Five years ago today, Michael Breckerone of my favorite saxophone players, and a pioneer on the instrument in many wayspassed away of complications from leukemia. He had suffered from the rare blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome, and never found a matching donor for a successful stem cell transplant.
Brecker was one of the most in-demand session players of his time, besides being a consummate jazz innovator in his own right. He was also instrumental in promoting and pioneering the use of the EWI (electronic wind instrument). Back in 2007, I put together a Michael Brecker tribute mix as my contribution to the CD Mix of the Month Club I used to belong to in New York. Called Tenor of the Times, it contained a sampling of some of his best work both as sideman and band leader. On this anniversary of his passing, I thought I'd make a zip file of the mix available. Grab it quickI won't leave it up for long. Some liner notes are here.
Going home to New York City is as comfortable as slipping on an old shoe. I flew there Tuesday afternoon with just a backpack and the parka on my back, and I was immediately at ease and confident in a way I don't yet feel in Chicago. The only bad part was that I was alone, since Laura was on a concurrent business trip to Rochester.
But I wasn't solitary for long. I took a cab from Laguardia to my borrowed apartment in Astoria, Queens, dumped off most of the contents of my pack, and headed into the city. After a quick stop at my old office, I met John Klima, in from Iowa way, at the Tor offices in the Flatiron Building. I acquired an advance copy of Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, I chatted with Patrick Nielsen Hayden for a minute or two, and John and I hauled his bags back to Astoria on the subway.
Kabab Cafe is our favorite restaurant on earth, and Ali El Sayed our good friend. John had eaten Ali's appetizers once before at a party at our place, but despite our best efforts we had never managed to get Shai and him out to the restaurant itself for a real meal. What's more, John had seen the above segment on "No Reservations." Since he and I were staying right there in the neighborhood, how could we not head over for dinner? I promised him, though, that we'd have fare other than sweetbreads and testicles.
Ali, I'm happy to say, was as delighted to see us as we were to see him. He gave John and me the same booth that Zimmern and Bourdain had taken on TV, and as we split a bottle of wine and a beet salad and a mixed appetizer plate Ali somehow talked us into trying the sweetbreads, brains, and tongue for one of our entrees.
As John later said, if I'd tried to get him to Kabab Cafe by telling him that's what we were going to eat, it would have been an uphill battle. But there with Ali urging us on, we both felt bold enough just to dive right in. And you know what? It was all uniformly excellent. John Twittered about brains! all the while.
What we didn't feel quite bold enough to try were the "mountain oysters," which Ali was preparing for a party in from Seattle who had come specifically for the meal they'd seen on TV.
As Ali was preparing our dessert plate, and since our wine bottle was empty, he slipped us a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon and joined us in a furtive shot. I asked him what he was doing after hours, and he invited us to come back at eleven and meet him at the hookah bar across the street.
Stuffed, John and I took the subway back into the city, where we joined my friend Carrie's birthday karaoke outing. Many of the old CDMOM gang was there, and a great time was had by all. John and I got into the action when no one would claim Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" and it was pressed on us. My rendition of Steely Dan's "Cousin Dupree" went over like a turd in a punchbowl, though, doing nothing to refute Carrie's constant repetitions of a memorable quote from Knocked Up: "Steely Dan gargles my balls."
Hmm. I suppose "balls" was something of a leitmotif that evening.
After karaoke, John and I hopped a cab and headed back out to Astoria. Ali saw us through the window of the hookah bar where he was holding court, and we joined him and a couple of friends there for water pipes and tea. A bizarre Technicolor Egyptian musical from the '60s was playing on the giant-screen TV, but sadly without subtitles. John and I were warmly welcomed there, but we both wondered how welcome we would have felt if we had entered without Ali as our Virgil.
We ended up making a whirlwind tour of ethnic after-hours spots. After the Egyptian hookah bar, we hit Bohemian Hall, where we visited John's roots with Czech beer and harder spirits. Then, hungry anew, it was off to Roti Boti, an Indian spot on 21st Street where the three of us enjoyed a repast of cow foot and other spicy delicacies.
Ali dropped us off at the apartment at 2:30 am.
Morning came awfully early, especially considering that the unshaded windows faced east. Breakfast was giant omelettes at Igloo on 31st Street, after which John and I returned to the city to pursue our various agendas. I met Paul Witcover for beer and burgers at Waterfront Ale House, where we caught up and talked about our newly aborning novel projects.
Next I headed downtown to New York Adorned to have a broken curved barbell in my right ear replaced. (I went a gauge thicker in each ear as long as I was there.) While I was paying up front, our friend Victoria Tillotson, jewelry-maker to the stars, wandered up to the counter. I'd hardly seen Vic except on TV in about three years, so it was great to catch up with her for a few minutes. She relayed the awesome news that she's just sold a book on jewelry making to Random House.
With my new jewelry installed, I headed over to my friend Geoff Fowler's apartment for a surprise drop-in, then walked to d.b.a. where I settled down with a Talisker 25yo to wait for people to appear. John appeared first, followed in rapid succession by Paul, Colin Poellot, and rajankhanna.
The next morning we were up at four, blear-eyed, each to make his own way back home. I had more good times and saw more good friends then I had thought would be possible to pack into two short days, but now it is good to be back home in Chicago with my wife and dog.
I'm sure everyone in the universe is linking to this today, but I can't stop watching this YouTube video from The Beatnix, an Australian Beatles cover band. It's from an alternate universe where the young mop-tops wrote and recorded "Stairway to Heaven" in 1964: