Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Divine One

Already a strange day for coincidences. A friend from grade school (indeed, our mothers were college roommates, and her father and my grandfather were both local judges) called to say while working in Napa Valley that she was working with another friend who I know from St. Louis (and a former bartender at Hammerstone's, where the Voodoo plays, no less), who is also out in Napa, and traveling back and forth. And they both randomly attended a house concert that I gave in June 2011.

Then the kicker later on. I saw and heard the wonderful Anne Hampton-Calloway at Jazz at the Bistro tonight. She did a great tribute to the incomparable Sarah Vaughan. Incomparable is an overused word, but if it ever applied to anyone, it applied to the Divine One. Anne put on a great show, with lots of tidbits about the sassy Ms. Vaughan. Toward the end of the set, she talked about finally hearing her live, after years and years of collecting her wonderful records. She had heard her at the Blue Note in New York. During that run, Sarah was diagnosed with lung cancer. In fact she had to cut the last day of performances short because of her illness. Those were her last public performances before she died a year later, in 1990.

I had to reconstruct the timeline and refresh my memory (including a little Wikipedia), but the inescapable conclusion is: Sharon and I also attended one of those shows in Sarah Vaughan's last ever run. It was my birthday treat that year. We were not flush, to say the least, in those days, so a night in New York at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village, a few blocks from where I was to attend law school a couple years later, was a pretty dad-gummed big stretch. But she did it up right for me that night. We took the train in, ate at the club, saw the show, and in general had a total gas.   Although she was ill, you could not tell it from the performance - it was something I'll never forget - what a voice! We reveled in the whole experience - with Sarah Vaughan, you did not so much as listen to the music, but soak in its luxuriousness as it rained down on and enveloped you.  And we were absolutely determined not to be the "poor country bumpkins" for that show but rather to be "real" New Yorkers for a night - right down to the tip.  After discussion, we had decided to leave a sizable tip because we were so pumped up from the show and the night. We later figured out that I had miscalculated, and left way more than we intended (and we had intended to be generous). Our server sort of caught us on the way out and asked if we had meant to leave that much, and we smiled and said "Sure thing!" or something like that, and she gave us more than the normal level of "thank you" (hey, she flagged us down in the first place).  We only figured out later that we had goofed, and I'm 99.9% sure it was me who messed up the calculation. Although we could barely afford it, Sharon was great just chalked it up to an unforgettable night. We knew she had died shortly after we saw her, but neither of us knew (until tonight) that we had literally seen one of her very last shows on her last public engagement.

The Blue Note has been good to us over the years. I took my parents to see a stand-out performance by Arturo Sandoval there - they were blown away. I think they're expectations were that it was going to be pretty good, but it was truly spectacular. Then, just last year, on a school visit trip, Nathaniel, Sharon, Lynn and I went to see Stanley Clarke, which was mind-blowing. We've seen him twice since, including in St. Louis and then two weeks ago in DC. In short, whenver Stanley Clarke is within listening distance, we go - it's just that simple. In New York, he played with a 15 year-old phenom from Russian Georgia - we were pleased to see him again in DC (at a ripe old 16), and felt truly 'in the know' - he was also with a 17-year old drummer. We'll be able to say 'we saw them when...'  And we were able to say, "Well, when he was 15 he played this way, but now he's really grown....

Back to Ms. Vaughan: The song Anne introduced was the Sondheim classic, Send in the Clowns, which Sarah was doing at the time. I honestly don't remember if that was on the set we heard, but this clip (recorded in 1987) of Sarah singing that song really does capture what that night felt like.  Or rather, as close as a YouTube clip can - although I tried a little above, words cannot describe hearing the Divine One live - I'm glad we got the chance.  On reflection, as it turns out, that was the ABSOLUTE BEST way to have spent our limited shekels (even including my over-tip), because I still remember it nearly 25 years later like it was yesterday.  Thanks for that, Sharon!


Charlie Long said...

Hey Rob - great recollections, and thanks for sharing the excitement of being "bumpkins" in the Big Apple. You should write more!!!!

Kevin Flanigan said...

Rob -- what a great post.

Rob said...

Thanks, guys! I was reading some old posts and like having the memories recorded somewhere where I can access them. So, I've learned (again) that it is good to do just for myself, even if no-one else reads it.