The Night I Made A Cocktail Table Go “Boom”

You should count your lucky stars when you act like a nitwit and are forgiven for your sins. That is what happened to me about ten years ago at a jazz concert. It was the night when talentless me accidentally became part of the show.

I hadn’t thought about that infamous evening in a long time, but for some reason was reminded of it recently when my wife Sandy and I took in a Friday night concert at the Philadelphia Museum Of Art (PMA), which had been the scene of my crime. The museum calls its Friday night concert series Art After 5, and it’s a good one. Art After 5 began in 2001 with a jazz-only format, but has morphed over the years to include a wide range of genres. Sandy and I have been to a crazy number of music shows at PMA since we discovered the series in 2002.

Picture this: It is February 2006. Sandy and I are seated in the first of several rows of tables ringing the performance area in PMA’s Great Stair Hall. The hall is enormous, maybe 80 feet high, and is dominated by, yes, a great stairway that connects two levels of the museum. The Great Stair is 20 feet behind us and stares regally at the performance area. Many concertgoers are seated on its marble slabs . . . uncomfortably. Sandy and I prefer comfort. So we made it a point to arrive way before showtime in the hopes of nabbing one of the cocktail tables, which are squeezed together pretty closely. Compared to marble stairs, the chairs at the tables are a blessing for butts. At our table we don’t have much to do except twiddle our thumbs. We order soft drinks and sip at them. We are waiting for jazz vocalist Carmen Lundy and her band to start their show.

Carmen Lundy in performance six years after my cocktail table went "boom." (Photo by Daniel Sheehan)
Carmen Lundy in performance eight years after my cocktail table went “boom.” (Photo by Daniel Sheehan)

At 5:45 PM Carmen and the guys are introduced by Art After 5’s curator. Minutes later they begin to play. They are very fine, and only eight feet in front of our excellent seats. Carmen Lundy, a justly acclaimed performer, is singing with a lot of flair and swagger. Sandy and I are enjoying the show. But halfway through the set something begins to bother me. I feel as though my space is being impinged upon. Someone at a table behind me has inched up a tad too much and is putting pressure on the rear of my chair. I have the solution, of course. All I need to do is slide my cocktail table forward ever so little, after which I’ll be able to move my chair forward too. I push the table very very gently, maneuvering it carefully. But alas, this is a plan not destined to work out. The frigging table loses its balance and topples heavily, its edge creating an enormous sound when it smashes onto the floor. The noise echoes throughout the Great Stair Hall. And everything that was on the table flies off and finds a new home inches from the performers’ feet.

I felt like a schmuck. I was a schmuck. Oy vey, was there anywhere to hide? No way. All I could do was sit there as a couple of servers scampered over, set the table upright, and on their hands and knees quickly swept up ice cubes and pieces of broken glass. They mopped up the soft drink liquids from the floor and retrieved my eyeglasses, which once had been on the table but now were beneath the piano bench. Yet, all the while the band played on as if nothing had happened. Carmen Lundy continued to deliver her song with full emotion. Harold O’Neal’s fingers were flying on the keyboard. Jason Brown’s drums went rat-a-tat-tat and wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, and Curtis Lundy, Carmen’s brother, plucked fervent notes on his upright bass.

The set finally ended. Was anyone in the audience staring at me? Probably. But I was too embarrassed to look around and find out. I knew one thing I had to do though. Apologize. Carmen Lundy was standing near the sound board, 20 feet to the right of the performance area. I stood up and made my way to her.

“Ms. Lundy,” I said. “I’m the idiot who knocked over the table. I’m very sorry. I feel like a fool.”

Carmen Lundy gave me a good hard look for a few moments and then did the darndest thing. She put a hand on one of my shoulders, looking me straight in the eyes, and said “Don’t worry about it, honey. It didn’t bother us. In fact it gave us energy to play even harder.”

Man, I didn’t know what to say in response to such a stellar attitude. I mumbled my thanks and probably a few other words and shuffled to my seat.

