The Drinkers

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s photo is part of a run of early photos I have purchased either on Instagram or in an online version of the Brimfield sale. (I have only been to Brimfield a few times and it is one of my life’s ambitions to go again. As a car-less non-driver there is no good path from Manhattan. Fellow junk collectors who would like to make the trip in future less disease inhibited times, please do advise. Happy to fund gas.)

This photo postcard came out of the Instagram haul. Purchasing on Instagram is like being in a real time auction although there is no raising of a bid – just who gets to claim it. Some are fast paced and other items just sit and get marked down. It is interesting to me to see what @MissMolly thinks I would like from what I have already purchased and when she DM’s me about one. She’s low on cat photos though and I have yet to manage to purchase one from her.

The Brimfield sale (those to follow in future weeks) moved at a somewhat slower pace, which works better for me. I do like to have at least a bit of time to ponder and consider. The Instagram sales are definitely you snooze you lose – the Brimfield one largely allowed for some consideration and even negotiation before things started to get snatched up.

This photo postcard is entirely unmarked and was never sent. I suspect that it was the composition that caught my eye. The photographer caught a good moment with the legs of these gentlemen, their shoulders and that flag creating a triangle in the middle – a sort of perfect composition – with those table legs adding to it. All the gents sport ties so they were dressed for the occasion, the one even completes the ensemble with a vest and watch chain. I would hazard a guess that it wasn’t a day that started out with drinking and smoking, but was ending with it.

Each fellow has a liberal shot of what appears to be hard liquor, with a bottle of beer chaser as well. (Or so it appears to me.) The two younger men may be brothers, a thought that only occurs to me when I start looking hard at it. Cigarettes spring from the mouths of the two guys. I think it is fair to say this is serious business, they do not appear jolly. Their attire marks this photo as very early. The room is pretty nondescript although there is an oddly incongruent and cheerful boarder of flowers on the wall near the floor and what I thought was a series of either small holes or something along the middle of the wall, but turns out to be something on the negative or in the printing. It’s hard to see, but there’s a happy flowered carpet on the floor too.

I spent a little time considering the flag at the back and its position. Taking out the possibility that somehow the photo negative and printing process somehow flipped which could be possible, I wondered what the statement might be. As many readers probably know, an upside down flag is a signal of duress. I had not encountered backward.

Our friends over at Google informed me that the military positions the flag this way (blue section, stars up highest) on uniforms, vehicles and whatnot, making the flag look as if it is waving as the person or the vehicle moves forward. I don’t know that I agree that they achieve this effect, but I guess it isn’t for me to weigh in on. Meanwhile, I admit that somehow I have never noticed this. So much for my general powers of observation. I cannot find any other reference to this positioning of the flag. (Someone with better eyes might be able to date this within a range by counting the stars on that faded flag.)

Meanwhile, I believe there is a general sense that our prolonged quarantine has increased people’s drinking (um, why wouldn’t it?) and probably not always in a good way. Zoom cocktails (starting earlier and earlier in the day it seems) being the social version of this – although here in New York you can sit outside with someone and drink if you are comfortable doing it in what turns out to be a not-quite socially distanced way. (I have yet to do it but I did have an in-person work breakfast outside on the corner of York and 86 the other day. It was very hygienic and just fine.)

When it comes to work if someone invites you to Zoom cocktails it to be a way of saying it isn’t really a work meeting, and maybe you will talk a little work, but you’ll also chat about other things. (Strangely though, like the meetings we have all tuned into, they tend to last exactly an hour.) Whether you have a jam jar of white wine in one hand, cold hibiscus tea (my favorite summer drink which makes me look like I am guzzling red wine), or something harder, it’s up to you and anything pretty much goes – after all, you’ll on someone’s laptop or iPad screen. I personally seem to be consuming the large quantity of my calories through baked goods rather than alcohol, but to each their own.

However, the other evening we (meaning we at Jazz at Lincoln Center) hosted a Dizzy’s Club online event and sent out the offer for cocktail and mocktail fixings for the guests. Although I purchased the requisite box (which came with salted peanuts in a nod to Dizzy himself) featuring Negroni fixings, instead I made a vodka tonic the way I like, with a ridiculous amount of fresh lime. (I had spent the day packing the apartment for the installation of bookshelves and needed the pick me up – more on this in a future post.) In this way, I found myself on Zoom with 60 or so jazz lovers. The evening kicked off talking to the great Catherine Russell followed by a clip of her at Dizzy’s. (I don’t have that clip but instead offer another which at the time of writing can be found here.)

