Monday, November 9, 2009

Everyone was out for a stroll

A stroll or two along The High Line. 2:50 PM. Photo: JH.
November 9, 2009. A warmish autumn sunny Sunday. Everyone who could be, was out for a stroll. There were blocks closed off for street fairs. The sidewalks of Fifth Avenue from the low 60s right down into the 20s, was jammed with couples, families, groups of friends, all ages. The sidewalks of New York, no matter where you went, were crowded. There was a good feeling in the air.

I went down to the Algonquin with friends where Barbara Carroll was giving her Sunday Brunch concert with Jay Leonhart in the hotel’s Oak Room.

Barbara’s musicological forte are the songbooks of the great composers of American standards from the first half of the 20th century, after which popular music underwent a cultural sea change.

Barbara grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts and was an aspiring musician and a jazz aficionado from an early age. She went to the New England Conservatory after high school and in her early 20s in 1950, she came to New York where she soon after got a gig playing a “rehearsal pianist” on stage in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Me and Juliet.”
Barbara Carroll with Jay Leonhart on the bass doing a medley of Gershwin built around "My Man's Gone Now" from Porgy & Bess. Sunday afternoon at the Algonquin.
In the mid-50s New York nightlife was still a cornucopia of clubs and joints where there was live music everywhere and the jazz greats were performing nightly. On West 52nd between Fifth and Sixth was know as Jazz Street because on any given night you could hear Billie Holliday, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum doing a set. (As another example of the swiftyly evolving New York – only thirty years before Prohibition and jazz moved in, the great palaces of the William H. and William K. Vanderbilt dominated the north and south corners of Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street.)

Women jazz pianists in the 1950s were few and far between, and often Barbara would be booked for a gig under the name Bobby Carroll just to get the work. She’d show up and the manager would say: “Sorry but we got a guy named Bobby Carroll coming in.” (“But I’m Bobby Carroll.”).

Still in her twenties, she had a jazz trio that played the clubs like Blue Angel, Basin Street, Eddy Condon’s, the Embers. Popular music was as much a part of social life as DJs are today. Performers partied and performed at them whenever there was a piano in the room.

I first heard her on a 3-CD jazz and cabaret anthology called “An Evening At the Erteguns” and, coincidentally we were soon after introduced by a mutual friend. Since then I’ve been a fan, or really an addict of her fresh and delicate and powerful interpretations. I have several of her CDs on my iTunes and when I put the collection on “Shuffle” I’m always amazed how her recordings come into the mix like a gentle yet complex musical rejoinder to whatever came before.

The following are a couple of links about Barbara. I wish I could have brought the afternoon’s entire repertoire for you to hear: jazz.com & NY Times.

The Plaza Hotel Saturday night, 8 pm.
And then Saturday night. I was invited by Nazee Moinian to a book party at the Plaza. My idea of a perfect Saturday night is to stay home, have a good meal, and read. I was reading something yesterday about a man who lives outside of L.A. saying that his part of the county was far from “the pace” of L.A. I had to laugh: “pace” in L.A. is like the tortoise in the race with the hare.

However, pace is pace is pace. Mrs. Moinian is a good friend and this was important to her.

It was called for 6 to 9 and I got there about quarter to seven. I was surprised to see the mezzanine gallery above the hotel’s lobby was wall-to-wall people.

The Moinians are New Yorkers, Americans, but naturally self-identified as Persian Jews, many of whom emigrated to America in the 1970s after the fall of the Shah and during the Iranian Revolution. They all became American citizens.

Many families moved to Los Angeles and soon created a “presence” in L.A. culture and business. However, for a long time, generally, they were an isolated community socially, which is common in the American process of assimilation. The second generation, now Americans, however, are changing all that. The Moinians are prominent here in New York. Joe Moinian is in the real estate business and his wife, mother of five, is deeply interested in international relations and the political process. She is now pursuing her doctorate at Columbia and has been actively involved with the Council on Foreign Relations.
Angella Nazarian and her memoir (click to order). Felicia Taylor, Amy Fine Collins, and Nazee Moinian.
The party was for Angella Nazarian and her memoir “Life As A Visitor.” Angella came to the United States (and Beverly Hills) when she was eleven. Shortly thereafter her parents were smuggled out of Iran and months later arrived on American soil. Those who come to this country as exiles escaping political regimes are more appreciative of the American ideal of freedom than a lot of Americans by birth.

There were a lot of familiar faces as well as many new faces to this writer. The guest of honor (besides the author of course) was the Shabanou of Iran, Farah Pahlavi, the widow of the Shah.
Farah Pahlavi, the Shabanou of Iran signing a book.
The Shabanou, I believe, lives mainly in Paris and occasionally visits New York. She and her husband and family fled Iran in February 1979, and he died the following year. The reign of the shah isn’t even a memory to a whole new generation.

This was my first visit to this part of the hotel which is just returning to life once again after its enormous refurbishing and interior re-design. A half century ago this whole area was the location of The Persian Room, as it were, one of the top supper clubs in New York.

That room was designed by Joseph Urban who created so many of the Ziegfeld Follies productions.
Jennifer Keil and Lisa Leshne. Steve Elkman and Margo Langenberg with a friend.
Major entertainers played the Persian Room, as well as dance orchesters. Nearby in the hotel was a nightclub called Plaza Nine (after the hotel’s phone number Plaza 9-2000). The club was under the aegis of one Julius Monk, producer of successful cabaret revues.

I chatted with a few people, took a few photos and departed. It was a beautiful night out. There were a lot of people on the sidewalks, arriving, departing the hotel. I crossed over Fifth Avenue to get a picture of the majestic building now two years older than a century. Even if you’re a New Yorker who would prefer to stay at home, once out with the crowds, you’re energized, as if by osmosis.
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