Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Mornin' Call
The Morning Call. The one I knew was in New Orleans. I used to go over to the Morning Call early because I hated tourists. I'd get a sack of baguettes and a big jug of French Market chicory coffee--oh my great jumpin' Jesus's, that coffee was so god-damn good! I'm sorry, but you need expletives to describe anything as wonderfully good and inspiring as a big mug of French Market coffee--or Luzanne--though I'd been drinking French Market coffee since I had my initial taste of it in New Orleans in the late forties when I was still almost a baby. I had a Cajun uncle who had a Cajun sister who married a New Orleans Italian gentleman and my parents went to New Orleans at least once a year--plus, there was this preacher and his family there who had been my parents's best friends in Dallas at one time--we knew the whole family--I was madly in love with one of the preacher's daughters, Sarah--of course, Sarah put me down as a child while the other daughter, Ruth, was mad about me from the first time we met--and, of course, I couldn't stand her.

And even as a kid, when I was in New Orleans I was in hawg heaven--I remember whizzing from the preacher's church on Camp in his brand-new '48 Chevvy down Canal, to plough right whizzing-still wild into Decatur--ever since then from that car ride on I was dreamin' of living in New Orleans one day--New Orleans was the most exciting place I'd ever been--even more exciting than the Carlsbad Caverns, which we went to a lot, too, since my dad was intrigued by the caverns--and one of his friends had actually worked with Jim White, the discoverer of Carlsbad Caverns, and this friend had gone down in the bucket that Jim used to go down into the caverns--there were no lights in the caverns in those days--they used kerosine torches--that mystified my father but not me--New Orleans mystified me--also I had by that early age traveled all over already, coming to the East Coast twice from high and dry West Texas back near the end of WWII with my mother in a Continental Trailways bus the first time, going to Washington, District of Corruption, where my mother's sister worked for the Navy Department, then making a second trip that same year in my dad's Oldsmobile, my Navy/Marine brother driving it there and my mother and grandmother driving it back--my brother had been home on a 15-day leave (a furlough) from the Marines. The second time we came "back East" we went to Philadelphia where my brother was stationed at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital in the heart of South Philly.

My dad had run away from home the next summer and he first tried to live in Philly and then he'd gone to New York City, fallen in love with it, and tried to live there until he got homesick and needing to get back under my mother's money-making wing--and I still remember a packet of little miniature photos my dad sent me that showed the famous sites of New York City and I was especially fascinated by the photo of the Flatiron Building in that packet. Then came a postcard from the old man of the Empire State Building with an X on the very top of that magnificent building with an "I'm here" inscription following it. The Empire State Building's magnificence demanded worship of me--I would look at that postcard for hours--the Empire State Building became my icon of Hope (I know, there's no such thing)--I saw beauty in tall buildings and not in stalagmites--I mean, come on, at that time the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world--before Nelson "Son of a Bastard" Rockefeller built the tacky state office building towers that would later become the World Trade Center--even the architect of the World Trade Center pulled out because he said they were using cheap materials and not following his specifics...oh, but that's definitely a dead-and-buried issue now, isn't it?

