Friday, April 15, 2005

The Pope, Ruby, Sass 'n' Splat!

I could hardly believe it when the central "character" title of a movie, opening this week, turned out to be the building that played such a big part of my life in the 1960s and '70s when I lived in NYC: The Women's House of Detention, an ominous dark fortress out of the Middle Ages, located near the Greenwich Village intersection of 6th Avenue and 8th Street.

One time I happened by the The House of D (the title of the new flick), as nearly everyone called it, and heard an inmate bellowing down to someone below gazing ten stories upward: "BIG RUBY IS DEAD." Who is this Big Ruby person?, I wondered as I sauntered by. How did she die? Whacked by another prisoner in a love triangle? Iced by a guard? Was she even an inmate of the place? And just how large was this Big Ruby person anyway? Nearly forty years later, I still want to know the answer to these and many more questions about this avoidupoidinous creature named after a semi-precious stone.

Any time of the day or night you could catch prisoners in the HOD, and those down below on the sidewalk, shouting messages back and forth to each other. One Christmas eve I remember, dozens of prisoners from various floors serenaded busy shoppers and passersby with Irving Berlin's "White Christmas." Dozens stopped and looked up at the living Capra before their very eyes. Until! Reaching the final stanza, the carolers rang out:

"And may all your Christmases be. . . BLACKKKKK."

In the early seventies they tore the Dickensian apparition down and put up a community garden in its place. A nice touch but Village has never been quite the same since.

***

I know this risks turning into Breakfast With Dorothy and Dick, but over corn flakes this a.m., David turned to me and said:

D: It says on the net today that the Catholic church in Africa is growing by leaps and bounds. Maybe that's why all these rumors of a black pope.

ME: Pope Tyrone?

D: Oh, Bill, that's so fifties. Pope Ice!

How's that for offending two Two TWO racio-religio groups within the space of a single anecdote?

As for this business of "Sainthood Now!" for Pope John Paul, one of the necessary miracles for doing so would definitely be his getting Cardinal Law out of Boston alive!

I couldn't help but catch some of the reruns of the Pope's funeral on TV (who could?), and I must say that I was disappointed that they didn't play so much as a single bar of Sarah Vaughan's record album, Sassy Swing the Pope. You think that I'm making this up and that, Shirley, I jest?

May I direct you, then , to Jazzletter Records JL-4. Also known---somewhat more officially---as Let It Live! (as opposed to Let it Be), a 1985 recording that features Sarah Vaughan (i.e. Sassy) singing 15 songs with lyrics by none other than his nibs, the Pope. It is every bit as much of dog as you might expect, but as bad as it is musically is how astonishing it is in regard to the sheer mass (nio pun intendis) of great jazz players assembled to plays the charts of the wonderful French arranger, Francy Boland, with the orchestra conducted by the equally illustrious Lalo Schiffrin. The musicans include: Benny Bailey, Idress Sulieman, Rolf Ericson, Art Farmer, Sahib Shihab, Jimmy Woode, Bobby Scott, Sal Nistico, Norma Winstone, et al. A vanity recording of the Pope's? If so, it must've cost a small papal fortune. Can you imagine, now with them both gone, how valuable a copy would be signed by both the Pope and Sarah Vaughan? Can you just imagine the scene, someone is invited to kneel and kiss the Pope's ring, and just then the party whips out Sassy Swings the Pope, and says, "Could you put your John Hancock on this?" Otherwise, however, I heard tell that the thing turned out to be such a turkey they ended up giving 'em out in confessionals. One copy for venal sins; two for mortal. Or maybe it was the other way round?

****
This just in: A woman in her SUV was struck and killed yesterday at a railroad crossing while talking on her cell phone. Um, no comment.

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