The Lennie Tristano Appreciation Society
As long as Mitt Romney is giving up some tax returns, I might as well confess to being involved in three different secret societies in my lifetime. The first one (The Roaring 21 Club) has already been discussed in detail on this blog, and was responsible for me getting marked as a “problem” when I entered the 7th grade, meaning my classes were filled with the dumbest and most violent people of my age group. All because I was inspired by West Side Story to create a gang in the 6th grade.
It wasn’t until nearly twenty years later, around 1980, that I found myself unexpectedly involved in fomenting another secret society, the Lennie Tristano Appreciation Society, a very select society that often threw wild ceremonies at my Upper West Side apartment. Some still consider these events as being the finest parties in New York of their time, always attracting a diverse crowd of industry insiders, emerging rap stars from the South Bronx, and minor downtown celebrities.
At one time, we even launched a serious plan to create our own magazine, as Rolling Stone was considered lame and politically-compromised. I had Mary Titus make some cartoons for a flyer we distributed at the No Nukes Concert in Battery Park. I probably have some of those flyers around in my files somewhere.
Despite the obscure jazz name, we were mostly Clash groupies at the time, and sat in the front row of the balcony for that band’s first New York performance at the Palladium. The Cramps were the opening act, and a member of our society was their manager for a while. I remember right before the show started, he went backstage to give a pep talk to the Cramps, as this was their big breakthrough moment.
The magazine we wanted to create was going to be called USA, by the way. (I should have registered that trademark while I had the chance.) Click on the illo on the left and you’ll see “USA” on the cover. We took our collective talents to Horizon magazine as freelancers for a while, and could have transformed that publication back to its glory days had the owner just turned it over to our complete control, but that didn’t happen and the publication soon died.
In all honesty, I didn’t even know who Lennie Tristano was when the society was founded, and had to immediately go study up on him. I was the most musically ignorant person in our society, although the first to get deeply into rap music. How strange I’d later develop a theory of the counterculture as being birthed in Congo Square and rooted entirely in improvisation. Miles Davis was my favorite jazz artist at the time, but Lennie Tristano was one of the most original composers in jazz history, and improv was his specialty. He was a white guy who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the black titans of his era. And that’s just the sort of vibe we wanted for our society since we were four white guys who were into garage rock, hip hop, funk, and just about every other style of music. We saw the Mothership land at the Apollo, sat in the front row for Patti Smith at the Paladium and watched in awe as Lou Reed verbally assaulted Clive Davis at the Bottom Line, with Clive sitting a few seats away. Attending the annual Peter Schumann spectacle in Vermont every August was a big ceremony for us. Schumann created the Burning Man formula, although he never gets credit for it.
Yesterday the society had its first meeting in over 20 years, and it felt great, although the members failed to sign in on the wall of fame and things got a bit rushed at the end. Some day, I’ll clue you in on the origins of my third and final secret society, the Temple Dragon Crew.