Saturday, February 7, 2015

Jazz Hands and Second Dinners

Me with my faithful pet skunk named Flower,

In the very early days, the school bus dropped us off at the bottom of Arroyo Road, and it was over a mile to my house. Pete's house was about a quarter of a mile up from he highway. I was tired of walking, so I'd follow him home...I was also nearly a year younger than most of my classmates, so I was really a baby walking that long walk home.

Pete's mom, Chuck Sutton would feed us peanut butter sandwiches, and she sometimes gave me a ride home in the green VW bus. Peter never ditched me, though he could've, having two brothers. Even when they made a blanket fort and wouldn't let me in because I was a girl. I'm sure I was a pest. I remember building Lincoln logs with him. I'd never seen Lincoln logs, I was fascinated.

I was devastated when the Suttons moved to Lagunitas. No more free lunch. No more playmates. Nobody ever had any money in those days, and feeding the neighborhood kids was the norm. I remember eating cereal at 5PM with Adair Lara Dalys mob in Lagunitas too. Tony the Tiger. Roarrrrr!

Apparently I had a voracious appetite. I went from house to house grazing with the other kids. Scott Waver's mom made the most outrageous sugar doughnuts. Billy Joe Bianchi's grandmother fed me spongecake and raviolis, saying, "Mangia, mangia." "Eat, eat." And so I did, but I was a skinny kid, so skinny, Jimmy Bohman used to sneer and call me "Skinny" in eighth grade.

Stephanie Stone's blended family was so big, they never even noticed another ravening mouth at the table. Micaela Wall Marsden's stepmom Betty Lang Wall had an open larder policy too. I practically lived hat her house when we were tweenies. Then, I'd go over to another neighbor's house, usually our next-door-neighbor Agnes Vincilione's house for Second Dinner. I must've had a tapeworm or something. Now I'd love to be able to eat like that and still be called Skinny.

Pete Sutton's famous dad once played a concert for us at Lagunitas School. Kevin McConnell reminded me. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven....so cool. The original Loony Tunes. What were we, 2nd graders? We all danced and made jazz hands, little starfish hands keeping rhythm to the tunes. And Steve Tristano playing his dad's (Lennie) famous boogige-woogie chords on the piano afterwards, I thought Mrs. Burges was going to have a stroke. No wonder we were so delightfully warped.

Pete posted a ditty that spurred this memory:
Over in the meadow where the grass grows so even, 
Lived an old mother frog and her Little froggies seven. 
"Spring," said the mother, "We spring," said the seven, 
and they sprung all day where the grass grows so even.

The silly ditty. Think of the soundtracks of those old cartoons from the 50s, that was Pete's dad at the keyboard playing stride piano. Of course, he played more famous jazz tunes too.So what rainsong would Ralph Sutton play, if he was still with us, this morning? Was a time you couldn't find anything on him on the internet. Didn't realize he lived in Aspen. He's been
 rediscovered. I found references to Ralph on the internet, but (no mention of "Chuck."

Katelin asked, Wasn't it Tristani?

Lennie Tristano. Another name out of childhood. When I was a kid, I thought all good piano players had to be blind, like Lennie, and also Kent Weaver (Scott Weaver's bro), so when someone offered us a piano (and lessons), I didn't want it. NO siree! I liked my eyes.

Lennie played cool jazz bebop, using chord progression. The Wiki article says Steve only met him once after 1956, but I remember meeting him walking down the road (SFD Blvd) to the Lagunitas store—two blind piano players and their entourage cut quite a swath in the imagination of childhood.








From a Facebook memory post: (the thread is delightfully foolish in a Kafkaesque sort of way, you might want to check it out). February 7, 2015
minor rev./added 2017
I had written an expanded revised version (everything but the kitchen sink) from this Facebook post in 2015, but I prefer the directness of this post.
See: Call Me Skinny, But Don't Call Me Late

Ralph Sutton obituary "Ralph Earl Sutton, jazz pianist, born November 4 1922; died December 30 2001. The jazz pianist Ralph Sutton, who has died of a heart attack aged 79, was widely admired for his mastery of the distinctive "stride" piano style which had originated in Harlem around the time of the first world war, when legendary "professors" like Willie The Lion Smith competed head-to-head with other keyboard challengers. Younger Harlem aspirants, like Count Basie, Duke Ellington and, most famously, Fats Waller, built on the tradition and popularised it.
Sutton heard "stride" on the Harlem Rhythm radio show while a teenager, became a devotee of Waller's music and stayed unswervingly committed to its perpetuation throughout his long career"

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