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Our apartment packed up for the bookcase installation.

 

However briefly it did seem we were transported to a summer’s evening, wiled away at Dizzy’s, sweating drinks in hand – a serving of spicy mac ‘n cheese within reach and maybe some fried pickles, enjoying some companionable time, listening to the music and watching the view of the sun setting over Central Park. I must say, those were the best Zoom cocktails so far.

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View of Dizzy’s, Central Park and the East side out the windows.

 

 

Under My Skin

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Another evening at Dizzy’s

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Much to my surprise, today seems to be a day when I decide to let the toys and photos pile up for another day and instead give Pictorama readers a few thoughts I have been mulling over recently. I recently hit the two year mark at my job, which after thirty years at the Met remains feeling “new” to me.  I will consider this a two year check-in for those who are counting and have been following.

I have come to realize that spring is an especially tough time at this job – struggling to make budget (fiscal year ends with financial reckoning on June 30) while taking out our crystal ball and doing our best estimate of income for the coming year at the same time. A clutch of important events culminate in these weeks, kicked off by our Gala and ending with our final concerts in June, and 24 hours and seven days do not seem to be enough time to get it all done.

Not surprisingly, after almost countless late work nights, much budget fretting mostly at 3 AM on sleepless nights, and weekends worked, I fell prey to not one, but two viruses making their way through our office. The stomach version utterly flattened me and resulted in Kim quietly but firmly urging me (peeling me off the bed and then escorting me) to the urgent care facility down the street after 24 hours without improvement. The second of the one-two punch virus is a head and chest cold. (Faithful readers know I was battling this when we arrived at the Meadowlands last week for the East Coast Comics Convention – that post here. It grew into a proper cold and knocked me out on Sunday and Monday.) I continue to sniffle and cough as I type this.

Like all foolish mortals, I thought I had this cold on the run after three days of relative care and corresponding improvement – better known as willing it away. Wednesday night I attended a gala event in honor of a board member who has been extremely helpful and nice. It wasn’t a late night but much to my dismay, although I guess not surprising, I woke up Thursday feeling lousy again. The work day was devoted largely to doing the stressful final edits for an enormously important and detailed grant proposal between meetings, and the day was to end at our club Dizzy’s. It was a performance, the Bill Charlap trio, which I had looked forward to and a dozen guests were booked to come to dinner. Enormous downpours and thunderstorms throughout the day, along with increased coughing and cold laden wuzzy-headedness, did not improve my state (mental or physical), and really home in bed was the only desirable, albeit unobtainable, conclusion to the day.

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A daytime, nearby view of Columbus Circle from a similar perch near Dizzy’s, snapped on a recent day.

 

However, a dozen guests for dinner is not something easily ignored and I did my best to rally as I headed over to the club after work, tributaries of water like streams overwhelming storm drains, a tentative and watery sun finally making a late day appearance. A less than promising start to the evening, however no one canceled and the night began to unfurl. The guests, almost all people I was meeting for the first time, arrived and they were all lovely and interesting. None of them knew each other but in a rare bit of chemistry they immediately clicked with us and each other. Something unexpected started to happen. Suddenly conversation was lively and sparking across the table. The sun grew bolder as it started to set, the way it sometimes seems to do, and we were treated to the reflection of it reaching across Central Park as it melted downward. Drinks in hand, a first course was passed family style around the table and the evening was off and running.

Then Mr. Charlap and the two Mr. Washingtons, on (Peter) bass and (Kenny) drums respectively, came out and started to play. Slowly the room began to fall under the spell of the music, a sense of enchantment and elation stole over us. It was the music, the view, the food – a uniquely New York moment someone said later. Everything else melted away. Listening to the opening bars of Stardust, with a mouthful of very good, hot and gooey macaroni and cheese, looking out over the room and the stunning view of late spring Central Park, when an extraordinary sense of well-being washed over me. One has those moments of knowing that you are in exactly the right time and place that you should be and that you are fortunate to be there. (The best I can offer is a Youtube clip of Bill Charlap playing Stardust but with a vocal can be found here.)

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Kenny Washington, Bill Charlap and Peter Washington, far right

 

As I looked at both our guests and my colleagues at the table, and across the room, I realized that sometimes sharing music in this way is incredibly intimate. The woman on my right, a writer, was so inspired that she had grabbed a menu and was jotting notes on it. I understood the inclination. Each person was off in their own world listening, some with eyes closed ecstatically, others looking off in their own way, a few of us tapping our feet or swaying gently with approval and connection.

