Writings About Music
Jerry, Mel and Buddy
I was about to enter Poquito Mas, a casual Mexican restaurant on Cahuenga in Studio City, when someone slipped in front of me in a rude manner, perhaps inadvertently due to his being rushed. It turned out to be Jerry Seinfeld around the time of taping the final episode of his famous series in 1998. There was a business associate or friend with him who asked the comedian if everything was OK after Jerry ordered. Jerry nodded and the guy then left. Both of us were sitting while waiting for our orders being the only two customers. While I normally don't behave like this, it was Jerry Seinfeld, and I confess to staring a bit while attempting to be discreet. Regretfully, I was too intimidated to speak to him with everything happening so fast. Seinfeld noticed me staring, and then - hope you are not eating because this is gross - he did the pick...or the scratch. You couldn't really tell because my view was from the side looking right just like in the taxi and car episode with the supermodel who refuses to continue dating Jerry after witnessing what she thought was a pick while waiting at a stoplight. Jerry rightfully insisted it was a scratch.
Anyway, his move worked because in the setting of a restaurant it absolutely grossed me out. I didn't wish to look at him at all anymore. I'm certain Jerry was faking having to scratch along with the visual ambiguity of a pick because I was staring, and don't blame him for having found an effective way to discourage an annoying starstruck person.
Jerry Seinfeld is from Massapequa and I'm from Wantagh, which are very close to each other. For those who are not aficionados of the Seinfeld show, you may find this story simply distasteful or inexplicable, and I apologize for that. Even with the related video below it may not resonate for you. Who knows, maybe he did it as a joke expecting me to laugh, but I wasn't relaxed enough to catch on.
Seinfeld's more recent show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, served me well a few years ago when I noticed Mel Brooks standing next to me in the pastry section of Bristol Farms in Beverly Hills. After exchanging brief hellos, I quickly mentioned having seen Mel along with Carl Reiner on Jerry's new show rather than something more typical from the past. This stoked Mel's interest and we proceeded to converse for ten minutes or more touching on subjects like Woody Allen and Judy Collins, including Brooks asking: "What are you working on now, Michael?" After telling him about the music I was composing for a new album, I asked what he was working on, and Mel mentioned his new website. Eventually getting down to business, he ordered a cheese danish, myself opting for a chocolate doughnut. While ordering, Brooks drummed excitedly on the counter with both hands, quipping that he wouldn't tell as long as I didn't either! As I was walking away, Mel seemed to notice for the first time that I was wearing some pretty ragged exercise clothing, having gone for a long walk before visiting the grocery store. For a split second, I thought there was going to be a humorous jibe about my underwhelming attire, but I suppose Brooks wrongfully thought I might be offended, and decided to hold his thought.
Here's a profound thought of Mel's: "There is no time, only good things and bad things."
Lucknow Shimmer was the composition referred to in response to the question from Mel Brooks.
Comedians are all around. A few months prior to meeting Mel Brooks, I was this time waiting for a take-out order at Nate n’ Al, and struck up a conversation with a gentleman standing next to me wearing a Beatles T-shirt. This turned out to be Stephen Tenenbaum, and he related how he worked in business management for the Beatles at one point, while I countered with my George Harrison story. After arriving home, I checked online and found that Stephen has been Woody Allen’s business manager for something like thirty years, and more recently began producing his films too. A recent essay of mine includes mention of Lee Konitz, Woody Allen and Bob Dylan forming a prodigious creative triptych of our time.
Thanks to jazz wax for reminding me of Jerry Seinfeld's comedic affinity with Buddy Rich explained in the video below. (Perhaps not for instigating the Mexican restaurant story above...) I once asked Lee Konitz what he felt were the greatest jazz recordings of all time, and he immediately nominated the Lester Young, Nat King Cole and Buddy Rich trio sessions. I subsequently had a listen and agree that they are hard to beat, possessing a sublime economy of means projecting timeless elegance of exposition and expression.
Someone once remarked to me for no good reason that there had not been any great Jewish drummers in jazz prior to Stan Levey. That was quite a softball he tossed. Many drummers consider Buddy Rich to be the crème de la crème.
Bloomdido is one of Charlie Parker's finest blues recordings influenced in no small part by the unusual presence of Buddy Rich together with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Curley Russell.
It has occurred to me that comedian Don Rickles possesses the lightning reflexes and uncanny ability to improvise truly in the moment with imagination and dexterity comparable to the finest jazz musicians, including a pleasantly disorienting timing and accent subtlety.
- Michael Robinson, July 2016, Los Angeles
© 2016 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer.