CABARET ENTERTAINMENT SERVICES
Around mid-june I found in the Yellow Pages a service called Cabaret Entertainment Services. I called to get info. It's a listing service that purports to put in direct contact entertainment buyers and performers, for a monthly fee of $25.
I said I was making preliminary inquiries, intending to be ready to perform at the end of summer. I gave my address to receive brochure. When I received it I almost threw it in the garbage without reading. It had some cheap look to it that said bad news. The cover letter was a photocopy of letterhead, a standard spiel without a date addressed to "Dear Performer", and the angular typeface indicated a not-quite letter-quality dot matrix printer.
A questionaire was enclosed, as well as an agreement in 11 articles including a "Limitation of Liability" that relieved the company of any responsibility "...even if such loss, injury or damage results or is claimed to have resulted from CES misconduct or omission." As I read the whole article again at this writing, I realize that the last page is an original. Articles 9, 10 and 11 are freshly typed and the dots are even more visible than on the photocopies. Obviously the ribbon is less than new and the stock is plain typing paper. No watermark, no rag content here, whereas articles 1 to 8 and the cover letter are all photocopies. I conclude that these last two articles have been custom-made for me.
Limitations of Liability:
CES does not assume any responsibility, beyond the return of one month's basic listing fee, for any damages, consequential or otherwise, resulting from a failure by CES to perform any and all services under this Agreement, including but not limited to a failure to relay a messaqge, even where such failure is a result of CES negligence, misconduct, error, or omission. Accordingly, you and your insurer should be aware that this express disclaimer of liability is an integral part of the contractual relationship between you and CES. It must be understood and agreed that you protect, defend, indemnify and hold CES harmless from any claim or liability that may be asserted by anyone else, including you and your insurer or any third party, in the event of loss, injury, or damage to property or persons including third parties or entities, even if such loss, injury or damage results or is claimed to have resulted from CES misconduct or omission. UNQUOTE
At first I only read it cursorily and threw the whole thing away. But still I remember that the print on the last page was faint compared to the other pages. I still had not connected this brochure with the company I had called because I expected at least an original letterhead from a company representing me.
Then about ten days later Joanne Ricci, the Owner of Cabaret Entertainment Services, called to ask if I had received her brochure. In a flash I realized the connection. I lied and said I hadn't. There was a pause as if she didn't believe me. Then she said they must have forgotten and would send their brochure today.
Two days after I received it, she left a message on my machine saying that some French people wanted a French singer for the 14th of July but that in order to be put in touch with the client she first needed my payment. I didn't return the call.
The day after she called again saying that if she didn't get my response she would have to give the job to somebody else. I didn't return the call.
A THIRD DRUMMER
That night two homosexual men were leaning against the iron railing in front of my window, talking loudly. I could hear them so distinctly that they could have been in my room. Twice one of the men said that he was a musician, he was a drummer. I felt that this was another bait. The man was expecting me to talk to him and ask him to play with me. I went to the window and told the men that I was hearing their conversation. Didn't it bother them that someone could eavesdrop, didn't they want to have their privacy? The "musician" who had been doing all the talking was silent, then he said: "Why, this is a free country". After that they kept talking but in a normal voice for a little while and then left.
I know him from having bought sheet music from him on the sidewalk of Broadway and 96th back in the late eighties. Occasionally he would be there with music books of all kinds and sheet music and I would always check him out. A black man in his twenties, he is rather good looking and had a good smile but he has changed.
I was entering the Korean fruit store on Columbus and 104 when he happened upon me, and a little in my face asked how I was doing and if I remembered him. He was with an evil looking white woman maybe 25 years older than him whom he introduced as his wife. Everything about this woman pointed downward: the verticals of her gaunt frame evoked a free fall. Her long flat thin hair bespoke arrows aimed at the ground and every feature of her face, every line that life had put there, her cheeks, her eyes, her mouth, every detail of her face was drawn downward, like by a force that gravity alone would not explain. Her complexion was cadaverous.