At that moment I reflected on whether or not there were experiences at the Met which were similar. As much as I deeply loved spending time with people looking at art I am not sure there is a parallel experience – such an intimate, shared experience.

When I think about the Museum and my many years there I remember good times and bad, and many wonderful moments as well as ongoing challenges met. However, it did not have the dramatic highs and lows of this job – often coming at the same time. Frankly, this job is like riding one of the bucking broncos on Kim’s beloved westerns. And I often wonder if I am built for the ride, barely hanging on it seems, having always been a sort of even keel person myself – an innate cat-like in a desire for the sameness of daily routine and organization. I cannot say I am comfortable with it (as my exhaustion and virus prone season prove) and yet, as the title of this post suggests, it has gotten under my skin. I wrestle with this – as frankly do those who are closest to me (ask Kim and my mom) – and wonder if I am running too hard and fast to sustain. Meanwhile, Thursday night I remember thinking to myself, was a typical day at Jazz at Lincoln Center – amazing and unpredictable peaks and pain, amazing and all stuffed into fourteen or so waking hours, one in a string of many.

Ellington is Essential

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This is a quick post today as I am dashing off to Rose Hall (the House of Swing) where I spend much of my time since taking up my post at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Having recently hit the two year mark, now it is hard to remember that there was a time when the labyrinth of our backstage confounded me. But this post isn’t so much a reflection on that as how I will spend my day today. This weekend in May belongs to a competition of fifteen of the finest high school jazz bands the nation has to offer fighting for the title of the best in the US.

Among the somewhat myriad educational programs we run, this one is called Essentially Ellington. Born out of the realization that most of the arrangements for Duke Ellington’s music were lost, Wynton Marsalis began a journey of recreating them (a band member actually does this each year) and distributing them for free to high schools all over the country. Many of these high school jazz bands then compete regionally for the opportunity to be one of the bands chosen to come to Manhattan to show their stuff and compete for the national title which happens over a three day period in May – this year culminating today in the finale of the 24th year of the program.

The first year I attended I thought – man, a whole day of high school jazz bands – I wonder if they are paying me enough? I was very quick to realize how very wrong I was. These kids are amazing – think Olympics of jazz band competition. I’m telling you – people would pay to hear most of these kids play.

Although it is a competition they are generous with their praise for each other – great solos are met with thundering applause and approving cheers, each school’s performance given an enthusiastic standing ovation when it completes its rounds. Last year when a young female trumpet player hit what is sort of the triple crown – winning the composition award, top achiever award and her band taking best in the competition – the approval of her peers just about brought down the house. Additionally, the ovation of the kids for their band directors at the end of the festival went on for seven minutes – there is love to spread around in that hall on Saturday night.

Since I am a fundraiser I know the details and demographics well. Half of the schools that compete nationally are what are called Title 1 schools which is the designation of those which are financially disadvantaged. Understanding the lack of resources at those schools, and even with the assistance we can offer (financial as well as providing some on the ground educators to train band directors and do some clinics with the bands locally at the schools), it is nothing short of a miracle what these chronically under-resourced schools achieved in order to arrive here this weekend.

While all the students are all of a high caliber, there is nothing like the moment when one of them takes a solo and suddenly the judges all sit up a bit and start to smile. As jazz musicians themselves they can’t help responding to the music. Yesterday during a trumpet solo by a young man from Rio Americano high school in Sacramento began his solo, I too found myself sitting forward in my seat and when the group from Snoqualmie, Washington took the stage next we were all blown away by a young woman who took her turn soloing, singing and playing the trumpet. Memorable.

By the end of the weekend new friendships will have been forged among the students – and for some of them, especially those who pursue a career in music, those are the seeds of cohorts that will inform the professional relationships of a lifetime. Many of the band directors will send love from the stage to wives who are chronically deprived of husbands on Mother’s Day again and again over the years. (The competition is webcast on our jazz.org site and many of the competing schools are watching it and cheering their school in auditoriums back home although a variety of parents and teachers travel with the kids as chaperones.) My colleagues from all parts of the organization, from the Chief Financial Officer to assists, will each be responsible for one of the bands throughout the competition. Seeing them in the civvies for long days and evenings in the hall is part of the drill.

It is all as American as apple pie, if also somewhat exhausting. As one fan said of the festival, there’s something about it that is very democratic, and for this and other reasons we will all find ourselves wiping a tear here and there over the course of the three days. So it’s 7:00 AM and I have to get to midtown. Let the finale begin!

