In The Pocket
From August 2001 thru May 2013, I resided in the Bay Area while working at NASA Ames Research Center as a government contractor. For the 2007-2013 period, during which I made 82 cross- country weekend trips to New York City specifically to hear Jazz, 2010 was a banner year. That year, I completed 24 such trips and saw a total of 226 performances at the many NYC Jazz venues. Each trip’s itinerary would comprise four shows each night with staggered start times, for one or two nights each, hopping from one venue to another via foot, taxi, or subway, and rarely, if ever, missing the start of the next performance.
(However, on December 12, 2015, while back here on the east coast, I completely missed an Eric Reed Quartet performance at Smoke because my NYC taxi was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic at 45th St. & Madison Ave. en route from Jazz Standard after seeing the Joey DeFrancesco Trio. The traffic jam was most probably due to the Christmas shopping season. Using my great “improvisation” skills, I had the driver pull over, I paid the fair (and tip), then I briskly walked west to 7th Ave. (Times Square) where I caught the ‘2’ or ‘3’ train to Greenwich Village. I arrived at Mezzrow just in time to catch the first set of Harry Allen’s Trio (I had planned to catch the second set), where Spike found me a great open seat next Harry’s new bride. Afterwards, I walked across the street to see the Scott Wendholt/Adam Kolker Quartet at Smalls. So I was still able to salvage a great Jazz evening after all . . . )
The required one-month-in-advance planning and logistics for such excursions (while holding down a full-time job!) included: (a) choosing the specific travel weekend, (b) deciding on the number of nights, (c) arranging the order of performances/venues, (d) making flight reservations, (e) figuring out transportation to departure/from arrival airport, (f) purchasing Jazz venue tickets, and (g) making hostel (NOT hotel) reservations.
For one such trip in mid-September 2010, all of the above tasks were completed except the last one.
The planned Jazz itinerary was as follows:
7:00 – Randy Weston (solo piano) (Ruben Museum of Art)
8:30 – Nicholas Payton Quintet (Birdland)
10:00 – Mulgrew Miller Trio (Smoke)
11:30 – Charles McPherson/Randy Brecker & NJCU Jazz Ensemble (Dizzy’s @ JALC)
12:45 – Helen Sung Trio (Dizzy’s @ JALC – AH)
7:30 – Steve Grossman Quartet (Jazz Standard)
9:00 – Renee Rosnes Quartet (Village Vanguard)
10:30 – Tar Baby (Orrin Evans, Dezron Douglas & Nasheet Waits) (Jazz Gallery)
12:00 – Chris Byars Octet (Smalls)
My plans were to fly into JFK late Friday afternoon, and to depart out of LaGuardia very early Sunday (via the M60 transit bus from Broadway & 106th St.). Unfortunately, when I finalized my travel plans in late August, all four of my frequently-patronized upper west side hostels were fully booked, and there were no hostel cancellations as my travel date approached. So, here I was, between the proverbial rock and a hard place, with an impending “all dressed up and nowhere to stay in NYC” scenario.
This is where I introduce my good friend, “Darrell Green”. No, not the former Washington Redskin Hall of Famer and world-class sprinter, most famous for “walking down” Dallas Cowboy great, Tony Dorsett, after a 78-yard gain in the 1983 season opener on Monday Night Football in Dallas – his first game as a rookie!!!
THIS Darrell Green is a super nice guy, a true gentleman, and a world- class (and one helluva) drummer!!! I’ve often kidded Darrell that if he lived in the Washington, D.C. area, he’d receive more free meals, free drinks, night club VIP seating, and football/baseball/basketball/hockey passes than he’d ever imagine just from a little name-dropping . . . :v)
A California native raised in the S.F. Bay Area, Darrell relocated to NYC in 2005. I’d seen Darrell several times playing drums at various Bay Area Jazz concerts and venues while passing through town. A very genial personality, he was very always approachable and he saw that I was a serious Jazz fan, so we chatted about Jazz every time I’d see him.
Then, by happenstance, on the final night of my week-long June 17-24, 2010 (Saturday thru Friday) NYC Jazz trip months earlier, where I took in 24 Jazz performances, our paths crossed. That night, I’d already seen the Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts Quartet at Smoke, the Rick Germanson Quintet at Smalls, and the Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet at Jazz Standard. As I was seated on a couch at the Fat Cat all ready to check out my final performance of that Friday night, the late 1:30 A.M. set by the Bruce Harris Quartet, I saw Darrell walk in with his then girlfriend, his mom, and his aunt. His mom and aunt were in town from Oakland, their first visit since he’d left on 2005. Of course, I lived only 20 miles from Oakland. Darrell was going to play drums for the quartet.
