Sunday, March 7, 2010

Young Oscar

They gave tips on CNN: Traits to win an Oscar. Get accent. Get ugly. Get weight. Get in trouble. Get dead.

My favorite Oscar dream is no longer Halle Berry, first (and last) woman of African decent to win Best Actress in 82 years. That was so long ago, I woke up.

In this dream, an Oscar was not even won. Not one for film anyways.

The dream started in a New York basement, it passed through the White House, TED, and BET (with Indie Arie). It ended up at last year’s Oscars with Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Stone, Robert DeNiro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Forest Whitaker, Adrian Brody, Barbara Streisand, Tobey Maguire and Donna Karan.

When I first saw him, I wrote, “Plays like Oscar.”

* * *
Oscar Peterson was arguably the best jazz piano player ever—even when playing with one arm.

He was my Grade 5 hero in 1978. I first saw him in 1987 in Roy Thomson Hall at Toronto's first jazz festival. Until then, i had only seen a character sketch of Oscar's legendary one-armed play. In 1994, I held the door for Oscar, and pushed his wheelchair through, in awe of my hero. He received an honorary degree in my college at UBC's War Memorial Gym, where he once played five decades before. The loudspeaker blared:

"music is a sustaining source of pleasure and inspiration in virtually every culture on earth, and we count those who create that music among our most valued citizens."

It's a lot to see your hero and push him. (Eyes were welling up) I remember that day like yesterday. That was the last time i saw Oscar.

* * *
I never thought I’d see anyone else like him again. I was wrong.

Pesci, De Niro

Eric Lewis inspired someone to write this:

“Every once in a while, an artist comes along who changes everything. Producing something completely new and meaningful, this person fills a void within the fabric of our culture--a hole we didn’t even know was there.”
~ All About Jazz

Yep - That would be Oliver Stone

On November 15, 2007, I wrote what I saw to the Grammy Awards. I called this man the “Second Coming of Oscar Peterson.”

Written November 15, 2007--from Grammy Awards.

Written by me to Grammy Awards, November 15, 2007--“I am often in New York where i see a lot of magnificent artists in places such as Zinc Bar by Houston and Thompson - where prodigy jazz players, including the second coming of Oscar Peterson, play for $5 to $10 cover.”

November 16, 2007 (note from me to Grammy Awards)--"randomly Eric Lewis (re: the second coming of Oscar Peterson) showed up at the Zinc Bar last night! He had the whole place dancing - very unusual for a jazz trio in a cellar performance."

Who's the Pianist?

In some magical fate, as if Oscar passed his mantle, Oscar, after seven decades of playing, passed away on December 23, 2007. It was as if Oscar let this young Oscar play...true to the spirit of jazz greats in a jam.

December, 2007

* * *
Wynton Marsalis, with whom he played, saw it and so did Lincoln Center, where he played. The Second Coming of Oscar won the Thelonius Monk International Piano Competition.

“It's a contest that goes beyond simply rewarding musical proficiency, instead recognizing the elusive combination of knowledge, command, passion and expression that define a true piano master.”

~ All About Jazz

* * *
I found Eric Lewis by fate. I hadn’t gone to New York City for a while. After seeing 9/11, I had scars.

When I finally returned, I was roaming lost in SoHo. It had changed so much. Artists had disappeared. Retail stepped in. I was about to leave SoHo, then on the corner of Houston and Thompson, I saw a glow inside L’Angolo.

Natalie Portman and Heather Graham were here.

And that’s where I met Paola who told me to see NuBlu where I randomly saw Nora Jones. She also told me to go to Zinc Bar nearby. I went regularly: late night sets, green-room after-hours.

Then one day a Jersey boy named Eric Lewis walked in…everyone in Zinc knew Eric after the first night. He literally blew the roof off, putting everyone into a trance and then a frenzy. He was in a zone: A trance and a frenzy.

I then wrote, “Plays Like Oscar Peterson.” Words I never thought i would write. Almost sacrilege.

