Monday, November 05, 2007

FROM OUR OVERSTOCKED ARCHIVES: RESURRECTION IN A PEW

[50 years ago last summer, your editor covered his first story in Washington. Throughout the year, the Review will exhume some of his writings]

SAM SMITH - The memorial service for Gene McCarthy ran a bit long, considering it was a tribute to a man who had once suggested reducing the number of commandments from ten to four. And it was disturbing to see Bill Clinton shamelessly delivering a tribute to a man of integrity, especially one who had once suggested, as a reform, that "we fire all the Rhodes and Oxford scholars and everyone from Arkansas." But then there was also Peter Yarow singing and the moving memorials and the brass section of the National Symphony and, most of all, the guy sitting next to me in the National Cathedral pew.

With pleasant earnestness he had turned to me before the service and asked, "Tell me, what did he do? He ran for president, didn't he? And was he a senator?"

I was stunned, wondering what had led him to enter the cathedral in the first place, but straight forwardly described McCarthy's experience in 1968.

The man was interested and noted, "I wasn't here then but I just liked the way he stood up for the truth."

A light clicked. "You were in Vietnam," I said.

"Right. It really screwed you up. Every day you thought you were going to die. I'm still screwed up."

During the service, my neighbor made copious notes and took photos with his camera.

At the end of the service, I shook hands and said I had been glad to meet him, adding, "Was it worthwhile?"

He smiled. "It was unforgettable. I feel alive again."

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PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

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Your editor has been a musician for many decades. He started the first band his Quaker school ever had and played drums with bands up until 1980 when he switched to stride piano. He had his own band until the mid-1990s and has played with the New Sunshine Jazz Band, Hill City Jazz Band, Not So Modern Jazz Band and the Phoenix Jazz Band.

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

Here are a few tracks:

SAM SMITH'S DECOLAND BAND

'SHINE' 

JELLY ROLL

PHOENIX JAZZ BAND

APEX BLUES   Sam playing with the Phoenix Jazz Band at the Central Ohio Jazz festival in 1990. Joining the band is George James on sax. James, then 84, had been a member of the Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller orchestras and hadappeared on some 60 records. More notes on James

WISER MAN  Sam piano & vocal

OH MAMA  Sam piano & vocal