NEVER GOT A DINNER…AND NEVER ASKED FOR ONE (AND GOD BLESS RED BUTTONS, TOO)
Philadelphia is lucky in some ways. We have three clubs that regularly book name or semi-name jazz attractions. Chris’ Cafe’, Ortleibs Jazz House and Zanzibar Blue are to be commended on their policy, their consistency and dedication. The business of jazz, such as it is, just isn’t easy. Zanzibar Blue, in fact, is an instance where a venue has succeeded in spite of itself. Located with in the basement of one of Philadelphia’s grandest hotels, the former Bellevue-Stratford now the Park Hyatt, the club is comfortably appointed and serves really superior cuisine. The name acts are usually reserved for the weekend, and have included attractions like Maynard Ferguson, Little Jimmy Scott, Stacey Kent, Chris Connor, Steve Smith, Abbey Lincoln (who walked out because patrons made too much noise) and hundreds of others. Weekdays are reserved for Philadelphia area artists like drummer Webb Thomas, Barbara Walker and a host of regulars. Zanzibar has a built-in audience of well-heeled tourists who are staying in the hotel proper, as well as a number of dedicated Philadelphia jazz fans.
The only strange thing about Zanzibar is what could be best described as the “vibe.” There’s an air of rudeness and superiority there, and that just breeds unpleasantness. I think they used to call something like this “feeling a draft.” I’ve felt it everytime I’ve walked in there. On more than one occasion, I talked to their booking folks about putting my group, along with singer Joy Adams, in there on an off-night weeknight. We didn’t even want any money, so this is not a case of sour grapes related to “not getting the gig, rather, we just wanted to perform in a space where our “fans” could hear us in pleasant surroundings. After a dozen calls, I continued to be ignored. I once asked a prominent Philadelphia radio personality why we could never get booked at Zanzibar, or Chris’ or Orliebs. Certainly, we’ve only been around as pretty top attractions for 30 years, to say nothing of the international prominence I’ve received via my books and videos. What was the problem? Said radio personality, who incidently is black, said with some shame in his voice, “Bruce. You’ll never get booked in those places. You don’t get down with the brothers.”
Okay. Knew I was feeling something.
Several months ago, our good friend Steve Smiith snared an appearance at Zanzibar with his fusion group, Vital Information. Steve asked me to help out with some advance promo, given that I was centered in Philadelphia. An e-mailing of close to 1,000 press releases went out, extolling the virtues of Steve Smith as a drummer, the Vital Information group, and the wonderful food and ambience of Zanzibar Blue. Some of you may have received that press release several months ago. The night of the performance, I was a bit taken a back that no one from Zanzibar Blue stepped forward to thank me for the work done on behalf of Vital info and Zanzibar.
I e-mailed them about this several days later. Though they received copies of all the press releases and mailings done for Vital Information, they claimed to know nothing about it. However, I was surprised to hear back from them, saying that they were most grateful for my efforts. They insisted that Joy Adams and I be their guest for dinner and a show of our choosing. We chose July 14, early show, to hear the one and only Maynard Ferguson. In fact, we postponed our trip to Florida in order to hear Maynard.
Checking to confirm that all was well reservations-wise the day before, II was startled to receive an e-mail from Zanzibar’s “Director of Operations,” claiming there was no reservation in my name. I replied immediately, saying that II was the person who did PR for Steve Smith and Zanzibar, that Zanzibar made me this offer, etc. Starting in the early morning of July 14th, I repeatedly e-mailed the Director of Operations and called about a half-dozen times with no reply whatsoever. Unprofessional doesn’t begin to describe this scenario, and my only thought was, “I’m too old for this nonsense. No way will I subject us to this vibe.”
I waited until almost 4 p.m. for a return call. If we had actually decided to go, we would have had less than an hour to get ready. We still heard from no one. That’s when I decided to e-mail the Director of Operations and tell her about her gross unprofessionalism, how deeply I had been insulted, just who I was–again– and that I planned to write a column on the JazzLegends.com web site about this insulting experience.
Bingo. The old column trick. That usually does it. At 4:25 in the afternoon, I received a phone call from the Director of Operations, who informed me of the following: That the person who made this reservation for me no longer worked there and never put the reservation in the system; that if I told her who I was (which I did after getting her first e-mail) that she would have instantly known that I had a reservation; that she broke her toe this morning; that she doesn’t sit in front of the computer all day. And, contrarary to my assertion about Zanzibar Blue’s legendary rudeness, she said she has never heard a complaint about anything from guests or performers (she has now). I asked her what she wanted me to do at this point. She said, “Come to the show.” I replied that I wouldn’t walk through Zanzibar Blue if it were the last place in the galaxy and Sinatra was appearing, and I don’t mean Frank Junior. She had nothing to say about ignoring my various e-mails and telephone calls made throughout the day, prior to the “I’m going to write a column: e-mail. . Perhaps it was the broken toe.
