A treasured childhood ritual was to sit in my nightgown on the top of the stairs and listen to late night weekly living room jams. Stella by Starlight, St. Louis Blues and Sentimental Journey were but a few of the standards they played. My dad's colleagues shared musical roots: piano-bass-drums and a horn, their vehicle for flight. In addition to dad playing the sax and clarinet, he had a passion for playing with language. "Scat" flowed freely from him, particularly when we were riding in the car. I became accustomed to hearing him free associate. In addition to mom's occasional use of Yiddish, and English of course, inventive "scat" became my second language.
A few times a year, our family of five would take the three hour drive south from Providence to "the city of magic." We saw every single Broadway musical with its original cast. Peter Pan, The Sound of Music, and West Side Story are but a few. We strolled the Lower East Side, ate corned beef sandwiches at Katz's Deli, and stargazed while feasting on lox and bagels at the Stage Deli which was across the street from our hotel, New York City's celebrated Americana.
One particular evening, my older brothers were responsible for the care of their baby sister, aka me, while our parents were out on the town. We were free to explore the hotel, which then was the tallest hotel in the world – which we did. Adjacent to the grand entrance on street level, attached to an elegant billboard, was a black and white glamour shot announcing the evening's entertainment at The Royal Box, the hotel's famed supper club. We shot upward in the newfangled (and thrilling) elevator to the top floor. There on the 51st floor, we discovered an unlocked door – it was the housekeeping closet – and we snuck in. I remember gazing down through an open window onto the bustle of Broadway. Cars looked like toys and people looked like polka dots. Windows in hotels fully opened then.
The Great Ella Fitzgerald
Later in the evening, while hanging out on the lush lobby couches, captivating music lured us into The Royal Box, which was steps away. For the first time I experienced “butterflies”, as we entered the glimmering club at dark, seeing men and women dressed to the nines, tucked into small, round cloth-covered tables, while formally garbed waitstaff (all men!) miraculously balanced piled high silver trays, using only what seemed to be a raised flat hand. The soundscape was distinct and familiar. It was pure unadulterated jazz. Across the cavernous room, upon the stage was a larger-than-life woman dressed in a pale blue sequined floor-length gown. Her vocalizing was tantalizing, smooth as silk. Her scatting emulated the clarity and syncopation of a horn. It was the first time I ever heard someone other than my dad scat! The audience (and evidently the maitre d', who wasn't at the door to shoo us away) were as transfixed as were, enthralled by the living presence of the great Ella Fitzgerald.