He was a Big Band freak, a stocky li’l guy, you’d almost say Roly-poly. He asked me to call him Lowell; I never knew his last name. He’d be there on the dot of nine, at Starr Boggs restaurant in Westhampton Beach, along with Ria and Mary when I’d show up to play piano and sing. “Howsabout I Had the Craziest Dream,” he’d request: “Harry James, 1942. Vocalist, Helen Forrest.” Or, “Could we hear I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo, Glenn Miller, 1942, vocalist Marion Hutton. ” He knew them all. One night, back in the city, I sat in at Broadway Joe’s -owned at the time by Sydney Zion, a friend of mine I knew through Margaret Whiting, the singer. Damn if Lowell wasn’t there. “Hey, John, howsabout Tangerine, Jimmy Dorsey, 1942, vocalist Helen O’Connell.” I wanted to know if this was a hangout of his. “Oh yeah,” he told me, “I’m here all the time. This is my turf, I work for the Grey Lady.” He meant the NY Times. He had some job there, copyeditor or something. Now, at the time I was working with Margaret Whiting, putting material together for her nightclub act. One afternoon, late, she told me she’d received an invite to a press party being thrown for the opening of a fancy rib joint, Tony Roma’s. Would I like to go? This was a preview, the place was opening next week. Press agents love to fill the room with celebrity names, and Margaret -though not the recording star she was in the 1940’s- still had some spin on her. I said, Sure, let’s go, sounds like fun. We hopped in a cab and arrived on East 57th street about six pm. It was a cocktail party, and it was mobbed, because there was free food. We sat at the piano bar and listened to Bobby Cole sing some Frank Loesser. I was digging into the free ribs when I saw, of all people -Lowell! He was sitting across the room at a table with a couple of other guys. I instantly flashed on the synergy: I was here with one of the great singers of the Big Band era, Margaret. I was in a position to give little Lowell the thrill of his life. “Margaret,” I said, “how would you like to simply make a child’s Christmas?” I explained to her what it would mean to Lowell to meet her, accented even more by the element of surprise. It would be the last thing he’d expect. He’d fall right out of his seat. I took Margaret by the hand and the two of us threaded our way to where Lowell was sitting with his buddies, probably fellow Times staffers. One of them had a shock of unruly brown hair, the other one was going gray. “Lowell!” I cried. “What a surprise!” He smiled in his self-deprecating way. “Oh yeah,” he said, “I get around.” “Lowell,” I continued, slowly and softly, “I’d like you to meet a very good friend of mine, someone I’m sure you’ll recognize…Miss Margaret Whiting.” Lowell almost dimpled. He rose with the same little smile. “What a pleasure,” he said to Margaret, taking her hand. “Well,” Margaret announced, “John’s told me how much you appreciate the history. And I was certainly there.” Lowell came round the table and took her by the hand. “And, Margaret (he was instantly on a first name basis with her -and it was OK, because he was such a goodhearted, modest li’l fellow) I’d like you to meet my friends; this is Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer.” Both authors rose. Well, my mouth dropped open. I was the guy who fell out of his seat. I had been finessed, outshone -and how! Of course, the lesson I learn time and time again is: don’t underestimate people. Little Lowell probably was editor-in-chief of the NYT Book Review.
Lowell, the Big Band Enthusiast
18 Sunday Dec 2011
Posted Celebrity Encounters, Uncategorizedin