Session at Sal’s

Sal Mosca’s doorbell | #5 South Fifth Avenue, Mt Vernon, New York 10550 | December 4, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

Session at Sal’s

Part of the jazz aesthetic is a regard for the bittersweet evanescence of life — there’s a desire for a certain off-center balance to the harmony, a note that is never expected, that turns the mind around — not exactly a foreign sensibility, but with jazz it is almost a locus — then you add the phenomenon of swing and magic in real-time occurs. Connie says swing is a type of energy, a spark, an explosion of a note within the note, the music popping, alive — (in 2004, when these field notes were jotted, I was on a search for the origins of swing)

She says it came about after the Civil War, during Reconstruction, those first ten years after the war — joy & hope among the freed slaves — how there was so much energy, so much dimension, that it came out in the music, “a powerful energy, like an explosion that blew out of Yellowstone ages ago, it cover’d half the continent — they got there first, before the Russian Revolution — “

Sal Mosca tuning his piano | December 4, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

There are simply things in a person’s life that stand out in the memory and this afternoon at Sal Mosca’s 2nd-floor studio in Mount Vernon, New York, is for me one of perfect quiescence —

I’m out in New York quite often, at least once a year, sometimes more — Connie invited me along on this outing — she asked Richard Tabnik and I to meet her at Grand Central Station and from there we rode the train north about half hour to the city of Mount Vernon where Sal Mosca (1927-2007) spent most of his life — I think we left the station around 10:30 — the session was Noon till 6 — from the Mount Vernon station we walked about ten blocks through casually hilly streets, old warehouse factory buildings, redbrick apartments, open fields of dried weeds — I remember it was a warm day and we talked about Dizzy Gillespie — I had left Albuquerque in snow, and here in New York five days later it was warm — his studio was in a large 3-story building and he kept his space very neat and tidy, very spare of clutter —

Jimmy & Richard at Sal’s |Photo by Mark

Session at Sal’s | December 4, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

Sal Mosca & Jimmy Halperin | December 4, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

Jimmy Halperin, tenor saxophone; Don Messina, bass | December 4, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

Jimmy Halperin & Richard Tabnik | December 4, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

Sal & Connie | December 4, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

Connie Crothers lives a jazz life — it is her dharma, her life path, her sword in the stone, there is always something interesting going on — she visits art galleries and museums, and is out in the jazz clubs weekly, and maintains a busy teaching schedule — as well as world traveler (she’s on her way to Italy as I write this) —

It was just three nights before that we were almost killed in a taxi cab, CC, RT, myself, and the guitarist Massino Lozza [see poem in my chapbook FOUR POEMS FROM NEW YORK CITY ] — my field notes say: “neither one of them froze up, the truck driver or our cabbie, we were lucky to have such skillful drivers in such a dicey situation — it all happen’d so quick, as always” —

As well, Connie arranged a recording session at her studio, the day after visiting with Sal, that eventually found its way onto my CD known as STANDING NEXT TO MYSELF (Zerx 064), and a few days after that CC and I made our way out to visit the Louis Armstrong Home & Museum in Corona, Queens — Connie is a whirlwind — she keeps things happening —

You can see Sal’s metronome just behind his right hand | December 4, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

This session in Mt Vernon Connie and Sal took turns at the piano over the afternoon with the rhythm team of Don Messina, bass, and Bill Chattin, drums, a long-standing “locked” association they have, both of them students of Sal Mosca and Lennie Tristano — and on saxophones we had Jimmy Halperin and Richard Tabnik —

Piano solos that surge forth like molten lava — (Sal employed a metronome for his stretches) — Time being one of the unrecognized elements on the Periodic Table —

Sal Mosca checking the atmosphere | December 4, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

Sal Mosca checking the atmosphere | December 4, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

What happens in the middle
of everything
is what happens
when . . . .

Did you know that for most of
humanity’s existence there
have been no clocks?

What happens is
Time returns to its usual
spot: the eternal present

Or, if you will: Back to a time
when the world sang itself into existence


Sal making some adjustments to the universe | December 4, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

it’s relaxed at the core
as Connie and Sal
radiate spirals of melody
how the chords begat the melodies
and the melodies suggest more melodies
how each note is a universe
with its own constellations

Sal Mosca & Jimmy Halperin | December 4, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

The spirited way the lines launch out from the center, long threads of notes, galvanic, energized

waves upon waves
surging, blossoming intricacies
little notions glanced upon

dodging raindrops,
catching the L train,
turning the leaf of a book . . . .