Fine Tuning: Country Music

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I arrived home from a concert last night (more about that in a minute) and discovered that our scanner had died on Kim. As this will inhibit photo reproduction somewhat in the near future, please bear with me while I take the opportunity to meander down a path and bring those of you who follow the personal aspects of my life up-to-speed.

Last week I hit the two year mark at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Since it also happened to be our Gala I didn’t really have the bandwidth to pay much attention to the fact – nothing like more than 600 people for dinner and a concert to distract you. Subsequent to that I was knocked low by a stomach virus which only left me considering whether or not to head to the ER or if urgent care would do. Mostly recovered with the help of time and the miracles of medicine, last night I attended a concert featuring highlights of Ken Burns’s upcoming documentary on country music (to air on PBS in mid-September) paired with our Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra which I had been looking forward to and I was pleased not to be denied the pleasure of it.

I will begin by stating that I know almost nothing really about country music. Unlike Kim’s family, my folks didn’t listen to a lot of music, but they did have a handful of folk music albums and as I stumbled into nascent consciousness about music I gravitated for a bit in that direction. My father had worked on a documentary for ABC News on Woody Guthrie and for some reason the soundtrack had to be recorded on our home stereo (resulting in a day of tip toeing around the house, interesting equipment and strange people for small child Pam which I still remember) and a pile of those albums remained with us. (Meanwhile, my mother was a fan of Joan Baez and the sound of her singing takes me immediately back to my childhood in a way few things can.)

As I poked and stumbled through what appealed to me musically I found my way to people like Jimmie Rodgers. (Blue Yodel No. 9 was featured in the concert last night with Wynton on the trumpet doing the Louis Armstrong part and Marty Stuart on guitar and vocal as Jimmie Rodgers. The 1930 recording of Rodgers and Armstrong found here via Youtube.) I liked the stories and the music stayed with me, but I didn’t have access to a lot of it and my musical attention, such as it was, strayed. I eventually found radio stations that played jazz and suddenly I was getting warmer. Some of you already know that in college I stumbled across early popular music genius Rich Conaty (memorialized fondly in a post here) who introduced me to the broader music of the 1920’s and 30’s that ultimately became the mainstay of my music diet.

I first discovered Rich’s show when spending the weekends in Manhattan during the fall of my senior year in college. I had exhausted the opportunities I had to work in life from the figure in the art program at my Connecticut college. I had been passionate about drawing and sculpting the figure from life since high school and so I arranged my classes in a way so I could come to New York on Saturday and take an early all-day life class at the Art Student’s League on Sunday and head back to New London early on Monday. I stayed in a small apartment my father kept so he wasn’t forced to commute everyday during the final years of his long career.

It was sort of exhausting and I didn’t know anyone in New York so most of those evenings I spent alone in the apartment, listening to the radio while I ate and before bed. (Yes folks, actual radio. Someday I will expound here on my love of the radio – I adored it as a child and have never entirely deserted my fondness for it. While I mostly access it via the internet these days, I will never forget my childhood fascination with my first transistor radio. It was simply, a really great thing.)

It was during one of those New York weekend stays that I first discovered Rich, who at the time, and on and off over his many decades at Fordham’s WFUV radio station, had both the Saturday and Sunday night slot. His Sunday night show was the one I grew to love and listen to faithfully over the years however and it rarely strayed out of the popular music genre or period. The Saturday night show was a tad more freewheeling – at least this is how I remember it all. I couldn’t say for sure, but I believe it was the Saturday show that featured early country music. It was a revelation and I always wanted to know more.

I lost touch with Rich’s show for a year or so after I stopped coming to Manhattan on weekends. The radio signal was weak and I could not pick it up in Connecticut although I did try repeatedly. It was a year or more later before I was back in New York and resumed listening to him, although another couple of years before life was settled into enough of a routine that I became a regular and devoted listener.

Over time I got to know Rich and in retrospect I could really kick myself for not asking him about that country music show. I am not aware of his devoting any substantial air time to the subject subsequently, not in a dedicated way. I think country swing was probably the tributary that beckoned and was new to my ears, but hard to say how reliable memory like that of decades ago actually is. It stayed with me, but in the fall of 1985 with limited knowledge of Manhattan’s resources, nor armed with much information, it was never an avenue I really explored.

(Bob Wills, San Antonio Rose, 1938 can be found here.)

