A note from Jamie Howison: This is the second in a series of weekly updates regarding my unfolding sabbatical study leave. For a bit of background as to the shape of my work during these two months, you can go to a piece I posted on this site in mid-December.
t has been quite a week of music… as if that was a surprise. I saw Terence Blanchard at The Jazz Standard, Ravi Coltrane (with drummer E.J. Strickland, no less) at the City Winery, Donny McCaslin at the 55 Bar, and Patience Higgins’ Sugar Hill Quartet at Harlem’s historic Lenox Lounge. Add to that the scorching gospel choir at the Kelly Temple Church of God in Christ, and Ike Sturm and his quintet leading the jazz mass at St Peter’s Church, and you get the idea that I’ve pretty well soaked in music. But of course, that’s a big part of why I’m here…
I’ve also had several wonderful conversations, including extended interviews with Dale Lind—the jazz pastor emeritus at St Peter’s Church and one-time co-owner of the legendary “Bitter End” club in Greenwich Village—and the veteran bass player Bill Crow. Bill is now well into his eighties, yet is still playing professionally and also puts in a few office days each week, working at the office of the musicians’ union. Given that he has recorded with a host of legendary band leaders—including Gerry Mulligan, Benny Goodman, Zoot Sims, and Stan Getz—Bill has a wonderful and long perspective on this music. He’s also a lovely and warm man.
And last night at an event at the Jazz Museum in Harlem, I sat beside a woman named Tajah Murdoch. Now eighty years of age, in the 1940s and 50 Tajah was one of the dancers at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater, and also put in significant time with Count Basie’s big band. She is brimming with stories and a passion for dance, jazz and Harlem, and so we’ve arranged to have a longer conversation next week.
And yes, there have been hours (and hours, and hours…) in the library at Union Theological Seminary!
But I think my highlight moment for the week came last Thursday evening when I was at The Jazz Standard to hear Terence Blanchard. As some of you will know, I’ve got a particular appreciation for his album, A Tale of God’s Will: Requiem for Katrina, and even wrote a reflection piece on it for the Anglican Journal. Sitting in the club before the set was to begin, I saw Blanchard come out of the back and sit himself up at the bar. I’m not big on barging in on someone’s private time, but he seemed pretty open to chatting with people, so I wandered over to say hello and thank him for his wonderful album.
When I first said hello, that I was a writer and had published a reflection piece on A Tale of God’s Will, his reception was cordial but just slightly distant. When I added that I had given the album its first real listening on the day of the funeral of a friend—on the hour-long drive from the church to the little country cemetery—he lit right up. “You’re that guy,” he said. “My wife read your article out loud to me, and she cried all the way through it. I can’t wait to tell her that I met you.” We talked for just a few more minutes about the way in which this particular disc seemed able to unlock the grieving process for people, and he commented, “You know, I don’t even feel that I made that record. It was one of those ones that just came to us, ready-made. A gift.” And it is.
And now I’m off to catch the subway up to the seminary for a day in the library.