To L.A. on my birthday – pt. 2

So Saturday I drove California’s traffic artery – Interstate 5 – down to Los Angeles.  I won’t chronicle the drive again, you’ve seen that.  However, it’s worth repeating a couple things.

I had a picture with me . . . a picture of Andrea I found that I’d forgotten was even taken.  Obviously, I had hidden it so Andrea wouldn’t destroy it in her zeal to remove photos she thought looked bad.

the amazing picture

So I took it not because I was feeling nostalgic, but to remind myself that I wasn’t running from her . . . that I was doing something I hadn’t normally done.  I was doing this so I’d be able to share it . . . even if it was with her, captured in a moment of wind-blown happiness twenty years ago.  It was the kind of thing that she would have convinced me was fun and necessary twenty-one years ago.

So I arrived in Los Angeles and realized I hadn’t paid much attention to where I was staying . . . and then saw the hotel and was amazed.

The Sunset Tower Hotel

If you look up on the left side of that hotel, in the corner curved-room where the art deco look is at its height . . . six floors up is me.  I loved the room.  I loved the history more . . . Clark Gable; Mae West; Marilyn Monroe; Diana Ross forcing Tim Curry to be her elevator man; OK . . . so Howard Hughes kept a bunch of mistresses there, and maybe that’s why my room was really small, but I didn’t care.  I could see downtown LA

LA from my room

If you look, the second building from the left in the big group of skyscrapers . . . the Capitol Records building.
I could also look down from my room to the rooftop pool:

The pool . . .

Now, I went down there, is very cool.  But I have to be honest, there was more silicone there than skin.  Not just in the women.  I loved the hotel, the history . . . where Iggy Pop tried to jump from his room to that pool.  How Werner Klemperer, the man playing Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes saved the building.  You see, the Sunset was designated a historical site – an apartment building with tons of Hollywood’s history soaked into its walls.  However, there were no laws in the 1980’s that prevented demolition of historic sites.  Klemperer refused to leave, continuing to live in his apartment and causing a legal quagmire that slowed the project until the laws were passed that protected the hotel.  Now . . . it’s amazing and I get to be part of that history.

In its heyday

But my trip wasn’t just to see a really cool hotel . . . with its art deco hallways and stairwells:

The wraparound hallways
The stariwells

There was a reason for the trip.  I was on the way to the Catalina Bar and Grill . . . one of the best jazz clubs on Sunset.  Now, you don’t have to enjoy jazz to enjoy my story here.  When I decided to leave town I didn’t want to do the exact same thing.  When I found out that jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell was playing I had to go…just had to.  Burrell has played with Coltrane, Ellington, Billie Holiday . . . he’s amazing – so much so that Jimi Hendrix said he’d kill to sound like Burrell if he could do it.

I decided to walk . . . the trip wasn’t too bad.  A half-hour walk, couple miles . . . and it wasn’t really hot.  So I took the opportunity to walk down Sunset.  I spotted a huge crowd ahead of me and they’d blocked off the sidewalk.  I was initially aggravated because I didn’t want to zig-zag on the way.  Instead, I walked up and stumbled into a red carpet event for AIDS prevention.  With my little point and shoot I walked up to the press corps and joined them.  Nobody looked, noticed, or said a thing.  I popped off shots:

Kathy Griffin on the Carpet

Then my daughter texted me a few questions . . . the text message alert on my phone is set to the Woody Woodpecker laugh.  Suddenly photographers started stopping and looking at me . . . and I quickly realized it was time to keep making my way to the club.  I have other photos – you’ll have to wait for weekend to see those.

I got to the Catalina and was told I’d have to go through the garage.  I went in and it was like walking into All the President’s Men. Small portions in darkness with a spotlight over the entrance, hidden in an alcove in the corner of the garage.

The Club Entrance

But when I got in . . . I was given a table literally in front of the stage.

From my table

The club gave Kenny a stool to sit on when he plays but he barely sat on it.  At eighty-one he was spry, light on his feet, moving constantly, and playing better than most people I’ve heard that are 1/4 his age.  I desperately wanted to give you a video of him playing but the club was vigilant about not letting that happen.

Still, I was able to get photos:

The legendary Kenny Burrell

He played two sets.  In the middle he gave credit to the Friends of Jazz at UCLA, convinced a friend to sing from the audience, killing his amp and playing acoustic with a microphone.  He told amazing stories from the stage.

He also signed a CD for my brother.

The CD

He shook my hand, thanked me for coming, and told me how happy he was to have my brother and I enjoy his music.  He told me how much he enjoyed recording his last two CDs and how he loves this club for how they treat him.  He spent more time with each person than you’d find from most musicians today.

I was happy and impressed the club was full . . . a good audience for such a talented player.  With his history – playing with biggest names in jazz’s height from the ’50s on – he could be arrogant or bitter or stand-offish.  Instead, he was kind, generous, and simply the man you’d want him to be if you were a fan.  Burrell smiled constantly and was happy to be there.  He was even happier on the stage, playing amazing things seemingly no slower than he was at his height.

It was an honor to see him . . . I have no better word for it.  He was amazing.  His band was just as talented and seemed to have just as much fun.  To hear such an amazing group, whose talent just pours off the stage, I was taken with how they made it look easy.  There was no ego, no push to be the center of attention.  They played music.  In a world so surrounded by awful music with no musicians and auto-tune pushing for perfection these five men made perfect music with no technological push.  They are just that talented.

I went back to the hotel happier than I was last year at this time.  An amazing thing, an amazing night, and I still had the trip home ahead of me . . . but that’s for tomorrow.

Freight Trane by Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane

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