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Herb Chase: Samish Island's Modern Pilgrims

flags at the Rockefeller Center
The Rockefeller Center. Credit: Deb Roskamp

New York, New York
A Wonderful Town!

by Herb Chase

ew York's recently reelected Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced 44 Million tourists visited his city in 2006, more than any other city in the U.S. attracted.

Favorite tourist attractions still include the Empire State building, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, the United Nations, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, F.O.A. Schwartz, the toy store, Rockefeller Center, Times Square and Ellis Island.

the opening of the Birdland jazz joint
Birdland at its opening. Courtesy: Birdland

newspaper clipping on the Birdland opening, 1949

But what about the Jazz scenes which have flourished in New York for many decades.

If you're over fifty, chances are you have never heard of any of the current jazz and rock and roll stars who are currently being featured at a bunch of offbeat New York hot spots you probably don't know much about either.

Birdland flyer, 1955

If you're under fifty, you were not even born when the great jazz and swing stars were attracting huge crowds of avid fans at theaters and ballrooms across the country....but mostly in New York on Swing Street (52nd Street) and on the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village.

Some of the original New York Jazz joints like Birdland and the Village Vanguard are still going strong...which means they have survived for some eighty years. Then the jazz fans went to see the heroes of the day like Peewee Russell (clarinet), Eddie Condon (guitar), Kansas Field (drums), Sidney Bechet (clarinet), Ben Webster (tenor sax), and a host of other greats who have long ago left this earth.

jazz performers and audience at the Birdland
The swinging scene at Birdland. Courtesy: Birdland.

If you're over fifty, try to identify this lineup of fairly old musicians recently featured at Birdland. Ralph Towner(guitar), Glen Moore(bass), Paul McCandless (reed instruments) and Mark Walker (drums), replacing Collin Walcott, who died in an auto accident in 1984. 1984 was 36 years this is not a trick question. The group, known as "Oregon," is celebrating their 40th anniversary playing together -- so some of you 50-plus survivors might just barely remember them. This writer is 50-plus a lot and I have never heard of them, though I was a frequent visitor until the early morning hours during the major jazz-swing era at various Jazz joints including Birdland, the Three Deuces, the Hickory House, the Village Vanguard and others.

Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman

New York can serve booze until 4 a.m. and is supposed to then close from 4 to 5 a.m...but many places ignore this law if the crowd is big enough and law enforcement could care less.

I was once at the Village Vanguard with Eddie Condon, Peewee Russell and one of New York's finest uniformed policeman, who did not blink when the curfew came and went while the drinks, including the cop's, kept coming.

Condon was sponsored in several moving jazz clubs by a close friend named Bob Anderson, who paid the bills to keep the doors open. As you can well imagine, Eddie was an all-star guitar player and a really big time drinker. He also had a very subtle and engaging sense of humor.

The popular swing scene in the same era (1930-1950) attracted avid fans worshipped the big bands of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and many others.

The Basie band is the only major survivor and is still very popular today with Frank Foster leading the group in many appearances across the nation. A few of the original Basie alumni played with the band for years after the Count died but they have all been replaced now with new age musicians. The crowds still cheer when the band plays "Stars Fell on Alabama," one of the Count's great signature arrangements. And the band has survived because of its original, classic, jump style energy and the arrangements by the legendary Count himself.

Count Basie
Count Basie

The Basie band will be back at the Hollywood Bowl this summer.

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Hi Herb! Loved the article you wrote! It made me wish I could have come too! Thank you for the inspiring tour through your delightful descriptions.

Yoka, Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks, CA

Enjoyed all the trivia about Hotel Del Coronado. Some Like it Hot is one of my all time favorite films. I always wondered where it was filmed. Wish you had more pictures of the insides.

Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA

Great article, Lt. Chase. I am a big WW2 Pacific campaign buff, and must say that I have never read a story such as yours. You focused on a personal story that rarely gets much coverage.

Sempre Fi! Thanks for your service to our country.

Paul Harper
Edmonds, WA

Ed Boitano's travel blog/review
Three Musical Pilgrimages: Mozart, Grieg and Hendrix

Troldhaugen Villa in Bergen, Norway
Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791) could read and compose music, plus play the violin and piano, when he was five years old. Born into a musical family in Salzburg, Austria (then the Holy Roman Empire), he had a unique ability for imitating music, which first became evident when he recited a musical piece by simply observing his father conducting a lesson to his older sister. This led to a childhood on the road, where the young prodigy performed before many of the royal courts of Europe.

Go There

Tom Weber's travel blog/review
Treasures of Ireland: The Irish Goodbye (Dispatch #20)

Irish sunset

The Palladian Traveler brings to a close his 20-part series on the Emerald Isle from an upscale restaurant in downtown Dublin where he files his final dispatch and then quietly slips away.

Go There

John Clayton's travel blog/review
Two "MUST SEE" Truly Spectacular Places in Europe. Here's Why.

Culzean Castle, Scotland
The Han Grotto and Culzean Castle. As the name of my Traveling Boy feature is "Travel With a Difference," it's important to me to always bring you offbeat and unusual tourist places around the world you may not know about. These two fit that category to a T, and they're absolutely worth a visit. One's in Scotland and one's in Belgium. Culzean (pronounced CULLANE) Castle is located near Maybole, Carrick, on the Ayrshire coast of Scotland.

go there

Ringo Boitano's travel blog/review
Highway 49 Revisited: Exploring California's Gold Country

aurora borealis lights up the night sky near Fairbanks
In the 1840s, the population of California was only 14,000, but by 1850 more than 100,000 settlers and adventurers had arrived from all over the world – and they came for one reason: gold. James Marshall had discovered the first gold nugget at Sutter’s Mill in El Dorado County, creating the largest gold rush in history.

go there

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