Forever Young (Not)

March 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Pat Martino

It was my birthday yesterday, March 17, and it was warm and sunny in New York. This has never happened before, and though I’m sure it’s a sign of global climate change slowly but inexorably destroying the world as we know it, I’m cool with it. For now.

This age I now am, which most of you know or can figure out but I don’t have to actually admit to, is one that I really don’t like. Not because it’s a big one, a special one—it’s just this particular number. It reminds me of the woman in the mystery novel who opens the door suspiciously to the detective, her hair like coach stuffing, squinty eyes, smoker’s skin and a stained sweater buttoned wrong over her sagging bosom. She says she knows nothing, saw nothing, never pays attention to the cretins in the building, then proceeds to sneeringly describe every visitor the dead slut across the hall has had in the last 18 months.

But I had a wonderful birthday anyway. A walk in the sun; an art exhibit “In The Company of Animals” at The Morgan Library; 20-odd Irishmen dressed in Civil War uniforms, with muskets, on the subway; birthday calls and Facebook good wishes; lemon cake and white roses; and  ½ hour coaxing Fitzroy out from under the bed after he strongly objected to wearing a ribbon around his neck for my tea party.

But the best part, of course, was the music. Listening to Pat Martino at Birdland, I thought of the phrase “wall of sound.” Pat creates such a wall, a churning, furious wall like a very strong wind as you walk into it, the sort of experience that some find overwhelming and others, like me, exhilarating. And just when it was almost too much, the organist, Pat Bianchi, joined in and made openings in the wall like the openings in that wall in the park in San Juan where hundreds of birds nest. Square, shadowy openings, birds fluttering in and out—that was the organ music, except that the organ was also leading us down the garden path to the sea, summery and melodic as Pat continued his relentless gale force wind.

I was in deep pleasure, thoughts about writing emerging from every corner of my brain. This novel, that novel, a one-act play, poems—all of it blooming like flowers in time-lapse photography. Alcohol helped, of course, but only by blocking out anxieties and minor physical irritants: it’s the music that charms out the ideas, the music that makes me remember that writing is pattern and change. My focus on subject matter, though necessary, needs to go blurry from time to time so I can feel the currents of my imagination willing to flow into any vessel, to shape it in ways I can’t predict or control, to shape it for the joy of shaping.

That was Birdland. Later, at the Village Vanguard, we heard the Heath brothers, Jimmy on sax, Albert on drums, along with an amazing piano player, Jeb Patton. Jimmy Heath is 85 now, Albert 76. Jimmy’ s not looking too good these days; he’s aged a lot since I saw him a few years ago. But his horn is still tender and lyrical, with drop-dead phrasing and a sound that carries the flavor of the ‘40s, though with a certain wised-up framing. Albert on drums—Albert in his final drum solo—I don’t have the words for that kind of thrill, except that if anybody cares to find someone of that caliber for my funeral, I can assure you grief will be banished for the occasion. And if the dead retain any hint of consciousness, I will be very pleased. (You write a sentence like that, you know the universe means to knock you off soon, just to create a little irony for a midday snack. But I’m going to risk it anyway.)

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