Another Poignant Scrap of Paper

Last weekend we were fortunate to have three wonderful Jazz Loft Project book events in the San Francisco area.  The first was an internal, lunchtime event at Pixar Studios with 50 people filling couches in a state-of-the-art multi-media theater.  The host was film editor Robert Grahamjones who first contacted me in 1999 after my original article on Jazz Loft was published in DoubleTake magazine.

The second event was at the War Memorial Green Room hosted by the vital organization, SF Jazz, directed by Randall Kline.  270-300 people attended.  The space and audience were unique and sophisticated, with drinks served on an outdoor terrace facing City Hall before and after my talk.

The third event was at an extraordinary bookstore, Bird & Beckett, in the Glen Park neighborhood, run by Eric Whittington and his wife Felicia and son Nicholas.  The store’s name is beautifully audacious and it measures up.  Book for book I’m not sure I’ve seen a better hand-picked inventory – the latest poetry volumes, first rate fiction and drama, the best literary journals and music magazines, and all the great non-fiction and reference books of today, and the surprises which mark a great bookstore.  They also have a superb selection of use vinyl jazz records.  How can you beat that?

At Bird & Beckett I was joined on stage by two loft veterans who live in the Bay Area, 73 year-old pianist Si Perkoff and 68 year-old saxophonist Pete Yellin (one of the youngest loft participants).  I originally interviewed Pete in 2000 when he was living in Brooklyn.  In 2003 I had a remarkable interview with Si in his home in Mill Valley, CA in 2003.  Si was a student of Hall Overton in 821 Sixth Avenue and he told me a riveting story about being sent to the Riker’s Island for drug possession in the late 1950s.  While imprisoned, with a piano and band mates available, his music elevated to higher and higher levels.  Some day soon we’ll put the transcript from this interview on our website.  At Bird & Beckett, Si focused on Overton, eloquently describing the latter’s teaching techniques.

Pete kindly and gently didn’t remember me.  My interview with him ten years ago in Brooklyn had slipped his mind.  This isn’t unusual and I’m certainly not offended at all.  An unknown writer coming to your house ten years ago and asking you about things that happened four decades before that…it’s something that can be forgotten, perhaps should be forgotten, especially for a musician still committed to creating new music in the future.  I’m thankful Pete forgot because if he had remembered he might not have come to Bird & Beckett with the following piece of paper in hand.  He’d jotted down names of musicians he foremost remembered in 821 Sixth Avenue.  It is similar to the scrap of paper that is the first image in the Jazz Loft Project book which saxophonist Lou Orensteen gave me in his West 55th Street NYC apartment in 2000.

yellin scrap paper 2 The Brecker brothers, Joe Lovano, and Steve Grossman seem too young to have made this loft scene, so I’m thinking Pete conflated 821 Sixth Avenue with another, later loft, which is fairly common.  It’s why we’ve required more than one oral history confirmation of somebody’s presence.  It wasn’t until Freddie Redd said he remembered Bird being in the loft that we validated Paul Bley’s memory of Bird being in the loft, for example.  It could have been a different place, such as Kenny Karpe’s loft which was nearby.

There are also a few names on Pete Yellin’s list that we haven’t heard before:

W. Dockery, Sam Dockery, Sonny Donaldson, and Walter Bolden.  We need to follow up with Pete and do more research on those names.

Otherwise Pete’s list jibes real well with the rest of our research and some of the names are duplicated on Lou Orensteen’s piece of scrap paper.  Pete had not seen my book, so he hadn’t seen Orensteen’s list.  On the back of Pete’s slip he added a final name, “albino Dudley Watson,” who is recorded on a number of Smith’s tapes.

This kind of detective work is the most intoxicating part of this project.

-Sam Stephenson

1 Comment

  1. David Keith Said,

    May 10, 2010 @ 11:46 pm

    Interesting to see Sonny Donaldson’s name. He was married to a friend of mine – Maxine Donaldson. Sonny did three years for a joint in the early sixties. I think he was in Soledad, but I don’t think he had the benefit of a piano while there.