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Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys

 

Last night, listening to Ken Burns talk about the dawn of country music those dusty musical memories started to emerge again and the musical curiosity of a 21 year old Pam stirred and itched at my brain anew. As someone said to me after discussing how great the concert was, however, just another Friday night for you at Jazz at Lincoln Center and I thought, not quite, but it is the very best part of my job indeed.

 

Rock ‘n Roll Blues

Pam’s Pictorama Post: The ear splitting sound of electric guitar and flashing, colored lights – fans standing and yelling. Radio City Music Hall on a Wednesday night on a chilly, wet summer night. How on earth did this big band girl end up there?

Pictorama readers know I have occasionally taken to reporting on various aspects of my life, and lately that has mostly taken the form of writing about my new job at Jazz at Lincoln Center. As someone whose interest in music has rarely budged beyond a stubborn point after 1940 or so since discovering early jazz and dance band music in college, it gave me some pause to take a job where, by its very nature, I would be immersed in not only contemporary jazz, but all of the decades between.

I was very upfront about this concern throughout my interview process, often declaiming unwarranted into much of the first months of my job, until I realized that in reality most of the people I work with also have strong preferences and being open to things in a general way is the only musical mandate of the job. Over the intervening months on the march through my first year, I have discovered that I really don’t have to love everything. While my ambivalence about be-bop may be shocking to some (it really is) it is true that I don’t have to love everything. For all of that, there has been very little I didn’t at least find interesting – there was one painful night at Dizzy’s with what I will describe as abstract sax, but for the most part it has been an interesting ride.

Therefore, in the spirit of exploration I will try most things and as a result I have learned a lot. So the recent offer of a ticket to hear Steve Miller, who plays a blues program at our venue annually, resulted in a trip to Radio City Music Hall where I have not been in more than a decade. I met him recently and he seems to be a lovely person. His music is sometimes described as an entry point between rock ‘n roll and blues and with this in mind I accepted the offer of a ticket.

My most recent visit to Radio City was to hear the Dalai Lama. The long line and wait to get in for that was sort of epic, although he was fascinating as always and worth the wait. I had not thought about that particular talk in a long time, but it came back to me when I arrived at Radio City on the Wednesday night of my late June vacation. (The only other time I remember being at Radio City was to hear Frank Sinatra shortly before he died. My then boyfriend Kevin, who had the tickets, had gotten the date wrong and we had to rush to the theater, arriving late with the concert underway.)

The flashing lights and shock of the opening act, Peter Frampton, knocked me back even further, to my childhood. After the initial shock, and admittedly thoughts about running immediately from the room, I was surprised to realize oh-my-gosh, buried deep in my brain were many of these songs, as if planted there by aliens. Not all of it, but about a third of what he played kicked off a sound track in my brain, of long forgotten AM radio. (This coming to mind recently with the death of Dan Ingram. DAN’ Ing-ram, his intro playing from another soundtrack in my brain.)

Popular music blared daily from the radio in our sea green Pontiac station wagon, and from the large brown and gold affair of a radio (a bit out-dated even then) atop of our refrigerator – as soon as my sister was tall enough to change the dial from the constant news radio of the day. (WCBS I believe. My mom favored them as her brother worked for the station at the time. News was a family business.) Music of the ’70’s also blared from my bedside clock radio, (the clock radio which I later, if only briefly, discovered jazz on but about that another time), and of course from a series of small Sony transistor radios I kept with me to the extent the batteries held out. Later, in high school, top 40 music would follow me to parties at the beach at night, and ring in each New Year with a countdown of songs. WABC, top 40 radio. Little did I realize that a small tape recorder was going off in my brain and decades later someone would hit the playback switch.

My co-workers filtered in around me shortly before Steve Miller came on. When Steve Miller started the tape recorder revealed a greater knowledge and memory of his music – albums on my sister’s turntable. Then he and Peter Frampton played some blues together, blues of course being what I really came for after all, and I started to get it – not so bad for a big band girl.

 

Hep Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I tend to think that this pin represents the crossroads of Pictorama and my work life. I could hardly be expected to resist it when it crossed my path on eBay recently. This knowing little fellow, sporting his bowtie, a wiseacre grin and numerous whiskers proclaiming his cool, something of a wink to us. (Would wearing such a pin have precluded actual cool on some level I wonder?) Early jazz slang seems to get intricate and dense pretty quickly, but I think Hep Cat is one we all pretty much recognize. Of course, it did lead me to reflect on how interesting it is that jazz musicians chose to call themselves cats which of course endears them to me further. For us here at Pictorama, cats are the very essence of hip and elegance. (Just ask Blackie.)

