What happens when you're free of a mortgage debt? Well, you party! One of the best parties was held before New Year's Eve in New York. And this joyful story needs to be told. Local 802 AFM is happy. They're starting 2002 free and clear -- and they chose the language of jazz to celebrate!
You wouldn't know New York City musicians had a care in the world if you made it to the pros' big end-of-the-year blow-out bash, with lots of free food and drinks, speeches and music. I didn't want to miss it. Well, they might have some cares on their shoulders, but our union now owns its six-story headquarters building. No more interest to pay. A party to remember and recall long into the New Year!
"We burned our mortgage," declared Local 802's president Bill Moriarity. Invitations read: "We own it." The union moved to its location on the West Side of Manhattan ten years ago, when John Glasel was its president, and Glasel was there, remarking about savings to the union due to its mortgage prepayments over several years. Jack Gale's words also gave cause to party.
I ran into Jackie Williams in front of Lincoln Center over the holidays, and I mentioned to the drummer how great the jazz trio sounded at the union party. "Yes, it was an important occasion for our union. Like Bill said, we're celebrating owning our building [at 322 W. 48th St., N.Y., N.Y. 10036]. I ran into a lot of people I haven't seen in awhile."
The trio consisted of Williams, bassist Earl May and Junior Mance, on piano. ("Wish I could play with them when they play at the Knickerbocker," Jackie noted. Drums are not allowed at that Village piano pub.) Other jazz musicians -- such as Ray Mosco on drums, Carline Ray on bass, Jimmy Owens, trumpet -- sat in throughout the evening as the union hall took on a festive mood and people caught up with each other to socialize. Holiday lights were strung across the stage, with a lone poinsettia in the middle.
A couple of dozen little Christmas trees decorated the long tables. Revelers heard fare such as "Emily," "Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me," "Meditation," and "Straight, No Chaser." A glance at portraits on one wall of Oscar Peterson, Louis Armstrong, and Dizzy Gillespie made you wonder if these giants were smiling at the happy scene--after all New York City has been through. It was a night to remember. Jazz reigned on stage, and Junior Mance was king. His music was just right. He played a fiery solo on "Broadway." And the trio received a lot of applause.
As musicians filled their plates with pasta, salad, chicken, and brownies, they talked with each other, some making new acquaintances and others reviving friendships. "It's fabulous -- the mortgage burning," said union member/drummer Jimmy Lovelace. "I like it. It's really nice to come to the union building and rehearse here," said Marty Bound, a trumpet player, who sat in on the tune, "Just Friends." He said he moved to New York three years ago from Chicago. "I like it better here because the scene is much larger than in Chicago." He said it felt good ("and pretty intense") to play with the jazz trio hired by the union. "You don't have to analyze it."
Mary Lou Steppacher, a violinist, chatted about her improvising and playing at the folk mass at St. Gregory the Great on West 90th St. She mentioned that she was proud of the union and thought "it was a good idea" that the union paid off the mortgage early. Pianist Win Sochet, who was looking for jazz musicians to jam with, and recalled playing a former venues in the good old days such as La Boheme and the Cookery.
"You know, my piano is a little out of tune, but back then it sounded okay with the bebop sound," he said. " When bebop first started, pianos were often out of tune. Here I'll give you some tunes." And he named "Thriving on a Riff," "Four," "All of Me," "What Is This Thing Called Love?" "All the Things You Are," "Groovin' High," "Star Eyes," and "Body and Soul" as the tunes he likes to start with in a session. He looked over at the stage, and noticed a jazz violinist: "That's John Blair playing now with the trio. He's pretty good."
The party brought out many musicians' creativity. Earl Davis, from Houston, for one, courageously went up on stage at the union and played his trumpet and sang a poem he wrote. "I wrote it for Thelonius Monk. I called it 'A Message for Monk.' I took 27 titles or compositions Monk had written and made a poem of it," he explained enthusiastically.
He sang the words to a Bb blues with the trio. While he's not a union member, Davis said he thinks "the mortgage burning is a good thing. I support the union, and I think I will join again." Did 9/11 have any effect on his career? "I really don't think the 9/11 event had any effect on my playing my music. I just keep playing."
Jeffrey Miller, who has relocated to New York, joined in: "It's so good that they paid off the mortgage. 802 is in good shape financially. I'm still a member of Local 47 in L.A. I lived there for 26 years." How do you compare the jazz scene in Los Angeles compared to New York City? "It's not very exciting in L.A. It doesn't have the energy that you find in New York. It's cliquish in L.A. Well, there are not a whole lot of places to play, and mobility is a problem."
Miller said he has a masters degree in music and did some teaching. He said he has been coming to the union's Monday evening jam sessions and has been playing drums for 43 years. "In the '50's and '60s, I played with Freddie Drew and Tommy Turrentine."
The union and music talk continued. Pedro Rodriguez, senior recording business representative, said he believes the union owning the building has built confidence for the musicians. "I think it's wonderful. Having the building also allows us to do things we weren't allowed to do before. Now we have rooms for holding celebrations like this one! Having the building helps us to be a focal point of the labor movement in New York. Another union, Local 306, the projectionists, was able to rent space from Local 802 to hold a vote."
Rodriguez is known for sponsoring the periodic Gospel Spotlight sessions (instrumentalists and vocalists in a gospel and blues jazz style) at the union. "We invite recording companies, hotel and restaurant managers, clergy from different churches, and basically anybody and everybody who can employ us." The Gospel Music Committee can be reached at 212-245-4802, ext. 197.
Thirty-year-old alto sax player Arun Luthra finished playing with the trio on "Bags Groove" and told a few of us about himself. A union member, he was born in Massachusetts and raised in Belgium. Now living in Queens, Luthra was proud of a gig playing with the Bobby Short Orchestra at the Cafe Carlyle. "It's really nice playing here at the union. That was great -- playing up there. I'm glad we have this place."
Michael Edelson, a jazz and cabaret-style pianist who plays at the Sunday (8 p.m. - 2 a.m.) and Monday (9 p.m.-3 a.m.) sing-alongs at Don't Tell Mama's, said, "It's great the union has its own building, and that we own it. I recently re-affiliated with the union after not being a member for many years. I got back because I want to do musical theatre, and hopefully work on Broadway." What did he think about the jazz trio? "I thought they were wonderful. Junior Mance is phenomenal! His jazz playing is very tasteful. His approach to jazz is very expressive. His technique is fluid. He makes it look so easy like playing the piano is the easiest thing in the world. He plays so effortlessly."
Soon the party was over, and as I was leaving a flaming red-haired woman in cowboy boots, carrying a guitar, was coming in. Lo Nardo handed me her CD. "Check this out. Man, they really meant it! They closed promptly at 9 o'clock! I was hoping to meet some people.
"I sing and play lead lines. My Uncle Carl Brizzi used to bring me around to all these jazz clubs and meet the jazz musicians. He used to get me to listen to Django Rheinhardt and his phrasing. I was so eager to meet people. Do you think I could still get some of that delicious food?"
Sure, union helpers said. They were giving out take-out containers. And the camaraderie of musicians continued outside on the sidewalk on 48th Street.
Carla Marie Rupp is a musician and a journalist. A JJA member, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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