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curved part of the letter “D” and the bandstand, which was the same height as the bar, was behind it, like the back of the “D.”The bar faced the biggest part of the space, so in order for people sitting there to see the band better, we built a terrace. You had to walk up three steps, but the terrace was the same height as the bar and the stage, so if you were sitting at one of the tables up there, you could see right over the heads of the people hanging out at the bar. You had a great view, except for this one pillar right in front of the stage, left over from where we tore the wall out. We couldn’t get rid of it because it was holding the place up.
Pop put Judy at the four-top in the comer at the front of the terrace where you had the least obstruction from that pillar My Judi, Judi Marie, took her order. I was behind the bar.
It was a nice looking place. We had actors pictures hanging up over the bar, jazz album covers and those Lancer’s wine bottles with the straw on the bottom hung up on the walls around the place. We bought some of that checkered oilcloth for the tables at Woolworth’s, and that looked nice. We had those straw bottomed wine bottles on every table too. Each one had a tulip in it. It was my job to get the tulips, I’d go over to the flowerbeds at the Holland Tunnel late at night, chop a bunch of them and bring them back.
The joint could hold about 130 people, but there were only about twenty people that night, so everybody was sitting up there on the terrace. Nobody was in the smaller space behind the bar and the stage.
So, Judy was sitting up there on the terrace with everybody else, and everybody knew who she was, and everybody was probably as excited to see her as we were. People in the Village are a funny kind of people, though. They’re cool. They didn’t bother her, just like they didn’t bother Hussein or Tony Bennett. Or the Rolling Stones-but, you know, in a joint like ours, they weren’t anybody anyway.
Pop went back into the kitchen to cook Judy some food. I guess he thought he’d better hurry,from the looks of her. I got her a vodka, which Judi Marie served. Judi Marie introduced herselfin the nicest way, just being polite and acknowledging her. Judi wouldn’t ever bother anybody. But the other Judy, she was pretty friendly. Right away, she started doing that Cary Grant imitation, Judy. Judy, Judy, every time she wanted something or anytime Judi Marie passed by So, Judi started doing it right back at her, and they were both cracking up. It seemed pretty funny at the time.
Judi Marie brought her out her food, which, if I remember right, was pasta with meatballs. Practically everybody had Pop’s meatballs, one way or another, on a sandwich, or with pasta, or by themselves. Pop was famous for his meatballs. They were light, not like anybody else’s. Ask any musician who’s still around from that time. Judy said she loved the food, but Judi Marie told me she sure didn’t eat much.
Anyway, we fed her as best we could, and she had a few drinks. As soon as I could get away from the bar, I went over to say hello. I didn’t know what to say-so happy you’re here, great to meet you, we all love you, all the things you’ve done, the singing the movies.
She sat by herself for a long time, just listening to the music. Anita would go over and sit with her between sets.
Anita worked for us Fridays, Saturdays and sometimes Sundays. She started working at the place in 57 or ’58, right after we opened. She drank up everything and she was a little flaky. One night I paid her, then she disappeared. Four years later, I got a call from Bangkok. She said was broke and she wanted to come back to New York. So, I scraped up the money for a ticket, wired it to her and she came back. Then, one time she had a late gig at the Village Vanguard. I went with her to make sure she got there okay. She walked out on the stage, told
the audience she wasn’t singing that night and came back to hang out with us. Anita was just Anita She’s still around, but she’s in her 80’s now.
Ross Tomkins, the piano player is still around, too. Man. could he play
Zoot isn’t with us anymore. He was a part of that place. I remember times when the joint was dead, Zoot would come in, play three notes and the joint would be swinging. He’d drink a lot of scotch and a case of beer, but he’d swing We had those old, big Christmas lights strung around the stage, and Zoot would hold his glass up to one and turn it like it was a tap, like he was filing up his drink. Zoot was like family. On Christmas Eve, Zoot, his wife, Ross, Major Holley and Mousey Davis would come to our place up in Riverdale for the evening We’d be up all night. At seven AM, our son, Michael, would get up all excited to open his presents and we’d all be wrecked. Anyway, the joint was as much home to Zoot as it was to us.