Looking back on all of this the other day I realized once again that I had been in the presence of classiness and graciousness. If our places had been reversed I doubt if dopey me would have been so wonderful. Carmen Lundy, in my book you’re very much okay.

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Michelle Lordi, Jazz Singer

The main room at Vintage Bar And Grill, 10 minutes before the music began.
The main room at Vintage Bar And Grill, 10 minutes before the music began.

Vintage Bar And Grill in Abington, Pennsylvania is a good place. It’s a sports bar that serves up thoughtful food. There are plenty of televisions (seven in the main room), knick knacks all over the walls and a not bad selection of beers. And, duh, the place can get noisy, very noisy. So when my wife and I go there for dinner a couple of Fridays or Saturdays each year we are ready and willing to deal with mega decibels. Never had been there mid-week till a handful of days ago though, when on Tuesday we went not only for dinner but to hear some jazz. Most unlikely, Vintage is given over on Tuesday evenings to jazz vocalist Michelle Lordi and her musical partners.

The Philadelphia area, where I live, is home to lots of very good musicians in most musical genres, including jazz. The music biz being what it is, though, only a handful of musicians break through to decent-sized audiences. The rest, like Lordi, do what they can, sometimes maybe plying their craft at small unexpected spots like Vintage.

I’d known about Lordi’s Vintage gigs for a long time. I’d seen her name on a weekly email jazz-near-you schedule that I subscribe to, but I hadn’t given her much thought. Last week, though, the notion to see her bubbled up. Being musically in the dark about Michelle, I first checked her out on YouTube, and she sounded excellent. How was she in person? YouTube didn’t lie. She was great.

Lordi had with her four musicians she works with quite often. Two of them, tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna and electric guitarist Sonny Troy, are grizzled musical veterans, superb players with long and impressive resumes.  Neither I suppose is on the road much anymore, if at all. It says a lot about Michelle that they choose to play with her. The other two are young guys, Sam Harris on upright bass and Mike Frank on electric piano. They did a fine job at Vintage.

Michelle and her band set up shop in a tight Vintage corner near the main entrance. A hi-def TV, on mute, showed the Phillies baseball game above them. Maybe 30 customers were in the room for the first set, at best half of them listening to the music. Five feet from Michelle and one foot from Sonny Troy was a table of six. As the music played, these folks blithely chitchatted about their vacations and the goings-on of various relatives, groundbreaking news all of it. I tip my hat to musicians who learn to become immune to this kind of stuff.

Michelle Lordi is from the understated school of jazz singing. I’d bet that she has taken cues from Doris Day and June Christy, calm singers from the 1940s and 50s. Diana Krall is maybe today’s biggest jazz name who isn’t interested in vocal gymnastics or in bursting a vein reaching for a high note. I like this style of singing a lot. You hear it consistently with Brazilian bossa nova singers.

Michelle Lordi and her band at Vintage Bar And Grill.
Michelle Lordi and her band at Vintage Bar And Grill.

During the one hour first set at Vintage, Lordi sang nine songs, standards from the American and Brazilian songbooks. She chose medium to slow tempos and sang efficiently and clearly in a firm and pretty voice. Lyrics came alive because she gave them room to breathe. Over Sonny Troy’s moody accompaniment, she slowed and elongated the words to Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful.” After a wise and moving Larry McKenna solo on Rodgers and Hart’s “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” Lordi sang unaffectedly, cleanly hitting the higher notes without strain or an excess of volume. The song  resonated.

Michelle Lordi performs pretty regularly at other venues in the Philadelphia area, such as Chestnut Hill’s Paris Bistro And Jazz Café. And she has done some recording too. But overall she is not exactly a household name. Unless I missed something, the set I took in at Vintage would have gone over just swell at the high-profile Village Vanguard or Café Carlyle in Manhattan or, closer to home, at Philadelphia’s Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts. Beautiful singing, assured and sympathetic instrumental work. Maybe one day I’ll be able to say “I saw her when . . . “