Last Night at Birdland

Last Night (7/5) at Birdland, in New York City, I heard the impeccable and impeccably modest jazz giant Hank Jones at the piano with his trio. At age 89 (and after a recent heart episode) he is naturally somewhat less authoritative in his approach, but never less than elegant and thoughtful. On the right hand side of this infuriatingly hard to manage page I’ve added Hank Jones accompanying Jackie on the magnificent “Cherry” from “The Song is Paris.”

Hank Jones was one of the twenty or so jazz greats who I was priveleged to interview for “Tis Autumn: The Search For Jackie Paris” — he accompanied Jackie many times over the years in clubs and can be heard on the last four or so cuts of “The Song Is Paris” (of which “Cherry” of course is one.)

Which leads me to realize why the act of making a self-financed documentary about an obscure (undeservedly so) jazz singer was worth taking up the last three years of my life; it provided the opportunity to sit and jaw with some of the most remarkable figures in music still walking the earth. Indeed, some of the most interesting conversations didn’t make it into the movie, being either off-topic or off color.

Chief among these were a long session we had with Dr. Billy Taylor, where we digressed into a lengthy and fascinating exploration of my pianistic hero (and his mentor) Art Tatum. Taylor talked at length not about Tatum the pianist but about Tatum the person–how he loved going to ball games, playing pinochle etc.

Moments like this make you realize how short history really is. By shaking Billy Taylor’s hand I was one handshake away from Art Tatum. And thus two handshakes away from, say, Fats Waller.

Our session with Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein was another fascinating encounter with a man who, by a simple handshake, automatically connects you with almost every great jazz figure of the twentieth century who lived into the 1950’s (the decade in which began his festival).

The two interview subjects who I was unfortunately not able to include in the finished film at all were Hank Jones and Soupy Sales. Meeting them was enough, though. (In Jones case, he spoke eloquently and warmly about Jackie but the interview was marred by production problems. Soupy’s desire to participate was touching but he was not, on that day, really well enough and we chose not to use his footage).

Question: Did Hank Jones ever play with his brother Thad’s Vanguard band? Anyone know?


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