Saturday, February 25, 2006

Happy Birthday to Fred Katz

Today is the 80-somethingth birthday of jazz composer-arranger-cellist Fred Katz. My path crossed that of his exactly once. . .more than forty years ago. I was working at a Marlboro Books---an amazing NYC remainder books chain of the late 50s and early 60s---on West 57th Street, immediately to the east of Carnegie Hall. It was the second job I had in the city, after being fired (for good reason) from my initial one as an apprentice recording engineer at the once noble Empire Sound. But that is a tale best left to another night around the campfire.

Everytime you turned around at Marlboro found you rubbing the stardust out of your eyes. Just for starters, I can recall Harlem Renaissance supporter Carl Van Vechten (I was actually in the presence of the inarguably legendary CVV!), Diahann Carroll (the most beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes on before or since), Vivien Leigh (rail thin), Anthony Quinn (nice!), et al. And I remember a very pre-VOTD Jackie Susann coming in to poll the clerks on what she should call her new book about her poodle. We all, to a man, voted for Every Night Josephine. However, I digress ("Cut to the verb, Bill! Cut to the verb!"). As a neophyte jazzbo, the "celebrity" (of sorts) customer who truly meant the most to me was none of the above.

I didn't recognize him at first. That is, until he handed me a check bearing the name "Fred Katz," address (hot damn!) "Hollywood," California." Well, you could keep your Mrs. Larry Olivier, thank you very much. There standing right in front of me was the cellist with one of the top jazz groups in the world at the time, the Chico Hamilton Quintet. I simply could not contain my excitment.

"Are you THE Fred Katz?," I blurted out, my voice suddenly reverting to all it's cracked pre-pubescent glory. When Katz finished laughing, he haltingly replied, "Welll. . .I guess so."

Could it be that maybe you hadda be there?

Now, flash forward to just the other day when, at my urging, my friend, singer Melodye DeWine who is working with Katz on a project, recounted the incident to him.

Understandably, as it turns out, he didn't recall it. A near half-century of subsequent music making has obviously pushed it to one side in his mind. But, according to Melodye, nonetheless Katz apparently laughed just as hard as he had four decades ago. So maybe you didn't have to be there after all. Maybe all you really need to appreciate the story is to have been saddled for close on to ninety years with such a noble but nonetheless profoundly prosaic moniker as. . .Fred Katz.

Did I just hear someone cry out, "Sonny Tufts!"?

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