I get a huge kick out of the thrice-yearly meetings of the National Council on the Arts, not least because my colleagues are so interesting. We had some new faces on the council this time around, and one of them, Chico Hamilton, is a full-fledged living legend. He was, among other amazing things, the drummer of the original Gerry Mulligan Quartet, with which he made some of the most famous recordings in the history of cool jazz. Then he started his own band, a quintet whose offbeat instrumentation (flute, guitar, cello, bass, drums) and brilliant sidemen (Jim Hall and Eric Dolphy passed through its ranks) brought it critical acclaim, popular success, and brief but memorable appearances in two important films, Sweet Smell of Success and Jazz on a Summer’s Day.
I was a bit nervous about meeting so cool a cat, but Hamilton turned out to be down to earth, drop-dead funny, and full of priceless anecdotes about everybody from Burt Lancaster to Louis Armstrong (of whom he does a letter-perfect impersonation). He says he’s writing his autobiography–I can’t wait to read it–but he promised to let me interview him for my Armstrong biography, and I intend to hold him to it.
I also met Stephen Lang, the author and star of Beyond Glory, who spoke to the NCA at our public meeting last Friday morning. If you live anywhere near New York and haven’t seen Beyond Glory, about which I raved in The Wall Street Journal last month, you need to get on the stick, since it closes on August 19. It is, as I wrote in the Journal when I first saw it in Chicago in 2005, one of the greatest shows of its kind ever to come my way:
Broadway and Off Broadway have seen some hugely impressive one-person performances in the past couple of seasons, foremost among them Jefferson Mays in “I Am My Own Wife,” Heather Raffo in “Nine Parts of Desire” and Sir Anthony Sher in “Primo.” This show is that good.
Being a critic, I rarely get to meet actors, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to praise Lang to his face. He is, like Chico Hamilton, an exceedingly nice man, not at all what you’d expect after seeing the chameleon-like string of leather-tough guys he plays in Beyond Glory. Meeting such gifted folk and telling them how much their work has meant to me is one of the great joys of my life, and I never tire of it, being a wide-eyed small-town boy at heart.
Whenever I’m in Washington for an NCA meeting, I usually try to take in a show or two on my dark nights. This time, though, I settled for eating two exceptionally tasty dinners, one at Viridian (which is next door to the Studio Theatre, where I saw a fabulous Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead a few weeks ago) and the other at Jaleo, Washington’s oldest tapas restaurant. I dined at Jaleo with Ms. Asymmetrical Information, and midway through the first course I heard somebody shouting “Terry!” from across the room. Guess who it was? Her. Small world, huh?
I’ve since made up for taking those two nights off. No sooner did I return to New York than I picked up a Zipcar and drove north to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival and Westport Country Playhouse, where I saw As You Like It and Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking. In between shows I crammed in a visit to Storm King Art Center, where I shared the tram with a group of small children who were much better behaved than the adults I encountered on my last visit. I spent the night at Storm King Lodge, a cozy, companionable hideaway located a stone’s throw from the art center and an easy drive from the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, coming back home just in time to catch Patti LuPone in Gypsy, about which more on Friday.
I spent most of Wednesday writing a piece (surprise, surprise!) and catching up on the unmet social obligations (wrong word, but you know what I mean) created by spending so much time on the road in recent weeks. Specifically, I had lunch, dinner, and dessert with three different bloggers, Mr. Artblog, Ms. Litwit, and Ms. Swan Lake Samba Girl, the last of whom also brought along an ambitious young intern from Alabama who was looking for career-related advice. I did my best to oblige.
And that’s that, at least as far as the Big Apple is concerned. Tomorrow I pull up stakes and relocate to my country retreat, where I’ll be spending the next few weeks working on The Letter and Hotter Than That: A Life of Louis Armstrong and seeing shows in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire. I expect to blog from there with reasonable regularity, and when I’m not around, OGIC and CAAF will be holding the fort.
See you when the dust settles.
UPDATE: A friend just sent me a link via YouTube to the scene
from Sweet Smell of Success that shows the Chico Hamilton Quintet at work in a New York nightclub. (Martin Milner isn’t a real guitarist–he just plays one in Hollywood!)
Here‘s a clip of the same group playing “Blue Sands” in Jazz on a Summer’s Day.
Ms. Litwit blogged about our dinner. (That’s how I feel about living in New York, too.)