Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Carriage Ride and a Night With Woody Allen


We start out Monday to see the Hirschl & Adler Gallery, on E70th to see some pieces on exhibit by American Impressionist, Childe Hassam and then head west on E70th to 5th Avenue, then south down the shaded sidewalk. We stop frequently to look over the wall into the park. We come first to the Central Park Petting Zoo where children of the wealthy are dressed in tiny designer clothes, petting sheep and goats. A little girl of no more than four or five is dashing back in forth in pink overalls. She is conspicuously hairless and I watch her and hope that she will grow up one day to stand where I do now. We pass Temple Emanuel, a Stand Books stall and T-shirt vendors and arrive at Central Park South. Horses and carriages are lined up, all brightly colored in the brilliant sunshine. We negotiate an extended ride with Brandon, our Irish carriage driver. We see the parts of the park we haven’t gotten to on foot yet. Near the Dakota he stops and lets us stroll into Strawberry Fields the 2.5 acre Garden of Peace named in honor of the late John Lennon in 1981. We look at the mosaic in the pavement; a simple circle with the single word, Imagine. The carriage ride is terrific and when it’s over, we head south through the park on foot, down the mall and through the Literary walk, sculptures of William Shakespeare, Fitz-Green Halleck, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns looking on.

Once again, we find ourselves at the Loeb Boathouse Restaurant and there could be no more perfect day for lunch by the lake.

Tonight is the big night out on our trip. We’ve got dinner reservations at the Cafe Carlyle, to be followed by a live performance by Woody Allen & The Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band. We arrive promptly at 7:00 and the maitre de shows us to the “premium seating” we reserved weeks ago. The Café Carlyle is far smaller than I’d imagined. It serves as the backdrop for scenes from both Hannah and Her Sisters and Hollywood Ending. The murals on the walls are stunning and their dreamlike quality reminds me of Chagall. There is a piano and drum kit set up and four chairs lined up across the tiny stage. Four miniscule tables for two are directly up against the stage, literally two feet from the line of chairs. We’re seated at the table farthest left. I start out with a Kir Royale and we have dinner, which is spectacular.

We’re finishing our dessert and coffee when a heavyset gentleman with a ski jacket makes his way through the crowd and up to the stage. It’s Eddy Davis, the bandleader who was also in the documentary film, Wild Man Blues. One by one, the band members make their way in. The trombone player, Jerry Zigmont sits in the chair on the end, closest to us and we start chatting. He lets us know that the slide to his trombone will be going out at an angle toward the center of the room so we won’t get hit in the head -- that’s how close we are to him. Jerry tells us three of the current band members were on the Wild Man Blues tour. Jerry joined the group in 1996 and is featured on the soundtrack to the movie. Eddy Davis met Woody Allen while Woody was doing standup in Chicago in 1963 and they’ve been playing jazz together ever since. Woody Allen & The Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band began playing Monday nights at the Café Carlyle in early 1997 after Michael’s Pub, their previous Monday night venue closed.

There’s movement from the corner of my eye and before I know it I hear Jerry saying “Hi Woody”. Woody Allen has slipped into his chair between the trumpet player, Simon Wettenhall and the band leader and banjo player, Eddy Davis. Without a word, the band begins to play. The room is suddenly captivated and all eyes are on Woody Allen. Allen is wearing baggy corduroys and a button down shirt and his eyes are closed most of the time. We feel ourselves becoming self-conscious for him. It’s a small room and we all know that even jazz aficionados are here to see Woody Allen, the celebrity filmmaker. The New Orleans style jazz is upbeat and the tunes are a playful dance where the clarinet may take the lead, weave an intricate melody and deftly pass it on to the trumpet, then the trombone or the banjo.

People are taking pictures. I assumed nobody would do this, but cameras and camera phones are clicking everywhere. I might have liked pictures, but I’m glad we didn’t bring a camera. It would feel rude, even aggressive as close as we are.