Don Messina & Bill Chattin | December 4, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

Bass & drums are locked in solid with these two guys | December 4, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

Connie, Don, Jimmy, Bill | December 4, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

  • My field notes say that Sal played:
  • “Tea for Two”
  • “Darn That Dream”
  • “Indiana (Donna Lee)”
  • “You Go To My Head”
  • “Cherokee”
  • “Night in Tunisia”
  • And from the recording made that afternoon I know Connie played:
  • “You Stepped Out of a Dream”
  • “There Will Never Be Another You”
  • “My Melancholy Baby”
  • “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”
  • “Laura”
  • “Stella By Starlight”


Connie Crothers & Roger Mancuso | December 5, 2004 | this shot looks like a tintype, I love it — this is what film looks like after the TSA’s at Laguardia fried my film (I think Homeland Security has since weeded out all the bad eggs who were the first hires post-9/11 — it was really a drag that they wasted several rolls of film that day) — if it wasn’t for Cal Haines and Monsieur Klaus who have doctor’d these photographs they would have stayed in a box, I’ve always thought they were goners — this frame is obviously the tail-end of a 35mm roll, it has that ragged edge that looks so cool — (you won’t see that with a digital camera, baby) | Photo by Mark Weber

When you think about all the tragedies in life, all the “lives of quiet desperation,” all the loneliness, there is glory in jazz.

Mark Weber | June 2, 2o12

I didn’t really take that many photographs at this session — was mostly there to listen | Connie picked up the borrowed Nikon I had with me that day and took these of me | December 4, 2004

Photo of Mark Weber by Connie with the Nikon SLR 35mm | December 4, 2004 |  Mt Vernon, NY

FOOTNOTES:

  • 1. “. . . everyone should know about this amazing great work of history — “Black Reconstruction in America,” W.E.B. DuBois.” — Connie Crothers, email June 1, 2o12
  • 2. CC had been listening to Lp THE COUNT AT THE CHATTERBOX, Feb. 8,10,12, 1937 w/Prez
  • (Jazz Archives, JA16) that December.
  • 3. That day Sal told me with a chuckle that Lennie used to call Joe Albany a “bebop jukebox.” I gather’d
  • that Lennie didn’t exactly have a high opinion of Joe’s work.
  • 4. “when the world sang itself into existence” is a notion of the philologist J.R.R. Tolkien. More than likely a very ancient mindset.
  • 5. I remember that Sal had about 20 albums on a shelf and that a Jimmy Raney Lp was on the
  • turntable at rest.

Connie Crothers playing my piano at Studio 725, Albuquerque | March 25, 2001 | Photo by Mark Weber

9 Comments

  1. great mark! thanks!

  2. Richard Tabnik

    June 4, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Folks
    It’s all true!

  3. John Trentacosta

    June 5, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    This is really great stuff. I played with Don Messina way back when he was a student of Sal’s.
    I’m sure he’s come a long way since.
    Thanks for sharing with me. Best,
    JT

  4. Anna Bush Crews

    June 6, 2012 at 6:50 am

    Tolkein probably got his idea about the world singing itself into existence from the Aborigines.
    Off center balance and harmony = magic–great!

  5. Mark, beautifully done!
    You successfully capture the “feeling” of that exhilarating December 2004 session with your words and photos. I can hear and remember that afternoon clearly, as well as the other sessions when Connie and Richard (3x’s) joined us at Sal’s weekly get together. The recordings of those sessions are very special.

    I should clear one thing up -for Sal’s sake- I was never his student but rather a devoted friend and absolute admirer of his music and teaching. I studied a very long time with one of his students, Fred Amend (tenor sax), who was also a wonderful teacher and player. Fred introduced Sal to me through his recordings and by his own way of teaching; however, it was Jimmy Halperin who literally and spiritually, rang the buzzer (above “Sensual Ladies”), opened the door and walked me up those three flights of stairs into Sal’s studio and life, which enabled me to become both friend and band mate of Sal’s. I was very fortunate and grateful to be both: I think of him every day

  6. Dear Anna Bush,

    I had thought the notion sounded Upanishadic, or Vedantic, something from the Indus or Ganges River Valleys of a long time ago. Then, I did see where the aboriginal people of Australia have the very notion, “singing the world into existence” — as widely read as Tolkien was, he stayed fairly close to mostly European languages, mostly Norse, Finnish, Icelandic, and Welsh, among two-dozen others, that guy was a genius of languages. All in all, I’d have to agree with you that most likely the genesis of his idea was from Australia.

    NOTE: Anna Bush is the daughter of the late American poet, the renowned Judson Crews.

  7. Flipping through my travel journal for this 2004 trip to NYC I come across the curious note:

    There are more cowboy boots on Manhattan than in New Mexico.

    Imagine that.

  8. Mark,

    Thanks for posting this wonderful look back via commentary and amazingly artful photography, despite, or maybe partially because of, the unintended editing by TSA. It’s another reminder, to me, to never take life for granted as the present tries to slip past.

    I’m always amazed how my Dad made his stand against convention so early and so firmly, and never wavered. He had a courage and an ethic and a conviction that is hard to emulate, and easy to admire.

    Everyone in Sal’s orbit shares those qualities to some degree and I feel fortunate and proud to have at least been exposed to such spirits. Thanks again for provoking memory and fresh thought – I needed that.

  9. Hi from England Mark
    You’ve been so fortunate to have heard Sal “in the flesh”. I’ve never had that experience, just his recordings. I’ve listened to those over the years and consider him to be one of the great pianists in jazz.
    Your beautiful writing and those photographs capture the ambience of that session and I’m grateful to you for sharing with me.

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