"Comin' back East" trips I did as a kid; as a teenager I got in some super traveling with my parents--who loved the automobile and the highway--and as a teenager I was out on the West Coast several times visiting my Great Depression-Dust Bowl-refugee relatives in California, Oregon, and the State of Washington; yet, in spite of, yes, awesomely respecting the mountains and deserts and big cities of the West Coast--I remember L.A. and Portland and Seattle clearly--I was still more impressed by New Orleans and New York City--these became the places I mentioned when I'd say, "One day I'm going to live in New Orleans (or New York)"--and then my grandmother went and married a native New York Citian--he was born in Harlem and raised in Yonkers--and my grandmother went to New York City every summer to visit his family and she and my step-grandfather talked about New York City all the time and there was a photo of my grandmother sitting in front of Rockefeller Center--yep, by then I knew New York City was my hopeful destination. And one afternoon, I was walking home from school along Highway 80 West and a car zoomed by me heading west and as they passed by me a Coke bottle came flying out the front window of the car to bounce into the grassy roadside area in front of me. In those days--mid-1950s--Coke bottles were made of thick glass--and the 6-oz bottles were special because of the names on their bases--collectors call them "corseted waist" bottles because they look like women looked in the Edwardian era--heavily corseted to pull their waists almost nonexistent tight--women with thin waists have always turned prolific men on--big legs or giant asses didn't matter as long as they had hour-glass figures--plus, those days are where the excitement of a man undressing a woman came from--nowadays, so few clothes for a woman to take off that there's no anticipatory excitements in struggling to unhook a bunch of button hooks on the back of the dress and then there was getting the bustled skirt off--and then unlacing the corset--and then removing the chemise--and then removing the bloomers--Jesus, by the time an Edwardian rascal got his woman undressed he was limply pooped perhaps--then once you got all those clothes off--think of the smell. I'm a man who's terribly turned off by body odors--one of my marriages was ruined because my sweet wife had vagina odor beyond belief (to me at least)--and like the old adage about "he who sits in his own farts"--she argued that her vagina did not smell bad--she douched every day, she said--it was all in my imagination! Then I met my secretary at Time-Life, a 22-year-old Michigan girl married to a wimp--and lo and behold--she smelled like lavender blossoms in spring all over--everywhere--and I met that secretary one year and the next I divorced my wife of 10 years! All because of body odor. On the bases, bottoms, of these glass Coke bottles was the name of the city of origin of the Coke--which Coca Cola Bottling Plant had filled the bottle--the bottles came from Coca Cola's own glass plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee--the Coca Cola Company being big in my family thanks to my dad and his brothers and sisters having gone to high school with the man who owned the Coca Cola plant in my hometown--and nearly every member of my dad's family--including my brother--worked part time or full time for the Coca-Cola Company--and every summer my dad's family's family reunion was held in the big Coca-Cola lake cabin on the biggest lake in my hometown.

Since these little Coke bottles had the names of the cities were they were bottled, some kids collected these bottles trying to get as many different cities as they could--my friend Don "Urp" we called him--his real name was Earp, same as Wyatt Earp--had 200 Coke bottles from all over in his dad's garage--so when we kids saw a little Coke bottle, wherever, we'd pick it up and check out to see what city it was from--and since my hometown was on the major highway that went straight from the East Coast--New York City--straight across the USA straight into the West Coast at Los Angeles--there were always tons of Coke bottles in its roadside ditch areas. And this bottle I picked up that day that came whizzing out of the car window as it passed me--they may have purposely thrown the bottle at me--anyway, I picked that bottle up and checked out where it was from and by Golly damn, it was from New York, New York, which I knew was New York City! I kept that bottle with me from the time I found it until my wife and I moved from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to New York City--I threw it out in Santa Fe--I didn't see any need of having it as a charm anymore since we were on our way to live and learn in the Big Apple. That was a Hot Damn Day in my life--"Goin' the New York...."

And now I live in New York City--two blocks directly south of and in the shadow of the Empire State Building that is ironically since 9/11 once again the tallest building in New York City--

And before New York City, I did finally get to live in New Orleans, my first home after I married my young Tex-Mex-Choctaw-Welsh hot-cha wife and we set up "housekeeping" in the Vieux Carre on Chartres first and then over on Dumaine.