Did I take this personally? Perhaps. I felt I was being regarded as a liar and as someone who was after a dinner. They made the offer, and they discovered that there was, indeed, a reservation made on my behalf. It was made through the PR Director, subsequently fired, and supposedly was never entered into the system. In other words, “The dog ate my homework.” You want to go to Zanzibar Blue? Go ahead. Have a ball. I won’t see you there. The only thing I’m sorry about is not seeing Maynard. Close to 80 years old now and still swinging, he’s the last of the old guard to be on the road year-round. He has been virtually ignored by the jazz press for the past several years, which is an absolute disgrace. He has never been forgiven, evidently, for having a hit record (“Gonna Fly Now,” theme from the movie “Rocky”). And owing to Zanzibar Blue’s crack publicity team, not word one–excepting a tiny listing–in terms of a newspaper article appeared about this giant. Still, Philadelphians have always been great Maynard fans, and no doubt the joint will be packed. Maynard, God bless him, always got down with the brothers.
Through the years, some of the true legends of jazz have called Philadelphia home. There were and are dozens of them. Sadly, we just lost three fine, fine players in rapid succession, and though they were never in the national spotlight, they could and should have been. Singer Clyde Terrell had a taste of the limelight, via his vocal on Earl Bostic’s “September Song.” Mostly, though, he sang locally and always soulfully in a style that combined influences of Johnny Hartman and Arthur Prysock. No one could sing so well so slowly. The two CDs he made, late in life, for the DBK Jazz label were superb and garnered substantial radio play. Joy Adams and I were instrumental in getting Clyde this long overdue recording contract, and we hope and trust it gave him some joy late in life.
Pianist Eric Spiegel, also known as Eric Shaw, had a tremendous respect for the jazz tradition and was particularly fluent in the language of be-bop. For some years, he was a part of a duo here in Philadelphia, the second half being the great jazz singer, Wendy Simon. They were first called Tuxedo Junction and later, 52nd Street. Their eclectic repertoire included everything from King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson, to Jackie and Roy, and Lambert Hendricks and Ross. Eric and Wendy were poised to break out on the national scene, but as often happens, it never came to be. Spiegel later had a terrible, terrible auto accident and suffered severe brain injuries. Still, he worked hard in rehab and came back playing better than ever. He will be missed.
Warren Davis, Jr. was an Episcopal Minister who I’d best describe as “the best preacher who ever preached” and/or “the best minister who ever ministered.” Additionally, he was a superb jazz pianist of the Teddy Wilson school who performed extensively in the Philadelphia, particularly at a number of Jazz Vespers concerts, a form of jazz presentation which he helped invent and popularize. Along with his regular cohorts, bassist Vince Long (who started at “square one” on bass several years ago and is well on his way now to becoming world class) , vocalist Joe Richardson, and often, guitarist Ron Parker, “The Gabriels” brought much joy to all who heard them. Though mainly playing in the swing vein, Warren’s ears were more than open enough to embrace every form of jazz, from be-bop to Ornette.And certainly, he loved the Duke. Had he wanted to, there’s no reason he couldn’t have been a national name. More importantly, he was the kindest and gentlest of men, who was open minded in matters other than music. Having come from a different religious persuasion than Warren, we had many, many discussions about the power and place of faith and religion. We decided–perhaps after a glass of wine or two–that there should be a religion that was similar to jazz. Our contention was that jazz was always open to all races, religions, ages, nationalities, etc., and that there should be a religion much the same as that. Hence, the invention of “The Sign of the Circle,” complete with secret “sign” (the sign was one hand making a circle) and business cards. I guess God needed a player who could play the heck out of “Sweet Lorriane,” without any alternate changes. I can think of no other reason for his absence here. Had Joy Adams not had a terrible slip and fall accident, complete with fractured and cracked ribs, we would have been front and center at the memorial. I’m sure Warren understands. He always did. Joy, your many friends, listeners and fans, and yours truly will miss you more than you may know, although depending on where you are, I’m sure you know!!
In terms of some odds and ends, we will be travelling to Naples, FL, for a few weeks, beginning Tuesday, July 18th. It’s the birthday of our grand daughter, Niah Sage; and the graduation of the best web master who ever web mastered, Terry McKyton. Terry , by the way is receiving his Master’s Degree from the prestigious Stanton University (seriously, there is no Stanton, but his degree will be granted from one of Florida’s best). For our mail-order customers, from July 18th until further notice, probably about two or three weeks, please send any orders to: Bruce Klauber, 1108 Forrest Lakes Boulevard, Naples, FL, 34105.
In line with updates, most of you are aware that Gene Krupa appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, ca. 1960, once or twice. We are doing everything possible to get those clips out of the vaults. The Sullivan heirs aren’t easy–read that “really, really, big”–but we’re trying.
Finally, please feel free to comment on this column, other columns, or anything else you may have on your mind. You’re obviously doing this–fabulously, by the way–in The Forum, but if you’d like to earmark anything for publication in this space or even write a guest column, e-mail me directly at Drumalive@aol.com
God bless our dear, swinging friends, Reverend Warren Davis, Jr., Eric Spiegel and Clyde Terrell. May you keep swingin’ for eternity and beyond.