August 19 is the birth date of my (and your) hero Jimmy Rowles. Sometime ago, in a nothing-to-do moment, I just happened to come across on YouTube an occasion in my life (and Jimmy’s) that is seared in my memory. A short time before I left the world of Hollywood studio work and joined the George Shearing Quintet (fall of 1966) I finished a date and went over to NBC in Burbank to see my wife Sandi, who was a member of the George Wyle singers on the weekly Andy Williams television show. As I got there, they were just about to finish taping and I talked for a moment to Jimmy (on staff at NBC at the time and a member of the show’s orchestra) before he said they had one last number to do. I stood about 30 feet away and witnessed one of the most beautiful piano accompaniments that you could ever imagine. I‘ve played this for Terry Trotter and Tom Ranier who, like virtually all pianists, were great fans of Jimmy. They they were, understandably, in awe—as I am to this day.
YouTube, in its infinite wisdom or protection of someone’s copyright, will not allow us to embed the video of Rowles and Williams doing “The Way You Look Tonight,” the piece that so impressed Mr. Shoemake. It is more than worth your time to follow this link and enjoy their performance.
In my New York and Los Angeles Days I had the good fortune to frequently hear Rowles in various clubs. In L.A., we became friends when we were in a luncheon group that got together once a month or so. It took us a while to find a restaurant that had no sound system, but we did; a place in Toluca Lake called Barone’s. The last thing that most musicians want is to be subjected to background music of any kind. The photograph below, taken at Barone’s, is no doubt one of the last pictures taken of Jimmy. You see him on the left with (l to r) Bill Holman, Ramsey, Jeff Hamilton and Lou Levy. As you see, Jimmy was on oxygen toward the end but rarely, if ever, missed one of our lunch dates.