A woman next to me said, “He’ll make millions.” It was hard to believe her--but what i see in great music can't be believed. That woman (happened to be his manager) was in a trance, inspired. After seeing him one last time, December, 2007, I told her, “I think this will be the last time I see him here, the next time he’ll be too famous!” Sure enough, Zinc Bar closed, moving into a larger venue. L'Angolo also closed. This happened after my brother died two years ago today. The Grammy folks were the first people i saw after my brother's funeral (see keynote below). I then took time off from New York. A year and a half off.

Zinc Bar when two blind men played
(October 15, 2007)

Where Zinc Bar used to be
(February 22, 2010)

Then one day, May 18, 2009, I received an email from a friend who was with me the last time I saw Eric Lewis play. The email had one word: "Incredible." Eric was filmed at TED. He played the strings of his piano like this:

He also played at the White House for the Obamas, Spike Lee and James Earl Jones. His music made Denzel Washington's Great Debaters. And recently he's been on BET, January, 2010, with Indie Arie to play for Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Sean Combs, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, Maxwell and others.

People at last year's Oscars saw Eric (including people pictured above).

Donna Karan (left) Barbara Streisand (right)

Forest Whitaker

Rosario Dawson

Jason Statham once played my friend Max Serpentini's bongos randomly in Vancouver...where randomly George Michaels once spontaneously sang to Max's drumming. Max saw Eric play that December, 2007...and wrote that email that said: "Incredible."

I only see Eric now on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and MySpace (our first place in cyberspace)…and because I can only remember him first-hand at Zinc Bar, that’s all I still talk about…that original magic, the roots of inspiration, in the roots of a New York basement.

I shared photo time capsules he could tag.

When people tell me how music is uncertain, I don’t respond because I have seen the best things happen to music, through thick and thin. The best music is belief. The best music is magic. The best music is a tonic to get anything done…to dream anything possible.

So here's my tip to be Oscar. Get magic.

* * *
After that November 15, 2007, set with Eric, i followed players outside of Zinc at 4am - an upright player walked home with music on his back and amps in both hands (no car). This inspired me to write this to the Grammy Awards (at some pre-dawn hour). I emailed it at 6:06am EDT to Los Angeles because i felt the moment mattered:

I am often in New York where i see a lot of magnificent artists in places such as Zinc Bar by Houston and Thompson - where prodigy jazz players, including the second coming of Oscar Peterson, play for $5 to $10 cover, and Caffe Vivaldi in the Village, one of New York's last surviving music cafes, where they just shot a movie about Bob Dylan who once lived next door, and whose owner receives 3000 monthly requests for a booking (a three-month wait list). Musicians play for donation. I discovered a new soulful artist there and always go there to show up to see her, i think it means so much to an artist today. She even inspired me to write a song Kate's Manhattan which i posted on Facebook and MySpace. I recently saw an artist who reminds me of Nina Simone there (Pamela Means), whom i photographed to capture the moment...
Pamela awesome Nina Simone.

...I even saw a friend of mine, an actress-musician, who visited New York City for the first time, and made it to the stage on an Open Mike to perform spoken word. She used a tiny bathroom as a Green Room to rehearse. It barely fits one person. I have never seen people so happy.

I have always called music the hardest profession and hardest art form in the world. What other art form or profession requires someone to work late nights, carry heavy equipment (and depend on it), find vehicles that fit the equipment (the harp is unbelievably wide), spend lots of money on recording, travel so much, and work for donation. Even Buddhist Monks have a better life. And yet, that's how some of the best music gets created, how it saves so many lives and impacts so many people, growing their identities at such at formative stage in life.

While i am there, i always write, wondering what speech would make music matter...always thinking of the keynote speech on Grammy night. Music Makes Me...write....all the time...with illumination only music can make.

Needless to say, we are without question very inspired by music and it is one of our biggest causes.”

Since my brother's died - nothing's made me happier than music.

* * *
The last thing my 29-year-old brother texted me in life...was about music...he wanted to explain the lyrics of Talib Kweli as i saw him sing live at the Highline Ballroom Lounge in New York, December 29, 2007. He wanted to explain how music created a social consciousness. He did this from a Toronto hospital bed. He had 91/2 weeks left to live. Word.


X said...

Cool Oscar photos via Eric Lewis

X said...

New York Roots (pics)

X said...

Spontaneous Combustion -