The joint was home to all the musicians, and to practically everybody who came there. It was its own little music box, and everybody came there to be inside the music box. Inside the music. On Saturday nights we’d get some people from the Upper East Side or some tourists who weren’t like that, but they were the only ones who had any dough. E
Jazz wasn’t doing so well in those days. It seemed like the world had gone on to other things.We had about twenty people in the place that night, but some nights we’d have maybe three. It didn’t matter. The music would be just as swingin’ anyway. A lot of times there were more musicians in the place than customers. They came there to hang out. I remember nights wheneverybody sitting at the tables had a horn and was playing along with the guys up on stage,having a great time. Sometimes the musicians who came down would throw me some money, because they knew there was no bread there. A lot of guys came in and they worked for nothing. Wes Montgomery used to tell me, “Pay the rhythm section. He’d say, “Don’t pay me, man. It’sokay, I’m doing good. Cannonball Adderly used to do that too. And Zoot, he was always there for us.
Around that time my brother had to get a job because things were so bad. He went down to work on a truck to make some bread so we could keep going, because sometimes we made no… money, Judi Marie checked coats and waited tables, I tended bar, We did whatever we could to keep the joint alive. Mostly, we were working for bps Things were tough back in those days, but we never worried about it. We didn’t need much money.
Guys came there to play their asses off. They didn’t care if there was only one person in the joint it was okay, they’d play like mad. Coltrane-man, he played every tune as if it might be his last Like he wanted to get it all out right now, Like he knew he was sick, I don’t know how he did it He would play, like, an hour solo without stopping. The veins would be coming out of his neck,
The music was always great. It was great that night..
Judy seemed to be getting into it. A couple of cats at the bar were talking white Anita was singing, Probably musicians. It was mostly musicians hanging out at the bar. Most musicians don’t listen to singers anyway, you know. They just listen to the music. And it was their club that’s how they felt about it. But Judy said, “Hey, there’s a great performer on that stage, and shushed them. They shut up
Finally, Charlie Cochran showed up with his boyfriend, I think, and they sat with Judy..
I remember Anita inviting my Judi Marie up onstage to sing. Judi Marie did a few songs. What a voice she has. Musicians love Judi because she doesn’t treat them like background, you know? She sings with them, not in front of them. She was trained by the great Len Tristano, and she’s spent her life studying the best of the best, listening to all their phrasing, all their licks. She singe like an angel But, Judi and me too, we put the musicians and the singers we thought were great
A letter on the back page of last week’s MM caught my attention: Jazz the word and the cult -is dead as far as young people are concerned, it said. I asked Zoot if he thought the demise was imminent. He said he didn’t think so, though he had to admit audiences were going down a little.
‘But that’s in the clubs. That last Jazz At The Phil concert tour attracted big crowds, and they were more enthusiastic than I expected. I always say one thing: jazz has been dying for seventy years and it’s going to last a lot longer than the record we’re making now.’
During early 1971 the ever-rewarding tenorman shone bis light on the Frith Street jazz room at the head of a quartet. This interview dates from the Melody Maker of 6 February 1971.
It is always something to see and hear Zoot Sims in action at Ronnie Scott’s blowing solidly, creating melody, swinging as if his life depended on it and looking meantime modestly pleased to be there. Without fuss or pretentiousness he offers a steady supply of consistently good and inventive tenor jazz, In a way I suppose he is the perfect jazz pro, getting on with the business of making original music as though it was the easiest thing in the world. And when you talk to him you might get the impression that he thinks it is.
For someone of my jazz tastes, the sound and style of his playing are reassuring factors in a world in which tone quality and logical construction of solos count for less and less. Among other things, he represents a tradition; more than one really, but in any event a tradition which had Lester Young at its fountainhead. And in these days of experimental jazz breaking out on all sides, that traditional discipline and firm way of swinging are virtues to be fostered. I asked Zoot if, as a musician, he felt he was in a tradition-if he even agreed that such talk, much favoured by the writing brigade, made any sense. He nodded, in half agreement at least.
“Well, there are certain slots you can put the music in. Wild Bill Davison is in a tradition, isn’t he? Now Miles Davis is in one, a different one than it was. That’s freedom music, isn’t it? The last time I saw him on TV it was the freedom thing.
Zoot is quite definitely not in that bag, nor heading for it.
‘No’, he insists,’ I couldn’t do it any kind of way; I’d feel a fool if I tried. I just don’t lean to it, can’t do it anyway. Which doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate it. But when I think about trying to play that way…he shook his head and poured a little whisky from a flask into his empty glass. I’ve been playing for twenty-five years, longer, and I can’t just press a button and be someone else. It wouldn’t be real.
‘I’ve changed my playing but very slowly. I can’t really pinpoint it. I just take a tune and play it the only way I can. That’s it. I don’t really dwell on it very much. Some people probably do. I can only say I play it the way I feel it.
‘One thing I do feel is this: I should add a lot of new material to my repertoire. It would be good for me, very satisfying, if I could get around to doing it. And I want to.