When I first got to New Orleans, the first thing I did was trundle my ass over to the Bourbon House on Bourbon St., to sit at the table that William Faulkner had sat at writing his New Orleans novel--and I had read it three times just before getting to NOLA--Mosquitos--and there was a brass plaque on the wall of the Bourbon House behind this table that said it was the table where Faulkner had worked on Mosquitos--and I sat at that table and wrote like a maniac and daydreamed and checked out all the beautiful gals and the flamboyant Gays and drank Dixie beers--I never liked Jax or Regal, the other New Orleans beers--Regal being Lager spelled backwards--Jax being a shortened form of Jackson since the Jackson Brewing Company was right off Jackson Square on Decatur Street and the levee and the railroad tracks and the big brown muddy Mississippi River. I liked Dixie beer because it was rotgut beer and I'd grown up as a beer drinker drinking cheap Colorado rotgut beers like Walter's and Bergdorf--you know, the fermented-grain-tasting beers--I never liked Budweiser--never--nor Miller's, nor Falstaff, nor Pabst, nor Schlitz, nor Griesedick--Milwaukee and Saint Louis beers...

And where my wife and I lived in New Orleans was a French-Quarter cauldron of so many fresh and inspiring smells, of the always prevalent river smell and its accompanying fish smell and oceany salty-air taste and smell, wafting in off the river to conjoin with the brewery smells, and then the coffee smells--the Luzanne Coffee Company was right down Decatur just down past the Jackson Brewing Company--and the Morning Call was the other way up Decatur at the upper end of the French Market--and it had the freshest baguettes dusted in confectioner's sugar and the biggest jugs of that great chickory coffee.

I left New Orleans one July morning when I saw the developers comin' in to build hotels all over the Quarter--and then I overheard the Mayor of New Orleans, Vic Skiro, say one morning at breakfast he had gotten a plan submitted to him from some NOLA businessmen that would mean building a 6-lane thruway right over the French Market--I told my wife that night it was time we split New Orleans--and I walked in the very next day and told my boss, "Fuck you, I'm walkin'"--not "Walkin' to New Orleans" but riding away from New Orleans to fly away to Mexico City--and my wife and I left New Orleans without looking back in my old Cajun friend Couvillon's cab--this blessed man had picked me up every afternoon for over a year and a half from my job on Poydras at the Orleans Parish Court House and had driven me directly every weekday afternoon down Canal to Decatur Street then over and up to Ruggiero's Restaurant on Decatur where I was soon swilling down Dixies by the case and raw oysters by the dozens--85 cents a dozen in those days--6 Dixies and three dozen oysters cost around $5.00. Yep, then my young wife would show up around 6 and we'd move back into the dining room where Mrs. Ruggiero would cook us up a great dinner, featuring a special spaghetti with her amazin' old-country pesto sauce and then the steaks, then the Alaskan king crab legs--oh Holy Wonder Woman, what glorious luculean meals we had at Ruggiero's--with the Yugoslavian bartender/oyster opener who looked just like Lyndon "Big Balls" Johnson--"Come, let us reason together" and Lyndon was a Texas reasoner--same as me, I guess.

Later in New York City I dated an actress--I stole her from Harvey Kleitel--and I went home with her one weekend to Allentown, PA, and I was surprised to see the Allentown newspaper was the Morning Call--however, the coffee in Allentown tasted like burnt mud!

There is a "morning call" in the US Army, too.

for The Daily Growler

A Tribute to Jimmy Knepper--From 2003
Trombonist Jimmy Knepper died June 14

By Butch Berman

I first became affiliated with the recently deceased jazz trombone legend Jimmy Knepper quite by accident. Let me tell you a little story. I think you’ll get a kick out of it. I know Jimmy would have dug it.

Jimmy Knepper at the Zoo Bar (Photo by Rich Hoover) In the early days of the BMF (around 1994-5) with since-departed (not dead, just split) ex-partner, Susan Berlowitz, who actually started this jazz rag, we brought some great players to Lincoln. The Zoo Bar was an early venue until former owner Larry Boehmer and I also parted ways. (Gee, can’t I get along with anybody?) Anyway, our first projects to try to indoctrinate ourselves into the art community were presenting these mini-jazz concerts at anyplace that would have us. We also hosted events at the now-defunct Huey’s, the 7th Street Loft and Ebenezer’s, to name a few.

