Chubby Mason

May 30, 2008

Every boy needs a mentor — maybe several mentors, one for each stage of his evolving development. One of mine, back in the early Sixties when I was a blossoming teenager, was a forty-something singer and baritone sax player named Chubby Mason. No, that wasn’t his real name. I can’t remember his real name: it was something very Sicilian, and I’m sure Chubby stopped using it long before we met.

Chubby taught me plenty, and not just about Count Basie and Duke Ellington big band arrangements. I was a sixteen-year-old piano player working underage in a Catskill Mountains hotel show band, and from Chubby I learned the “suave” way to light a cigarette for a “lady;” how to order drinks (especially which drinks to order); how to engage in “persuasive” conversation; and much much more, including certain obscure carnal delicacies and practices better left undescribed.

My parents sent me away to the Catskills every summer to play in bands and earn money for my college education; if they had known what kind of education I was getting from Chubby…

I’m older now than Chubby was then, and I can’t tell you why I thought of him specifically today after so many years of hardly thinking about him at all. Maybe it’s because he had a purposeful disregard for the allegedly “important” things going on around him, which attitude I would do well to cultivate in our often-exasperating times: for Chubby Mason, life consisted of summers in New York, winters in Miami, the horses, the dog track — and, literally, wine, women, and song. If he were still alive he would laugh at me, with my Ph.D. and my seriousness. “Hey Red!” he used to call me all the time. “Hey Red!” he’d yell, driving his ’57 Caddy up the Palisades Parkway between Manhattan and the Mountains, “light me up a smoke…always seem to smoke a lot on a trip, ya know?” I’d light one up with him, listen to him expound on the ponies, or the fillies (human, not equine), or the seduction value of the Brandy Alexander or the Side Car, and for a few moments I too would be suave, forty-something, and a connoisseur of fine spirits and finer women.

Sometimes, especially on a day when Rachael Ray gets pilloried for wearing the wrong kind of scarf in a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial and the US Senate is about to consider some goofy carbon-credits bill that will cost us all an arm and a leg, it’s good to reflect on something happy. I see in retrospect that I learned a lot of useful things from Chubby Mason — much more useful than most of the stuff I learned taking a doctorate at the University of Michigan.

Chubby, I miss your kind. And you would have loved the iPod.



May 24, 2008

As I write this I’m listening to Swingin’ for Schuur, an album I downloaded from the iTunes store last evening, featuring Diane Schuur backed by Maynard Ferguson and his Big Bop Nouveau band (1991). There is one obvious misfire on the album — regrettably the first track, “Just One Of Those Things” — but otherwise there is so much joyful singing and playing in this collection! And I feel a kinship with these musicians. In my mind’s eye I can see them in the studio, listening to the charts they’d just put down and knowing that in so many ways, and in so many moments, they had “nailed it.” On stage at the piano, where I did most of my work, I too have felt that.

It is so personally uplifting to be able to take pleasure in a fellow human being’s achievement. Technology rocks!

I begin again…

May 23, 2008

I have a new purpose in posting to this blog: as an antidote to all the poisonous news and commentaries constantly spewing forth from all the mainstream media, I will feed myself, and share with all of you, at least one happy/joyful fact, thought, or occurrence at least a couple of times each week. I suppose I could do this in a private diary; but knowing (hoping?) that I’m being read will keep me on purpose, and discourage me from lapsing into “seriousness.”

Call me a late adopter. I recently bought my first iPod, Bose headphones, uploaded all my CDs into iTunes, and visited the iTunes store to buy a couple of new albums. (If you love great jazz, Stan Getz’s Serenity is a must-have.) Don’t know how I could have lived so long without. I’m now untethered from the home stereo and don’t have to worry about intruding on my wife when the spirit moves me to listen. I’m so happy with the ‘Pod that l that I’m almost ready to forgive Steve Jobs for not licensing the Mac OS in the late eighties, thereby sparing us all the torture of Windows.

A gift of music: if you find yourself feeling melancholy at the end of the day and need a “spirit-lifter” before bed, I heartily recommend J.S. Bach’s organ piece Allein Gott in der Hoeh sei Ehr’, BWV 662. (That’s why the good Lord, in his infinite wisdom, invented headphones.) This piece always makes me smile and believe that if the human race can produce minds and souls like Bach and Stan Getz, there is yet hope for the future of mankind.

Hello world!

June 27, 2007

Here’s my sense of life:

The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is his pleasure in his own skill. He loves to do what he does well, and having done it well, he loves to do it better.You see it in his science. You see it in the magnificence with which he carves and builds, the loving care, the gaiety, the effrontery. The monuments are supposed to commemorate kings and religions, heroes, dogmas, but in the end the man they commemorate is the builder. (Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man)

…a self-sufficient ego. Nothing else matters. (Howard Roark, in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead)