ANDY BEY / “In A Sentimental Mood”
Somewhere, deep inside a mythic country well beyond the normal pernicious hassles of daily American life, a country that the regular authorities insist does not exist—indeed it’s found on none of the official maps, not Rand McNally or any of that ilk—somewhere there is a country whose entrance is available only to the hip. Shit, you have to be hip just to know this nation exists. Anyway, there is a hotel in that hip clime, and there you will find a piano bar. Ah, not just any piano bar, a hip piano bar. And there on Thursday nights, every Thursday night, Andy Bey plays for singles. No couples. No parties of three, or four or more. Just single people who sit quietly nursing a bloody mary or a sloe gin and tonic or even a quiet glass of straight mineral water or perhaps pulpy juice squeezed from chilled oranges with a sprig of mint and an artfully carved tangerine twist. (I think that drink is called the “Bluebird Special.”) Anyway, each round little table accommodates one rattan-backed wooden chair on which a person can sit in relative comfort, companioned by romantic memories as Andy Bey’s baritone offers the perfect, bittersweet soundtrack for private reminiscing.
Usually when the set begins, Andy sits alone, ministering to the piano much as he did on his 1996 come-back album Ballads, Blues & Bey (from which we have chosen three selections: "Someone to Watch Over Me," "You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To," and appropriately "In a Sentimental Mood"). It’s like a dream. You don’t remember when he entered. His rough hewn but extremely tender voice and the dulcet tones of his piano playing just seem to appear out of nowhere, now here floating before us. Andy is singing to himself and about himself more than he is paying attention to any of us in the audience, and we too are lost in the mist of our own memories as though Andy’s singing was actually us singing about our own lives.
Now at one time, back in the sixties (was that not a truly mythic time?) Andy and his two sisters, Geraldine and Salome, held court here. That was when they were in their youth. The three of them would gather: Andy poised on the piano stool caressing the ivories (the piano was a classic instrument whose keys were actually made of elephant ivory), Geraldine was generally standing erect in the hollow of the piano’s raised lid, one hand resting regally atop the lip of the piano’s curved side, while Salome hung like an angel over Andy’s left shoulder. Oh, the music that trio conjured! It was not unusual for them to start south of the border with a bossa nova like “Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars.”
Even though those days are long gone, nevertheless, unlike in life or even the movies, on occasion and unannounced, the trio reassembles at this hip hotel and artfully and authentically recreates the golden days, offering up classic interpretations of classic music.
As hip folk are wont to do, this musical troika insists on merrily going their own way, always finding new twists and turns as they assay antique songs or reinvigorate jazz tunes with enthusiastic lyrics that chronicle the exploits and life explorations of infamous denizens of the night, people such as “Sister Sadie.” There is a sparkle in each of the siblings’ eye as they chortle with carefree youthful abandon.
Oh, when Andy and The Bey Sisters assemble there is a mighty joyful noise offered up in a bacchanalian revelry whose tones include mucho kisses (“Besame Mucho”), cavalierly delivered memories of past indiscretions (“Since I Fell For You”), and wry smiles laced with the momentary moody deeptitude of a midnight memory (“Round Midnight”).
And then just as suddenly and unannounced as when they arrived, the sisters disappear, dissolving back into the India of the inky midnight blue night sky. But then that is the way things are done in the hip world—one has to always be prepared for entrances and exits because one never knows when some one or some thing hip will arrive, how long it will stay, or when it will leave. You just have to be ready to accept it when he, she or it comes, savor the essence while it lasts, and not hesitate to see if off when it is done.
Without intermission, Andy will then launch into some of those hip, hip jazz essays. This is usually when the squares go home and the incontinent seek out the establishment’s facilities to relieve themselves. At those moments, the emphasis is on true jazz. If the sweetly sung songs have lyrics, they are mostly elusive and allusive and the swinging is so smart that there are even hints of hardness in the drum licks and cymbal hits, but only hints, as the hip never indulge in the gaucherie of aggression.
At such times the tunes could be a Monkian anthem such as Thelonious’ declaration of taking life “Straight, No Chaser,” or it could be a cooler, more subtle introspection like Bix Beiderbecke’s “In A Mist.”
And then realizing that even in this divine clime one can not hold forth forever, Andy might shift gears as he spies a foreign friend sitting at a table in the corner, a friend like Brazil’s Milton Nascimento, and for a finale, Andy will unfurl—in both Portuguese and English—a polyrhythmic excursion such as “Saidas E Bandeiras.”
At such moments no one who is still there wants to leave but, hey, c’est la vie, if you arrive, eventually you must leave.
Andy will rise from the piano seat and slowly but steadily approach a table that sits in the shadows, a table where the candle in the red bowl is unlit and the features of the person enthroned there are indistinguishable as the dark on dark of an unsmiling negro sitting alone in the night. But Andy knows who it is and the mystery guest knows who Andy is. And with only a guitarist in tow, Andy Bey docks beside that little table and in benedictory tones worthy of this sacred denouement, sings a gently reassuring number which reminds us (as though the hip need reminding): life is momentary, blessings and bliss are brief, sorrow is unending but can always be leavened by a song. So Andy sings “Like A Lover” and then exits left, slowly, without pause, without looking back, without regret.
He is gone.
This has been another Thursday night at the hip hotel.
With only our dreams to remind us.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Beautiful. Just beautiful! I’m talking about both the music and the write-up. I don’t know if it’s just that I’m getting older, or if it’s that you happened to catch me in the right mood (kind of melancholy…coming up on big changes), but I imagine that this sort of music would’ve gone right by me a few years ago. But right now. Man. You got me.
I like it all. I have to say though, the ballads are where it’s at. The way the songs showed up on my computer, I listened to four ballads in a row: "Someone To Watch Over Me," "You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To," "In A Sentimental Mood" and "Like A Lover." It wasn’t until those songs were over and I finally exhaled (as the uptempo swing of "Straight No Chaser" kicked in) that I realized I’d been holding my breath all that time. What a performer. I’m going to have to chase down that Ballad, Blues & Bey CD immediately!
Oh. And in reference to my comments over in the Brother Ali post, I wasn’t saying I don’t like melody and harmony in general. I actually love a pretty melody and these tunes are an excellent example of classic melodies being performed perfectly. It doesn’t get any better. I was just saying I generally don’t like harmony and melody in my hip-hop. But give me something sweet like this to listen to…. Let’s just say I’m about to hit repeat and listen to all of it over again. Andy Bey. Wow.
—Mtume ya Salaam
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