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How Can April Be The Cruelest Month With The Return of Baseball and It's Also Jazz Appreciation Month?

Thelonious Monk once had a wonderfully pithy answer to the question, “What Is Jazz?” “New York is jazz. It’s in the air.”

I can testify to that on my recent wanderings through my hometown of Manhattan, named the Big Apple by jazz musicians long ago. The other day on the way downtown by subway, a jazz combo at the 103rd Street station of the #1 train greeted me with the infectious strains of Maceo Pinkard’s immortal tune “Sweet Georgia Brown”. All that was missing was the Harlem Globetrotters’ dribbling and passing. (For you recent movie buffs, that 103rd St. station is where Natalie Portman waits for the train to Lincoln Center in her Oscar-awarding ballerina portrayal in Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan”.)

Just this past weekend I was coming back from a swim at the nearby Columbia University pool when I heard a sax-bass duo belt out a swinging “September in the Rain” at the corner of Broadway and 110th Street (aka Cathedral Parkway because one block east resides the majestic Cathedral of St. John the Divine).

The song title might not fit for early April but we sure have had our share of rain in the Big Apple and frigid temps more like fall and winter. The great thing about swinging jazz music is that the best tunes transcend transient woes like the weather and one’s own foul moods.

“September in the Rain” just exudes happiness. With music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin, the song was written in 1937 for the movie “Melody for Two” starring James Melton. I first heard it on a MUGGSY SPANIER recording. Cornetist Spanier has been gone since 1967 but he lives on in many of his cornet-led tunes.

They say that he got his nickname Muggsy from his love for the New York Giants baseball manager John “Muggsy” McGraw (a name you wouldn’t say of course to McGraw’s face). As a Chicagoan Spanier was a Cubs fan and he occasionally would lead his band wearing a full Cubs uniform.

Ah the great connection between baseball and jazz that was especially alive in the hard years of the Great Depression and World War II. There is no doubt in my mind that the beauty and drama of both baseball and jazz, its challenges and consolations, kept the U S of A on a reasonably even keel during those cataclysmic decades.

So as an unpredictable baseball season unfolds in all its glories and gut-wrenching downers, it is good to keep these thoughts in mind. I went to Orioles Opening Day in Baltimore on Friday April 5th and was thrilled by their gritty victory capped by the red-hot Chris Davis’ bottom of the 8th grand slam. Then they proceeded to lose two winnable one-run games to the Minnesota Twins, a team determined to return to the winning side of baseball’s ledgers after some recent horrible seasons.

The great historian of the U.S. Charles Beard once said, "History never exactly repeats myself," and it is true of baseball. The Orioles lost only 9 one-run games all last year and already in 2013 their three losses are by one run.

Let’s calm down, I tell myself, and enjoy the day-by-day game-by-game pitch-by-pitch drama of baseball. And keep our eyes and ears open for sounds of jazz, too.

Two recommendations for early April with a baseball and jazz connection:

Wed April 10 at 8p and 9:45p Pianist ART LANDE leads a quartet into KITANO JAZZ
the south side of East 38th Street a little bit east of Park Avenue. The brilliant pianist-improviser rarely appears in New York though he’s a Long Island native and longtime Mets fan.

Sun April 14 at 3p SHERRIE MARICLE and DIVA: THE ALL-WOMAN’S BIG BAND at the Mayo Cultural Center on State Street in Morristown, New Jersey. Drummer Maricle and her talented 18-piece band are celebrating their 20th anniversary. The band was founded by drummer STANLEY KAY, a long-time manager of Buddy Rich. Kay in his last years served as George Steinbrenner’s New York Yankees’ musical director. I saw them at IRIDIUM last week and they were a knockout in every sense.

That’s all for now – always remember: Take it easy, but take it!  Read More 
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