London By Day

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Abbey Road Studios (Tutti Frutti/Shutterstock)

My Lord! It's Lord's! I left the St. John's Wood tube station on the way to EMI to record two songs, but right there, almost in front of me, was the famous Cricket field, with something in progress. I was two hours early, the sun was out on a Wednesday afternoon in mid September of 1962, and I bought a whiskey straight up and wandered around.

Everything seemed white. The game and its players were white; the spectators were all in white, both women and men; the chairs and tables were white. And the grounds themselves were white. A white game, I thought, perfectly satisfied with the world of that moment.

Even at that young age I knew that perfectly satisfying moments were not all that common. Mozart's Requiem at Carnegie Hall qualified. Floating way out in the ocean, then returning to the hot sand in Bridgehampton and an icy beer in an icy glass, qualified. Years later Sally Keeble would entirely qualify, for sure, and my children on the swings in Carl Schurz park, with me behind them pumping them forward, qualified. A perfect avocado qualified, an avocado that I'd pulled off a very high-up branch of the avocado tree in our very own backyard in California, in 1947. To me, the avocado was the Sinatra of fruit, but that would come later. And now Lord's, a whiskey and a cricket game and a second whiskey, all in anticipation of my first recording.

My Lord, it's Abby Road. I didn't know then. The studio was enormous, to accommodate the London Symphony Orchestra, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and other grand collaborations, but it had been partitioned off to create a jazz studio and to allow a sense of intimacy.

My sheet music was copied and distributed to the four musicians. Two were wildly famous in London: Jack Parnell and Eddy Blair, whose names I'd seen on many a British release. Blair played the trumpet, and Parnell was the leader and I believe the pianist. The bass player and drummer are lost to me now, but the group sounded marvelous, a swinging little quartet for "Soon," that issued a sweet empathic glow for "Oh But I Do." "Great," said Wally Ridley, the A&R man in the booth. Three or four takes on "Soon," and five on "Oh But I Do."

"We're making you a star," from Ridley in the booth. I even heard some applause from the others behind him. I left elated. I had thanked everyone with radical profusion. How about another whiskey at Lord's. I almost scampered down Wellington Road.

The cricket had stopped, the bar was closed, the white was all gone. A wind had kicked in, the sky was more than gray, rain threatened. I stood around with my 45 RPM in an envelope meant for its size. Paris was the past. My little room on West Cromwell Road was a dreary space into which I'd piled my record player and albums and books and typewriter - a Hermes 3000 that I still use today.

That record player revealed a young man taking everything he'd heard Sinatra do and nothing, but nothing of his own.That young man hung his head in guilt and sorrow, believing that his own talent at anything was fraudulent. He was, he felt, a failure. Cromwell Road was filled with failure. He was sure lucky to have found a room there, so he could sit in its one chair and think about what to do next.



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Comments [8]

David Federman from Ardmore, PA

To even sound like Sinatra at your age in 1962 was an achievment. I'm sure Sinatra sounded nothing like Sinatra at the same age. Look, Jonathan, I don't know where I'd be today if I hadn't spent Sunday mornings with you. Sinatra always had Crosby and Haymes and, to my ears, Allyn to contend with. You had your microphone all to yourself. Settle for the unchallenged singularity of your taste and articulateness.

Aug. 28 2014 02:33 PM
Martha Magee from Here

Abbey Road?
You're practically a Beatle!

Aug. 27 2014 06:32 PM
Rafael Delasandro from fenway park

Felicio! I've been looking everywhere for you! Dance into my arms.

Aug. 27 2014 03:00 PM
Felicio Delasandro

I'm just a dancer down on my luck

Aug. 27 2014 02:34 PM
Martha Magee from Here


You're breakin' my heart ova heah.

On a lighter note, I grew up in Yorkville. Carl Schurz was my backyard.
The best. And of course Papaya King rules.

I think I know how this feels, what you describe. I'm a good singer but I grew up feeling totally eclipsed by my mother's beauty, glamor and talent as a singer and an actress. Her star quality charisma lit up every room she walked into. I could never measure up to that. I felt like I barely existed.
In your case, whadya expect hanging out with the likes of Sinatra! Anyone would pale by comparison! That's a hard act to follow, not to mention your father and all the greats you grew up around.

You knew what you wanted to be.. You chose the right road my friend, and I hope you know it. Just ask the millions of people who adore you and hang on your every note and word!

You're in The Zone. Enjoy it!!
Thank you for these poignant stories. i absolutely love them.

Aug. 27 2014 01:36 PM
stan gomberg from Columbia, SC

A poignant story, well told. One of Jonathan's hallmarks.

Aug. 27 2014 01:29 PM
Rafael Delasandro from Fenway park

Oh jonno boy, can't it be cured ?

Aug. 27 2014 12:51 PM
paul innis

your writing conveys emotion with great clarity

Aug. 27 2014 12:27 PM

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The sounds of Frank Sinatra, Nelson Riddle, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday and other masters of the American songbook can be heard 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, anywhere in the world.

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