Paris, Part One

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"The Brits like American singers. I'm Wally Ridley. I'm an A&R guy at EMI. You care to make a record for us?"

I was singing and playing the piano in Paris at La Calvados, right across the street from the George Cinq Hotel. From 11PM until 6AM I worked for a half hour, and then was replaced by a fellow with a guitar who drifted from table to table singing and playing "Granada." I took to napping in a corner of the lobby of the George Cinq in my off half hours.

"Meet me in the hotel in fifteen minutes," I told Wally Ridley, but he stayed on, listening to me, and walked with me across Ave.Marceau.

Ridley was a Cockney bloke, short, balding and filled with song titles, singers, song writers, record companies, arrangers, musicians, and jazz history. The thing was, so was I. We overshot my half hour. Leslie, the head waitress, fetched me by menacingly appearing at our couch. Ridley stayed on in the club, drinking Chivas Regal at a table near the piano and smoking a cigar and smiling away. I played to him, may I say masterfully?

"Come over in September," Wally said, back in the lobby of the George Cinq.
"When in September?" I asked.
"Anytime. Just let me know when you're there."

Ridley handed me his card. I handed him back my doctor's card: Dr. Arthur Seligman 435 East 57th Street, as if I were Robin Williams (I've been card free all my life). He didn't look at it as he dropped it into a coat pocket.

My walk up the Champs Élysées at six that morning was accompanied by my singing right out loud. A twenty minute walk to the metro at the Etoile, in a slight drizzle. Few vehicles, a modest number of shop owners opening up, and clusters of tourists with cameras. July 28th, 1962. Even in the Metro on the way to Place Clichy I sang. "If I loved you, time and again I would try to say all I want you to know. If I loved you, words wouldn't come in an easy way, round in circles I'd go."

Another ten minute walk to home, 22 rue Nollet. No singing, though; I was recognizable in this territory. Milk bottles outside of yet- to- be opened food shops. And the Paris tribune, in English; often I stopped for the baseball scores that were 3 or 4 days behind, and often revealed with one ghastly look a Red Sox losing streak, not one nice little 6-4 win. Sadness. Baseball sadness. Never get four days of scores at once. But at home, in my small apartment, Sinatra sang and eased the melancholy. The new album had been sent to me by a friend in New York. "Sinatra and Swinging Brass."

What would I record? Ridley had told me that I'd be making a single - two songs. He'd get the best players in London. Four guys. I should bring sheet music, that last instruction issued as he'd flopped himself, amiable with drink, into a cab that I had hailed.

What about La Calvados? I had promised the owner, a heavy-set, humor-free Parisian nightclub owner named Polumbo, that I would stay on the job until Joe Turner got out of jail in Sweden. It was his gig, after all. I had shown up luckily at the right time.

Polumbo said to me, in a deep voice with high volume: "November end." The volume compelled me to say: "Of course, of course." What to do about "of course of course?" I could simply sneak away, I remember thinking. Or I could fly to London, make the record, and come back. Polumbo would buy that. You think? He didn't.

"Every night," he said . "No London, no nowhere. You work for Polumbo." Again: of course of course.

What was a masterful singer like me do? He would ask Ghislaine next door, as soon as he heard her moving about. That's the way they had worked it out.

What luck!

Jonathan Schwartz