Briefly I said that I had been playing a lot of music since we last met, that I was playing in the street. Something bothered me about him. First that this woman should be his wife, and also his smile. It was no longer the good smile I had known but a fake smile that didn't hold and ended in a snarl. Also his eyes were shifty. He avoided eye contact and rolled his eyes around while listening to me. And this specter of a woman was standing motionless next to him.
Once again my love/fear reaction was triggered and instead of cutting short I gave him some personal information about myself. He was busy now with handyman work of all kinds.
I asked if he would be interested to do little jobs for me and I specified being a kind of bodyguard and help me carry my gear around when I played in the street and maybe later to gigs. Rapidly we exchanged phone numbers. We were at the counter and there were other people around. I avoided to look straight at his "wife" because she frightened me but I was seeing her in the corner of my eye. She looked down during our brief exchange.
Once home I felt that maybe James would be the solution to my problem when playing in public places and I enjoyed a sense of relief. However I would tell him the next time that I thought this woman wasn't good for him.
Then a few days later after dark, I was heading home when he happened upon me, and with this bad smile asked how I was. What I was doing. I talked again about playing music in the street and explained that people were always bothering me and that I needed someone to protect me from them while I was playing. I said he could sell his books next to me and keep an eye on what was going on and I would give him a percentage of the take while I fould feel freer to play. The full moon was rising behind a five-story building and I showed it to him. "Look how beautiful it is!" I said. But he only gave it a reluctant look. Now the moon had almost cleared the building. Again I asked him to look and he reacted with irritation. His dark face was lit by the oblique moonbeams and I saw his eyes and his teeth gleam while his smile transformed into a snarl. I couldn't refrain telling him where I lived, just a block away, and asking him to call me when he was going to sell on Broadway, although I knew it was the wrong thing to do. Then he asked me if I could give him a dollar and I laughed, saying that I was totally broke, I even had a bill at the grocery store. I remembered I had thought about warning him about this woman but I refrained.
Once home my hope and enthusiasm wilted. I had to face it: they were working together against me. They were living further up in Harlem, they had no business in the neighborhood except to meet me.
THE KOREAN MARKET
Around the secon time I met James, I went to the Korean market where we had met the first time. I had observed in the couple tending the store a change of attitude early in my stay at 103rd st. In the beginning they had been neutral, businesslike and after a few month, all of a sudden, he or she welcomed me with "Hello, how hare you?" in a cheerful voice. They didn't behave that way with other customers. It seemed that they had a special liking to me which as far as I knew was unwarranted. So it continued for three years until the other day when I went to buy some tomatoes.
The woman was at the cash register and didn't say hello as usual. She had two kinds of tomatoes, none of which looked nice. I asked if she had something else and she motioned to the rear without saying a word. I asked again, not sure if I had understood, and she repeated the gesture silently. I picked some tomatoes from a box the Mexican helper was bringing in and when I reached the cash register, the woman left and went to the backroom where she stayed for a while. Then she returned with water on her face and an insolent look.
The fan was blowing next to her and the store was in the shadow. After handing her one dollar I observed about the nice temperature of the store when outside it was 95 degrees. I had felt from the start that her attitude was calculated and I pretended to be friendly as usual. Instead of replying anything she looked at me intensely with a blank face. During my comment the fan had blown the dollar bill I had handed her back on my side of the counter. She hadn't noticed. I picked it up, put it back in my pocket and left the store, thinking that I would never return and that the fan had proved me right. Maybe it was a sign of better things to come?
I was having second thoughts about the wisdom of playing in the streets or the subway like a sitting duck. Maybe I could find some indoors environment where I could hone my skills?
Right in my neighborhood there was Augie's. I walked there one afternoon. A balding oldish woman was there and I asked if I could speak with someone of the Management. She said she was. I explained that I was looking for an opportunity to play and described my repertory. She asked me to come audition the next sunday at 8. Everything went well. I had brought my classical guitar and she had applauded after each of the four numbers I played. I offered to play for tips. She agreed and asked to come play the following sunday June 27th, at 8pm. She wasn't there when I played that night. I didn't take it hard but I noticed. Maybe it was her night off. There was a couple seated by the window. They were talking loudly even as I started playing, then left, and a black man at the bar who also left shortly after I started playing. Augie was at the bar playing chess with the bartender. After one hour I packed up my gear and when I reached the door Augie called me and told me to wait, that Betty had told him to give me ten dollars. Then he asked me to come back the next sunday. So I thanked him and left.
