennies from Heaven (in a minor key, for a change), Dreamstepper is You Stepped out of a Dream and Subconscious-Lee is What Is this Thing Called Love. The rhythm section is once again Koos Serierse (bass) and Eric Ineke (drums). They have been working with Rein for almost twenty years.

In the first five tracks. Rein is featured soloist with the Metropole Orchestra. The arrangements, written by Dolf de Vries (Alone Together),  Rob Pronk (How High the Moon, I Cover the Waterfront), Henk Meutgeert (Afternoon in Paris} and Lex Jasper (Cherokee), are just right for this combination: relaxed and inspiring. They give the rhythm section room to swing, allow the horns and strings to phrase as one man, and Rein to improvise freely at great length.

Rein sounds as if he has been working with these experienced studio musicians for a hundred years. Listen to him playing bebop piano. He is brilliant.”

  • Jeroen de Valk