It has been noted by those who see me daily that my work attire has swiftly morphed from Met to Jazz. I readily acknowledge this – I do not dress up more or less so much as it is different. There are things I would not have worn to the Met, whereas I would say quite simply anything goes at Jazz. I spend a lot of nights at our club Dizzy’s and concerts these days and that too is quite different from galleries. I do subscribe to the theory that if your job is to ask people for money, you should always be dressed and ready to do it should the opportunity arise on any given day. Dressing appropriately is a sign of respect. (I recently saw a consultant I have worked with for years when I was dressed in my weekend wear, and he said it was shocking, like seeing the Queen dressed to work in the garden. I took this as a compliment.) I taught a class at Juilliard this spring on fundraising and one of their assignments was to arrived dressed to ask for money. They arrived in everything from pajama bottoms (he said he forgot) to suits, as well as everything imaginable between.

Meanwhile, to be blunt however, there is and never has been anything about my appearance that would lead one to think cool as such. Growing up in a preppy, conservative milieu, college largely same, and then landing at the Metropolitan Museum in fundraising, a penchant for vintage and vintage influenced clothing was my primary stake in sartorial individuality. Although really, we have all known people who have that extra something about them, what they wear and how they wear it and somehow so much more, that makes them hep cats indeed. In the end they could come from or exist anywhere. I believe you are born with it – those folks who wore even their gym uniform with a certain insouciance all the way back in grade school.

Without calling anyone out and embarrassing them, not surprisingly there are a few hep cats amongst us at Jazz, and not just among the musicians. Cool is a term which has virtually lost all meaning from overuse, yet we do still know it when we see it. As for me, maybe I will put this pin on my winter wool beret, next to the Krazy Kat pin I am sporting there because here at Pictorama, we generally celebrate a different kind of cat indeed.

Big Band Valentine

Pam’s Pictorama Bonus Post: Happy Valentine’s Day! Those of you who have known us for a bit know that it is an annual tradition here at Deitch Studio that a very special Valentine is produced each year in honor of the combined Valentine’s Day and Queen of Catland (my) birthday – as recently noted in Sunday’s post A Happy Birthday to Me. It has grown into a several week project – the conceiving of which often germinates weeks, if not months. in advance.

This year Kim has outdone himself with this rendition of the Jazz at Lincoln Center band, all as anthropomorphic cats of course, each one nodding to the actual gentleman who owns that seat in the orchestra. I don’t know how Wynton, Carlos, Sherman, Walter , Marcus and the rest will ultimately feel about their cat edition selves, but I hope they love them as much as I do! Kim and I are in our garb from the upcoming Reincarnation Stories book and I especially like what I call my Queen of Catland regalia. We are of course at the soon-to-be famous toy cat museum, of which I am the proprietress, featured in the latter pages of the same story. Kim is busy with the appendix of that book now which means it is slowly crossing the finish line!

The great rendition of a Feed the Kitty is on the floor – more a nod to my fundraising responsibilities than anything else. Kim also made the drawing below at my request recently. I will imagine the money and see it – and it will come!

Traveling with the Big Band

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As Pictorama readers and other online followers already know, I am currently on the road, although wrapping up my week’s sojourn with the Jazz at Lincoln Center band on their Holiday Big Band tour. Since it is hard for me to do any other kind of post on the road you all have been treated (or subjected) to a clutch of personal posts over the last few weeks.

It is Saturday afternoon, the second week of December beginning as I start this, I posted The Other Pam Butler a few hours ago. I cannot seem to find a position comfortable enough to nap in in my seat (some of the guys have perfected sleeping on these bus seats, but it is a skill acquired with time clearly) so it is as good a time as any to take stock. As someone pointed out yesterday, this job wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye a year ago as I went through my year-end rituals in fundraising, checking in with folks, gathering up last minute contributions at the Metropolitan Museum. I think I would have laughed (hard) if someone had told me I’d be on this bus with 18 or so guys, jazz musicians and road staff, crawling through North Carolina in a snow storm for 9 hours on our way to a gig in Chapel Hill. (The photo above is from our breakfast stop at Cracker Barrel, clearly a group favorite and after eating those biscuits I know why. The institutional precise consistency of these shop ‘n restaurants is a bit dizzying to experience, but clearly a stop of great comfort for road warriors through the greater American south and east.)