The following tuesday I set up at the corner of Broadway and 108th. I played two numbers but I had a bad feeling, packed everything and took 108th towards Amsterdam avenue. A woman was walking toward me. She looked like Betty, same height and body shape but instead of looking like the shabby oldish woman in an old flower print dress, she was wearing black pants, a black shirt and a white strawhat that made her look ten years younger. I wondered if I should pretend not to see her but it was too uncanny. We had just passed each other when I turned around and asked: "Aren't you Betty?" So she stopped and smiled to me. She really looked like she had won the lottery, like some cash had come into her hands and she had gone on a shopping spree.
She didn't face me, her head was averted and she looked at me sideways, like John my ex husband does. She said she was sorry she didn't come last sunday. I said that was OK. I told her there had been no audience and that Augie had asked me to return. We chatted a bit and she apologized again for not coming. Now when people apologize twice several minutes apart, it means that they are not sorry at all, but on the contrary that they intended to do that for which they apologize. And she kept smiling that phony smile that had no sympathy in it but a kind of cold irony.
The next sunday was the 4th of July. I had bad feelings about the deal. Besides I hate firecrackers and didn't want to be in the street that night. So I called Augie's and told him that I wouldn't make it. He said: "Maybe some other time." I said I would call during the week. But it was clear to me that between the audition and the first sunday, someone had paid them 1) to make believe that they liked me, 2) to hire the couple and the black man to leave soon after I started playing, and 3) to treat me shabbily as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
It's funny because I had missed the place twice and entered an american bar instead, having misread the sign from a distance. The sign of the American place was a hard to read scrawl on the awning, that said Our Place, and from a distance I had read Chez Pierre.I didn't take it as a warning sign but it certainly was. All the episode took place in French.
A young waiter with perfect skin and slicked back long hair was wrapping himself a giant white apron. He had a stern expression.
"Hi, I said in French, I'm Brigitte. I have an appointment with Jacques." The waiter went out.
I looked around. The dining room was very small, furnished like a bistro with dark wood panels, banquettes against them, and wall to wall mirrors above them, red and white check table cloth and draped curtains on the French windows. Behind the back wall was a bar, hidden from view except for the head which fronted the entrance of the restaurant. The bar section was three steps up from the dining room.
The bartender returned with an assistant manager. The young man's name was Frederic. He told me Jacques wasn't there and wasn't expected. I spoke about my appointment with him. He explained that they have an accordion player three days a week and that they don't need any other entertainment. He showed my the photograph of a clown with an accordion on the wall and said: "You see, that's him". I said I had brought my guitar because I expected to audition, trying to hide the anger I felt rising in me. "Audition at 6pm!" he exclaimed ironically "That's the worst time to audition!" "Listen, I said, repressing the need to yell, "I'm not a restauratrice. Jacques told me to come at 6." Anyway, we have no doubt that you play the guitar perfectly" he replied. "But excuse me, I'm busy right now." And he returned to the terrace where he had been talking with an older man.
Up the three steps, the bartender was getting ready. He looked at me in silence, embarrassed. I handed him my business card, not sure if it was a good idea and left.
At the time I talked with Pierre on the phone, I called other French restaurants to offer my services. There had been a first wave, with interesting and friendly conversations, and now in the second wave, after I had played with the first drummer, and told him that I was calling the French Restaurants listed in NY Press, the person at the other end had a dismissive, ironical, condescending attitude. This was incomprehensible. The owner at the Poitou laughed in my ear and suggested Sweet Basil or the Rainbow Room. A young man said that his boss was out, but that he was hiring a sandwich maker. I said I was a musician, and I didn't want to risk cutting my fingers. A French singer who plays the guitar, and has a repertory of jazz and French songs seemed to be the most ridiculous thing they ever had heard of. I got the message.
