Sandy Brown Jazz

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On A Night Like This, The Story Is Told ...

Times At Plunkett's


Extracts from guitarist Eddie Condon memories of times at Jimmy Plunkett's ...


Straight Razor


"I guess people just don't like jazz music," I said.

"Don't worry," Jimmy Plunkett said. "Look what happened to water. For thousands of years people wouldn't drink it for fear of getting poisoned. Now they drink so much of it they think they can get along without whisky."

"Who thinks that?" McKenzie said. He was still looking for a fight.

"The people who voted for prohibition," Jimmy said.

Plunkett's was at 205½ West Fifty-third Street, under the elevated, which ran down the street to get from Sixth Avenue to Ninth Avenue. The place had a glass front door painted black; the floor was cement; something called decoration had been done to the walls by a utility employee named Three-Star Hennessy. The room was sixteen feet long; the bar was two feet shorter. There was a small back room with a few chairs and tables; off it was a stand-up ice box in which I often changed my clothes. It was already a musicians' hang-out when Tommy Dorsey first took me there. In the telephone book it was listed as the Trombone Club, in honour of Tommy .....

..... All sorts of business was transacted at Plunkett's; the telephone rang constantly, bands were organized at the bar, and everybody drank. Those who were working bought drinks for those who were not working. This was a communal arrangement; you might be buying Tommy Dorseydrinks today and you might need to have drinks bought for you tomorrow ....

... One day Tommy Dorsey came in during the afternoon. He had a radio program in half an hour.

"I'll have to drink in a hurry," he said to Jimmy. "I need a shave."

"Maybe you need a drink more than you need a shave," Jimmy suggested. He was a practical man, a non-drinker.


Tommy Dorsey


Tommy looked in the mirror. "I need a shave," he said. "I'll have to skip to the barber-shop."

Standing quietly down the bar was Tommy O'Connor, a former wrestler with gnarled fingers and an eighteen-and-a-half inch neck...

"Nothing of the sort, Tommy," he said. "You'll not have to stir from this place ... It so happens that I myself am now in the profession you intend to patronize .. I am a barber." He reached into a vest pocket and took out a straight razor...

Jimmy ran some beer and O'Connor shook some salt into it. A fine head of suds formed. O'Connor scooped the suds off and put them on Dorsey's face .... In a few minutes it was over and Dorsey, stunned, bleeding, but shaved, was standing upright with another drink in his hand.

"Just one more thing, Tommy," O'Connor said. "Give me a shot of that gin, Jimmy." He poured the gin over his hands and rubbed Tommy's face. "Finest after-shave lotion in the world," he said .....

...... Chelsea Quealey, a steady patron, came in one night with two black eyes. Jack Bland studied them for a while; then he Leeches boxsaid, "Chelsea, what you need are some leeches. I'll get them for you at the drug-store." ... Chelsea had a few drinks and felt better. Then Bland turned up with a large smile and a small box.

"Everything is set, Chelsea," Jack said. "I've got them right here in this pill-box - two of them. Just lean your head back against the wall and I'll put one on each eye..... Jack took a leech from the box and dropped it on Chelsea's right eye. There must have been a lot of poison in the lid, because the leech wanted no part of the job. It wriggled and squirmed and started down Chelsea's face. Chelsea suddenly looked scared. He tried to move, but Jack jammed his head against the wall. "Just hold it a minute, Chelsea!" he said. "Everything will be alright!"

He put the leech back on the eye and reached for the other one. Chelsea tried to move. Jack kept him against the wall. Chelsea opened his mouth to holler. At this point Jack dropped the other leech. He miscalculated. It fell in Chelsea's mouth.

"Spit it out before it dies, Chelsea! he said.

Chelsea treated his eyes for the rest of the evening with alcohol .....

From We Called It Music by Eddie Condon with Thomas Sugrue (except for images).


Here's a video of the Mound City Blue Blowers playing St. Louis Blues in 1929 - Red McKenzie (kazoo), Josh Billings (suitcase), Eddie Condon and Jack Bland (banjo, vega).




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