The band is moved with incredible efficiency. Time is truly money when you are feeding and lodging almost two dozen people and the team at Jazz is a very well oiled machine. The military precision of the early morning departures reminds me of my travel days through Europe with the Met – I guess the experienced moving of large groups is always done the same way, but it seems ironic to me that busing a jazz band across the American South as economically as possible is ultimately similar to toting well-heeled tourists through the cultural highlights of Europe on a luxury tour, but it is. Predawn departures on buses to airplanes, or to be driven to destinations and fed with hotel breakfasts of weird eggs, fruit and coffee. (The coffee was better than it mostly was in Europe and the South has those biscuits going for it too, not to mention the fact that we could drink the water.) The rest stops, complete with machines chock-a-block full of junk food are distinctly American, however I admit to being glad to see them, and I admit to eating food on this trip that I have not eaten since college. Unlike the Met trips however, the destinations are not luxury hotels and ships, nor cultural highlights, but business hotels of unromantic economy and maximum efficiency, located just off highways. Since I was most happy to see a bed and fall into it for four or five hours of sleep at a go, these hotels with their breakfast buffets and endless cups of coffee were always quite welcome.

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Predawn view out my hotel window in Atlanta, a view of the pool.

 

The band members are deeply experienced travelers and on this trip they have already been on the road for a week when I join them. (I had a prelude in Arkansas on other business.) They know how best to arrange themselves within the limitations of the bus seats to sleep a bit and as a rule no one is late for the various departures. It is generally quiet, although a soft spoken phone call or conversation drifts over the group occasionally. The travel is executed uncomplainingly by the band, and there is a real genius to the calculus of the number and length of stops to be made along the longer passages – such as this nine hours from Atlanta to Chapel Hill. Ray Murphy who manages the logistics has an gift for this – whether it is just years of experience or an innate talent I do not know. Somehow he keeps it all moving as painlessly as possible.

On most days late afternoon is the witching hour for the instruments, equipment, suits and shoes to be loaded in and taken to the venue, followed by sound check which can also function as a rehearsal. Then it is likely there is a Q&A with a school or other group who were invited to sound check, lead by one of the band members – a role which switches daily. Family style dinner is up after, usually around 5:30 or 6:00, and served in a backstage area catered by the venue. In this way we experience a range of food from a memorable homemade apple pie to an unremarkable attempt at tofu.

Schedule allowing, Wynton or another member might squeeze teaching a master class at a university in during the day, or the whole group might show up at a school as they did for an elementary school in Palm Beach. Usually there is some time to kill between dinner and concert and I use this time to call Kim at home. Concerts on the road seem to start between 7:00-7:30 and run for about 90 minutes with a brief intermission. After backstage meet and greet (or grip and grin as someone called it) and the reloading of the equipment it is usually close to 11:00 before we are back on the bus and at the hotel. By now our early dinner is a distant memory and we wrestle with the calculus of sleep against locating a late night snack. Sometimes there is drinking and eating at a hotel bar, or someone figures out rides to a Waffle House spotted on the way, but mostly exhaustion and the early morning start means bed calls.

Wynton in Palm Beach

Wynton and band at an elementary school in Florida.

 

Several nights of these nights our schedule necessitated that Wynton and I hop in a car after the show and drive to the next location getting in around 3AM so we could have early meetings. That leads to some really bad late night eating of pure junk food. Our driver, Dregg (not sure how he spells this) is an old hand at this kind of driving and we relax into his capable hands although sleep mostly eludes us. A long conversation which ranges from the role of human sacrifice in ancient Greece to childhood memories snakes through those drives and, in part, probably helps keep Dregg from drifting off as well.

As I finish this post up, it is one week later and I am happily perched back at our computer at home. It is a snowy gray morning here so the scenery is strikingly similar to the one I saw out the bus last week. My seat on the bus, it seemed an unspoken assignment, was a rotating shotgun one in front, for the random person who comes and goes I assume, similar to where I sat in Shanghai. I continue to mull over what I learned on this trip in terms of what it means to fundraise for this very special ensemble and maybe I will have more to say about that later. For now though, whether they realize it or not, I have in heart and mind adopted each and every one of the members of the band. They are my guys and I am their unstinting cheerleader.

Leaving the Met

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: This is one of those posts where I veer wildly off into an essay on my personal life (where the All Pam, All the Time comes from), so those of you who are in it for the toys and photos might want to pass this one by.

Much has been written in the press about The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently, and for the most part I guess I am not especially interested in commenting on that. Instead I thought I would take the opportunity to write a little bit about what kept me working at the Met for the better part of 30 years.

