Tristano At The Half Note

A recent reimmersion in things Tristano led to the mini-review of the Warne Marsh book in the latest batch of Doug’s Picks (right-hand column). It included several viewings of a video of Lennie Tristano’s quintet at the Half Note in 1964. The picture quality may have been fine originally, but it appears to have been through several generations of dubs. No matter; the sound is reasonably good. Through the murk you get a tour of the beloved Half Note in the days when folks dressed to go out in the evening. Those strips of cloth you will see on the mens’ shirtfronts were called neckties.
In this ten-minute clip, the bartender we glimpse now and then is Mike Canterino. He and his brother Sonny manned the bar. Their father may have had a formal name but his family and the customers called him Pop. He and Mamma took care of the kitchen. The word pasta never crossed Pop’s lips; it was spaghetti. The uncomplicated menu gave jazz club food a good name, a major accomplishment. Mike’s wife Judi and Sonny’s wife Tita helped out. Judi became a singer after James Moody recruited her one night to sing the Blossom Dearie bridge on “Moody’s Mood For Love.” Al the waiter completed the staff. In its original incarnation, the Half Note was among the warehouses and garages of lower Manhattan. In the seventies, the club moved uptown, lost its soul and died.
Tristano often played at the Half Note. To see and hear him, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Sonny Dallas and Nick Stabulas, click here. The piece they’re playing is “312 E. 32nd,” Tristano’s reimagination of “Out of Nowhere.”
For a lovely remembrance of the Half Note by Dave Frishberg, who often played there, go here. Dave paints splendid pictures of Al the waiter and of Mr. George, a dedicated customer for whom Al Cohn named a tune. For Mike Canterino’s story of the night Judy Garland came in, go here.

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  1. says

    There seems to be a Tristano renaissance going on as of late. I’m not sure where it came from, but I’m not sure it matters.
    Thanks for the Half Note clip, Doug! It’s a great one!

  2. Jon Foley says

    Ah, the memories that come flooding back from watching those Half Note videos and reading the reminiscences of Mike Canterino and Dave Frishberg. I spent many a happy hour in the Half Note in the 1960s. I remember seeing Lee Konitz with Attila Zoller, Al and Zoot with Jaki Byard, and Clark Terry’s big band with people like Al Cohn, Phil Woods, Ron Carter, and Mel Lewis.
    I looked in vain for a glimpse of Al The Waiter in the Tristano clips, but alas, no luck (of course, the video is so dark he could’ve been there). I’ll never forget the first time I saw him do his favorite schtick – he was across the room from us, maybe 20 feet away. The room was crowded and he was serving someone, not even looking at us. I glanced away from him for a second, my friend sitting next to me reached in his pocket for a cigarette, and suddenly a big flame appeared between us. It was Al pulling a big lit match from his pocket, accompanied by his ever-present, “Sorry ya hadda wait so long.” How he made it across the room in about 2 seconds will always amaze me. And then he took my drink order by asking, not “What would you like to drink,” but “What’s your booze?” Great jazz, great food, and Al The Waiter. Is it any wonder it was my favorite New York club?