Remembering The Half Note
The Half Note and All That Jazz:
By Mike Canterino.
as told to Jim Shooter
The night Judy Garland dame into the joint, we thought it was no big deal. We had King Hussein of Jordan in there sometimes. Tony Bennett always stopped by when he could. Steve Allen used to come in the place. We had lots of big name players and lots of show biz people, famous people, who came to hear the music. Even the Rolling Stones came in once in a while. I’didn’tknow who they were. Even after somebody told me who they were I wasn’t sure who they were To me they were just some cats from England who always wanted to sit in the back so nobody would better them: Nobody ever did. They used to come in sometimes when Wes Montgomery was playing, I guess to pick up a few licks, Wes practically reinvented guitar playing Everybody learned from Wes
Anyway, sure, it was an honor when Judy showed up. She was Judy Garland. And, man everybody loved Judy .We wereflippin’ out. But practically every night at the joint something great would happen, or somebody you’d never believe you’d ever meet walked in. So, it was just another terrific night in a long string of terrific nights. When I say it was no big deal I mean that at first, it was great, but we didn’t know just how great it was till later.
It was about eleven o’clock on a Sunday night. The band had just started the second set. We had Ross Tomkins on piano, ZootSims on sax Russell George an bass, Denny Sewell on drums and Anita O’Day singing All the sudden, Judy Garland comes walking into the place Man, was glad joint was swingin’.
it turned out that Anita, who had just come back from Japan of somewhere, was staying with a friend of hers, a fellow by the name of Charlie Cochran. He was in show business in a way, a singer, cabaret style. He had a nice pod uptown. Anita was staying there, that woman with the big chest who used to advertise the eighteen-hour bras way back, was staying there and Judy Garland was staying there, too. When Anita came down to work, she didn’t say anything. We didn’t know Judy was coming
Judy was wearing all black, a short skirt and a kind of long jacket Nice, tailored-looking, but pretty average clothes Nothingfancy. What stuck out about her was that she was so sickly looking Very thin
Pop met her at the door and sat her down. He put her at table six, the best table in the house.
The joint had kind of an unusual layout, because it had originally been two rooms, which we’d turned into one. The bar and the bandstand were in the middle. The bar was shaped like the
“Yes, I listen to everything I can. You’ve got to, and I think there’s a lot of great things coming out of the last ten years. Look at the tunes that have been written, like Bacharach and the Beatles. I like many of them, yeah.’
Zoot’s attitude to most things musical is tolerant. When we talked about the power drumming of many percussionists in free or ‘open’ groups, his comment was that a drummer of that type wouldn’t work with his group.
‘I do like loose drummers, but I feel that some of them get idea people came in just to hear them, and that wouldn’t fit my style at all.”
As for electric pianos, so well in today: ‘I don’t think I’d mind one; it’s kind of a pretty sound. But I’m not going out looking for one. Certainly I don’t need it with the things I play. I’d like to keep electricity out of my group. The neon wouldn’t fit.”
On the subject of playing with strings, he had this to say: “Yes, it can be nice. I recorded with strings for Gary McFarland; it was great. And Stan Getz’s Focus album is a favourite of mine. Stan plays marvellously on that record. Eddie Sauter left plenty of freedom for him on that.
I had the chance to play that music when they did two or three college. York. Eddie is up there near where I’m living. It was the same concerts in New thing, with me in Stan’s place, but unfortunately there wasn’t the budget to have all the instruments that are on the album.
‘Yes, Focus-it was quite a challenge, an experience for me. I’ll tell you, after I played it I went back and listened to Stan’s record and appreciated what he did on it even more so.’
Back-tracking to his remark about modifying his way of playing, slowly, I mentioned an aggressive, hard-toned passage with which he’d ended one of his numbers at Ronnie’s the previous night. It was, I thought, almost out of character as set in the known Sims mould.
The tenorman admitted he thought he had changed quite a lot through the years. ‘Of course I hear myself every time I play. Maybe it’s too subtle for most listeners. When I hear an old record of mine, that’s when I really notice it.
But I don’t believe it’s important to alter your style that much. If you’re Johnny Hodges, why change? The only thing I noticed specially on Johnny’s later records was that he just played a little harder. What do people want? They couldn’t expect Johnny to jump up and down on stage.
Zoot and Al Cohn are still in partnership whenever there is work for the two-tenor group. They played in Toronto last year, and thrice in Los Angeles during ’69 and ’70. As Zoot says: ‘It’s so easy to get it together. In fact we don’t even need to rehearse.”