The musicians are casual, upbeat and communicate in the shorthand that only artists who’ve been together for many years can know. Jerry mentions to Scott and I between songs that it’s especially noisy and he’s having trouble hearing. Simon, the trumpet player has lost his plunger, but we locate it by my feet and I pass it back to him.

Woody Allen closes his eyes or looks down at his lap most of the time. He’s pale and between numbers he pulls a wadded Kleenex from his pocket and blows his nose. Scott and I sense that he’s fragile and we try not to stare at him. After reading more about Woody Allen and his band mates, I think his unwillingness to look up and engage the crowd has more to do with respect for the other musicians and for the music than with self-consciousness.

Most of the musicians sing at some point over the course of the evening. Eddy is clearly the band leader and calls out the tunes and what keys they'll play them in. He watches Woody closely throughout the evening. We get the feeling he’s protecting him somehow. About an hour into it, Eddy introduces Jerry, Simon and the bass player, we applaud and they’re gone. Woody, Eddy, the pianist and the drummer stay on and play a few more songs. Eddy picks a song on the banjo and sings it while Woody Allen begins to break down his clarinet and place it into the case. Eddy turns to him and in his soft, almost childlike voice, Woody takes over the song as he finishes packing and puts his pullover sweater on. I wish I could tell you the name of the song because it was charming.

And then, with no more fanfare than when he came in, he stands up to leave. He’s a step from his chair and the man at the table next to ours stops him – Woody, I wanted to introduce you to my daughter, Georgia – Woody Allen nods and walks off stage and to the exit in the back of the room.

We settle our check and take the short walk across the street to The Surrey. Things still feel a little surreal. We've just spent the evening four feet from Woody Allen.

6 comments:

Larramie said...

Monday did NOT disappoint, Lisa, but left me feeling as though I was tagging along with you and Scott. *G* However, when at E.70th and 5th Avenue, you were so close to one of my favorite NYC treasures -- The Fricke! I'll forgive you for not stopping there because the carriage ride was a wonderful choice as was the stop at Strawberry Fields. And how much do you love the Loeb Boathouse area? ;o)

Dinner at the Cafe Carlyle was perfect and Woody Allen -- along with your description of his performance: priceless! However, if you didn't have a camera to take these pictures, did they come from a magazine? It doesn't seem so. Many thanks for a most lovely day.

Lisa said...

Larramie,

Two things factored into our decision not to include museums this trip. The weather was so beautiful that we wanted to spend as much time outdoors as we could. We did check to see what the Frick and the Met were exhibiting to make sure there wasn't anything special that we'd regret missing though. We figured we'd save them for a later trip or if the weather turned on us. The other reason was that because Scott is a painter, he spends most of the time he's not actually painting looking at artwork, so in a sense, going to an art museum is like not taking a vacation for him -- unless there happens to be an exhibit of an artist he especially loves.

We did love the Boathouse -- enough to eat there twice in four days!

I'm glad you asked about the pictures. When I was researching the other musicians' names and websites so I could include them in the post, I found plenty of images on line I was able to download and use. Thank you for coming along with us :-)

Uncle Don said...

Oops.....You continue to impress. The Jerry Zigmont thing was a stunner, as you know we've worked together......

Lisa said...

Uncle Don,

I was thinking about you the whole show. Imagine my surprise when I looked at the New Black Eagle Jazz Band web site tonight and found, not only mention of your legendary status as a bass player around Boston - which I already knew - but Jerry Zigmont listed as their sometimes trombone player! Yes I guess the New Orleans Jazz community is a small world. Scott and I need to get back down to another one of your gigs soon. So happy you stopped by!

Therese said...

Lisa, thanks so much for sharing your travelogue! Now I'm more eager than ever for my trip to the city next month. I had no idea Woody Allen was still doing these kind of intimate club dates--what a treat for you guys!

I saw Wild Man Blues when it first came out; what a fascinating man Allen is.

Denis said...

Lisa, I started writing a really complimentary post,which would have been OK, but I'll leave it simply to say that you are inspiring.

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