Susan and I had just returned from a trip to NYC where we for the first time caught our old friend Claude “Fiddler” Williams backed by an all-star band for his 85th birthday at the also-no-more Metropolis. We thought how Lincoln had only heard Claude being backed by our local cats, and how cool it would be to let the folks hear this amazing musician with a real top-notch group behind him.

We had recently befriended the leader of the famed Duke’s Men, trombonist Art Barron, who promised to put together a similar bunch of players to make the trip, and he’d help keep things in order. Taken from the guys we had heard was bass player Earl May (still a dear friend to this day) as well as drummer Jackie Williams. We couldn’t obtain pianist Junior Mance, but were thrilled to get the wonderful Jaki Byard instead. We also had just become acquainted with newcomer, singer Kendra Shank, who we thought would be the perfect extra to augment this killer bunch to back the “Fiddler.”

Well, to make an already long story a bit shorter, just days before the show, Barron pulled out for a better-paying job. He said we should get used to this kind of situation, but in nearly nine years only one other jerk has pulled that song-and-dance on us. Nevertheless, he said he’d found a replacement for us—who else but Jimmy Knepper.

So, on my way to the airport I’m thinking to myself, “How cool is this to have the two remaining living gentlemen from the Mingus dynasty hanging out at my pad?” Only problem was, I never had seen a picture of Mr. Knepper, whom I was just about to greet. So while scanning the people filing off the plane, looking for an older black dude carrying a trombone case, here comes this rather disheveled, funky-lookin’ old white guy wearing a beat up old cap. Yup, that’s Jimmy, but looks are usually deceiving. As soon as we met, I felt an immediate connection with this brilliant, totally lovable man.

Even then, you could see he was in the early stages of the Parkinson’s disease that later took his life. His slow, stumbling gate made me wonder if he could still cut it, but he played his ass off all weekend. He fell once getting on the Zoo’s high stage, and I caught him twice as he nearly fell backward just standing around. Still, however, he and Jaki (who was murdered a few years later in his NYC home, unsolved to this day) had a ball sharing tales of the old days with me, Susan, and the multitudes of fans who came over to our house that weekend to pay homage to these great people. I still get a kick out of how Jimmy couldn’t get over the fact that he and I had both been sent to military schools as youths.

The boys and Kendra sounded great, playing three sets over that swinging weekend. The videos of their practice session at my house, as well as the gig, will forever remain prized possessions in my vast collection of jazz artifacts.

As soon as everyone went home, I started a search of as many Knepper albums and CDs that I could find. I wasn’t the least bit surprised to discover how everything he recorded was simply fantastic. I once proclaimed on my old KZUM show “Reboppin’” “Knepper is Jazz, Knepper is Jazz, Knepper is Jazz,” and to this day I still feel he exemplifies the true essence of jazz. By the way, he of course used his old cap for a mute, and I will cherish his memories for the rest of my life.

Jazz scribe Whitney Balliett called Jimmy “the first original trombonist in the modern idiom since J.J. Johnson.” Amen to that, and may his soul rest in peace forever. Jimmy was 75.

I’ll never forget my old pal Jimmy Knepper. Recommended listening? Everything he ever recorded.

Butch Berman was both a rock and jazz musician--he founded the Berman Music Foundation--Butch has since joined Jimmy Knepper in the Charlie Parker All-Star Band in that big Birdland in the sky.



Marybeth said...

I tried to post a comment and I think it got lost. Mostly it was just a thank you for the follow up post on Jimmy Knepper and a discussion of how blue I've been since learning of his death, from you, 5 years after the fact. Boy, am I out of the loop. There were some terrific guys on SI when I was a kid and their teaching and example nourished me enormously. I am so sorry to see them all die off. Music was a life-line for me as a teen. I miss those beautiful guys. My contemporaries weren't always so good to me, resented a girl competing with them I guess, but all those older guys were fabulous and seemed to get a kick out of a delicate little girl trumpet player.

Marybeth said...

p.s. Check this out. It's really nice.