To dial back to the beginning of the story, after graduating college I had a vague idea about working my way through grad school in painting and drawing, and to this end I began cooking professionally here in New York. To collapse this part of the story, I was working for a young Jean-George Vongerichten at his first restaurant here in New York when diagnosed with arthritis in my hips and back. It would be years before a balance of meds and exercise would set things right and meanwhile, it was evident that I had chosen the wrong way to support myself. My good friend Frances (whose last name happened to be de Montebello) got me a job in the bookstore at the Met, as seasonal help – just something to do and make some money while figuring out what would come next.

Much to my surprise, the next months saw me, in rapid succession, hired away from the bookstore and into the Department of Ancient Near East; then hired into Human Resources Office, which we then called Personnel, as an assistant. Along that path I made fast friends among other aspiring artists in the bookstore, stockroom and eventually among the technicians, and even nascent curatorial staff. It seemed like something of the artist’s haven you are looking for after leaving the warm cocoon of college or art school – the grad school I never made it to. People always wanted to talk about art, invited me to participate in exhibitions, art jams and publications.

Some of those friendships and affiliations have lasted this long test of time, especially among those folks who are also still working there. One of two others from those earliest days I stay in touch with, despite having moved far and wide, and a few others – such as my friend Jennifer Pellman – sadly died young; or like another friend Drew Curtis, just slipped away from me. (Drew had a great story about how he had actually left home in Oklahoma to join the circus – his description of hosing down the elephants in the morning will always stay with me.) My more or less 30 year tenure at the Met meant I was always easy for folks to find if they came calling, sometimes even after decades. Still, even from my earliest days there, it was clear to me that this place was a community for artists and people who cared about art.

Surprisingly my casual approach to my career eventually landed me in the Development Office. With hard work (a work ethic instilled early on by my parents, and honed to a fine edge in my various incarnations as waitress, short order cook, house cleaner and chef) and the faith of those who supervised me, combined with some luck, and I continued to learn, grow and get promoted to something that almost equaled a living wage. Turns out I was good at this fundraising thing with its attention to detail and rewards for someone with good listening skills, patience and who likes people.

Curators were pretty much gods to us. I was trained to protect them at all costs as they are the talent of the Museum, and their time should be used judiciously. Of course at the highest end there was the Director, the President and our Vice President. They were to be shielded to the extent possible and never surprised under any circumstances if possible. There were many small things that I learned that stayed with me – always have a discreet pad and pen, even at events, so you can take notes for follow up; grace under pressure will get you through most things – never panic, and try not to allow yourself to be rushed. That’s when mistakes occur, when you are rushed.

A friend of mine who worked at the Met for about six years once said that it is the only place you’ll ever work where if you leave after ten years people will look at you and say, “I guess it just didn’t work out.” No one wanted to bother to learn your name until you had been there for several years, and therefore perhaps you were staying. Many alliances were forged at lunches in the staff cafeteria and the Amity diner on Madison. It sounds snobby and perhaps it was, but the end result was if you stayed and worked hard and actually cared, you found yourself working among a brilliant and interesting milieu.

Like family we fought hard as much as we played well together – there were some we thought were favored and others who were black sheep. As a part of the administrative staff we traveled along a slightly different path than the curators – frankly a lower rung. Had our own gossip and issues. However, together we all celebrated weddings, birthdays, the arrival of babies and attended funerals. I am always moved to tears when I think of how many people made the long trip to Long Branch, New Jersey for my sister’s funeral – and how a group of about six of my closest friends helped me decorate the vegetarian restaurant in Chinatown where our wedding was held.

Some of those people remain at the Met – others have also dispersed, but remain valued colleagues and friends. I find myself writing this three weeks after leaving the Museum, and two weeks into my new job with Jazz at Lincoln Center. While I already miss the warm arms of the Metropolitan family, being surrounded by the glorious art and all those wonderful people, I embrace the devoted earnestness of my new colleagues who believe that jazz, the great indigenous American art form, is also a path for living a creative and collaborative life. An organization which is having its own financial struggle as it strives to grow into a world-wide advocate and educator, the dedication of the staff is astounding. So, despite the distinctly exposed feeling of a chick who has flown out of the nest, I feel I have landed on the perch I was meant to. It’s a big challenge and there are already days when I just hope my skills are up to it, but deep down I know I am paying it forward now as I should be. Everything I learned at the Museum I will plow into helping Wynton Marsalis and the folks at Jazz realize their vision.

I am already using my ears more now these days than my eyes, but listening is an important thing to learn. These days I can’t help but feel Rich Conaty on my shoulder as well, always reminding me of the line he used to close his show with, remember that music saved the world – aloha!