Bruce Harris’s group sounded great and swung hard! After the set, I had a chance to meet Darrell’s mom and aunt. Since it was so late (so early), Darrell’s mom decided to head back to his apartment. I, on the other hand, decided to hang out tough in “The Village” with Darrell and his peeps. We ended up eating pizza, downing donuts, devouring kebabs, drinking coffee and tea, and promenading around the nearly empty streets, just enjoying a grand time, which invariably extended into the wee hours of the morning.
On his way back uptown to Harlem, Darrell dropped me off at my hostel at 103rd St. & Amsterdam, Hostelling International, where I had a chance to catch a few winks before heading out to the airport. Being the nice guy that he is, Darrell gave me his cell number and told me to call him up the next time I was in town. We often use the expression, “He’s/They’re good people!” Yes, indeed!
So, days before my September 2010 trip, having had no luck with the hostels, I desperately called my good friend to take him up on his offer to stay at his Harlem apartment for one night, having never visited his crib before. He said, “Sure!” I even volunteered to pay him what I’d normally pay at a hostel.
When I finally arrived early Friday evening at his apartment complex near 127th St. & St. Nicholas Terrace, I rang the doorbell out front. He ran down to open the door and greet me, and then escorted me up to his apartment. “Wow, I’m really in Harlem now!”, I thought to myself.
He gave me a brief tour of his digs, told me to make myself at home, and said he’d be staying with a friend. I told him that I’d be heading out late in the morning (Saturday). He asked me to just leave the key with his buddy on the first floor, Antoine Roney. I’m thinking to myself, “Who??? Antoine Roney, you mean the tenor sax player, and Wallace Roney’s brother? He lives in this building? Wow!!!” I have all of each brother’s albums on the Muse label.
And, as if that wasn’t enough to blow my mind, Darrell told me he wanted to show me something before he took off. We then left his apartment and he took me to another apartment in the building. He opened the door, walked down a hallway, then stepped into a room that was draped in plastic from the ceiling to the floor, and had the walls covered with foam rubber. He pulled back the plastic and, lo and behold, there sat a full drum set: white drums (snare, tom-toms, floor tom-toms, bass drum), ride and crash cymbals, and a high-hat.
Apparently, I’d just stepped into Darrell’s sacred space, where he practices for hours on end, performing his woodshedding and perfecting his craft. He even allowed me the honor of sitting in the drum chair, but I was too afraid to touch anything. Although, in my mind, I contemplated attempting a Billy Cobham “The Pleasant Pheasant” drumroll . . . Oh well! (The plastic drapes and wall foam rubber were for noise abatement.)
So, needless to say, when we headed out of his “practice studio” and returned to his apartment, I was on Cloud 9! He then took off, fully trusting me in his apartment. And I soon headed out to my first gig of the evening . . . as if I play an instrument. :v)
After I took in five outstanding Jazz performances, I returned to Darrell’s apartment very late Friday night/early Saturday morning. Needless to say, I slept extremely well on Darrell’s couch, got up late that Saturday morning, dropped off the key with Mr. Roney on the way out, and started off my busy Saturday ‘daytime’ activities BEFORE Jazz: two movies and early dinner at Sylvia’s famous Harlem restaurant!
After taking in another four outstanding performances that Saturday night, I headed uptown from Smalls on the ‘1’ train to catch the 4:00 A.M. M60 bus to LaGuardia Airport at Broadway and 106th St. for my return flight to the west coast.
As it turns out, I utilized “Harlem’s Chez Green B&B” two other times: July 2011 and March 2012. For the former, since Darrell was gigging out of town, I picked up his apartment key from his mom in Oakland. Both times, I left his key with Mr. Roney downstairs as I was leaving town. Darrell even invited me to attend a summer cookout at his mom’s house when he was in town. And, naturally, I threw down big time!!! Yeah, Boooey! You talk about “Good People” . . .
Currently, Darrell co-leads the outstanding group, Camille Thurman and the Darrell Green Quartet, as well as leads the Darrell Green Trio (trumpet, bass, drums).
To this day, I’ll never forget the kindness, genuineness, and generosity shown by Darrell Green. After all, these are all characteristics of great ‘in the pocket’ drumming: (a) having great timing, (b) displaying great groove, and (c) serving the music (fans). My man, Darrell Green!!! That’s right, you gotta give the drummer some! :v)