This is getting emotional for me, chronicling the best live music shows I took in, in the last full year of them, 2019.
Say you love a great pastrami sandwich. Dipped twice, dip it good. I mean, really, really love it. One of your life’s most sublime pleasures and treasures. But for whatever reason, you swear them off. Cold turkey. (Because cold pastrami does not make it.)
After a while you’re OK, you’re over it, it seems. Out of sight, out of mind. But then you come across a detailed, sensual, graphic nearly pornographic description you wrote of the last time you dove slowly into a Johnnie’s pastrami, gazing, catching the aroma, squeezing gently, lovingly, then bite after savored bite.
NOW YOU’RE AN EMOTIONAL MESS
It all comes rushing back, what you’ve been missing. I meant to draw the analogy to my revisiting the sumptuous palette of concerts in 2019 that I’ve been reminiscing over in these last few NOTEWORTHY columns. The intention was to keep the memories alive during this time of exile, reminding you, and me, of the privilege of living in the world’s greatest live music city. (Yes, Austin, London and NYC, New Orleans, Chicago and Nashville, I can defend that claim). It’s just too much for one music junkie to bear.
But now, I’ve doubly wounded myself by also remembering too vividly what a guilty, juice-laden, artery-clogging absolute pleasure was that pastrami bomb served up 24/7 by Johnnie’s (RIP), on Adams. And there is a music connection.
That stands for what I probably will be remembered most for by my friends after I slip these earthly bonds — The Charles Andrews More-or-Less-Annual Birthday Memorial Club Crawl. It was all about a celebration of the hard-to-believe variety of great music and great venues to be found in Los Angeles, but the long evening always ended, around 3 a.m., at Johnnie’s Pastrami stand on West Adams.
I’ve told the story before, I will probably tell it again, but to outline — it was the best birthday party I could have, and I knew I had to throw it myself.
1980 — I rode my cayuse across the desert to the City of Angels, came for the music and I quickly found out where it was: every-damn-where! But often tucked away, a secret, only on certain nights, from one end of this huge city to the other. So how about a birthday celebration where I get to go club to bar to theater to park to church to basement to junkyard for an evening packed with the greatest variety possible of the best music experiences I could uncover? With my posse, of course, because who wants to buy their own drinks on their birthday, right?
It was more-or-less annual because there was so much work to arrange it I didn’t want to commit to doing it every year. My birthday was very close to Memorial Day, handy because I could have it on a holiday weekend Sunday night when the venues were eager enough to have a busload of revelers pull up to their otherwise near-empty place that they gladly waived any cover charge. (50 wild people rushing in to buy drinks, oh yeah, they loved us. So did the performers.) And no one had to get up for work the next day.
THE TALES ARE MANY AND MAGNIFICENT
And some, tawdry, and the music and images resound still in my head but unfortunately those were not digital days and I wish I had a copy of every itinerary list. Jazz divas, righteous reggae, twangin’ country, big bands, comedy, dangerous rockers, solo soul, Thai Elvis, how about a fine bluegrass — bluegrass — group that very cautiously agreed to let my master trumpet — trumpet — playing buddy from Austin sit in, and wound up pleading with him to join the band, and of course a superb Greek band playing to 50,000 and getting the crowd to sing Happy Birthday to me (efcharistó!, Mike) as I soak it in with a baklava in one hand and an ouzo in the other (that’s how every club crawl kicked the night off, after starting with champagne and classical music at my place).
I quickly learned, and cautioned my friends, that this magical mystery tour (no one knew where we were going except me and the bus driver) is about music not drinking, you can do that every other night, so if you want to remember what a fabulous evening you had, pace yourself. Amazingly, most did.
But back to reality, remembering great live music, and anticipating its return, someday.
May 18, Jazz Bakery — I wasn’t sure this would be a memorable concert but I always trust Ruth Price’s booking at the Jazz Bakery, and it turned out this one was exceptional. Known primarily (to me) as a jazz flutist (the Jazz Crusaders), HUBERT LAWS also played with the NY Phil and the Met Opera Orchestra, pretty good big bands, and that night, with his quintet, he also let his soul, R&B and pop chops show. A pure delight.
May 19, Paramount Ranch — got up early the next morning to drive to the north country for a unique experience people come from around the world for, the 59th Annual TOPANGA BANJO-FIDDLE CONTEST AND FOLK FESTIVAL. This one was a miracle wrought by the dedicated music-loving volunteers who made sure the long-running show went on even though the ranch, where old Westerns were filmed, was absolutely ravaged by the Woolsey fire. Music EVERYwhere, on stages, in the parking lot, under trees, in barns, be amazed at the skills of five-year-old fiddlers and veterans back for their 59th appearance, clog dancers and flat pickers, little girls blood harmonizing with mom like seasoned pros. They had to go virtual last year, still an unbroken string (so to speak) that I’m sure will come off again this coming summer, virtual or in person.
May 23, Walt Disney Concert Hall — GUSTAVO DUDAMEL and the LA PHILHARMONIC performing GUSTAV MAHLER’s monumental Eighth Symphony, was Mahler Heaven again for me. They call it “The Symphony of A Thousand” because it seems there are that many performers on stage — two chorales, two choruses, every stray Phil player they could dig up plus the French fries organ but it’s Mahler and he wasn’t just messin’ around, the first time ever mounted in Disney Hall and I was ecstatic to be there.
Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 3,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org