TONY AND WILLIAM
I picked up a discarded Village Voice. The cover story was about the murder of two young Dominican go-go dancers in their apartment. I hadn't read the Village Voice since a year ago. I perused the issue and even took a look at the music ads. Punk and Rock not my style. But there, among the musicians wanted, was an ad that said PIANIST to play Jazz standards. Since I sing and play Jazz standards on the guitar, I thought the advertiser might be interested. He was. He and a drummer were trying to work out a performable repertoire. He used the very same words that I had previously used while speaking to Bassist Calvin Jones months before. I had said that my songs needed some polishing and smoothing out. And the guy said the same thing about his music. I noticed but didn't take it as a cease-and-desist signal. He expressed the desire to play together at a rehearsal studio and I agreed. He offered to book some time right away, if wednesday (two days later) was ok with me. He said he would call right away and call me back to tell me the hour. Half a minute later he called back. Wednesday June 30 from 12 to 2pm.
I had some misgivings. He hadn't sounded completely kosher. I always had assumed that people knew more than I did, but remembered that he didn't sound very knowledgeable. I had done most of the talking after all and suddenly I wondered if his level wasn't a little too green for me. On tuesday night I called. Answering machine. I said I that I wanted to discuss a few things before we played so we would have more time to play on wednesday. He didn't return the call. I decided not to go. But I went out on wednesday morning and when I returned there were two messages (Business picking up!) One from him, saying that we would talk at the studio and that he hoped to see me there (in a confident voice) and one from Joanne Ricci, saying that she had a second request for a French singer for the 14th of July, that having had no news from me she had given the first job to somebody else.
I decided I would go to the session after all and called Joanne Ricci of CES. I said that I hadn't called earlier because I was a little hard up to pay the fee and make a new demo and besides I had a few questions about the entertainment buyers she said she dealt with. She said she had corporations, cocktail lounges, cruise ships and more asking her for performers but she didn't drop a single name. She said she had given the job to Ghislaine Gregoire, and that another person wanted a stylish French singer. I said that was more my style but that I couldn't afford the fee. She said that in this case we could work out something else, without giving details. She asked for a tape. I said that my tape was one year old and that I played much better now and that I didn't want to use it. She insisted, saying she couldn't give me the new job without hearing what I sounded like. Finally I agreed to give it to her. After all, this tape had got me one job, even if I hadn't be able to keep it. She gave me the address of CES. She said the address was the Empire State Building. I was impressed. I offered to come drop it off at her office the same day. She didn't say no but twice later she asked me to mail it to her. So she didn't want me to see her digs? I decided to do nothing. I didn't want my demo tape, of which I wasn't proud of, to be out of my hands. She would have a lot of nerve to call me again.
I took the subway to the East Village, looking forward to the experience in spite of the fishy feeling. In the subway a young black woman approached me and asked if I was a performer. "Trying to be" I said. Then she explained that she was part of a church organization for performers that met at the Circle in the Square and would I be interested to join. She said that I reminded her of Sophie without saying who Sophie was. My third older sister's name is Sophie. Then she started to write her name and telephone number in the back of a piece of paper, handed it to me and then took it back to write her work number, saying it would be easier to reach her there. She asked for my name and telephone number. I told her my name and said I didn't have a phone. At 42nd street I jumped out of the train. The printed side of the bit of paper said:
The Daytime Ministry, a Chrisitan fellowship for performing artists. Services held on Thursdays at noon and Sunday at 10:00am. The Roundabout Theater 45th and Broadway - Weekly informal Bible Discussions.
I was twenty minutes late at the studio. Both men were waiting for me in the lobby. A white, brown haired man got up as soon as I arrived and approached me smiling. "Are you Tony?" I asked. "Yes. You're Brigitte?" A black man, the drummer, got up. We shook hands and entered the studio right away. "What I wanted to tell you the other day, I said, was that being the singer, I have transposed some numbers to my voice range so you'll have to transpose too." He said ok. One amp was already lit. I plugged my guitar into the amp right behind me. When we tested the tuning of the bass and the guitar, my guitar was half a tone lower than his. How could it be possible since I tuned my guitar to a Hohner blow-piano? Those things are stable and I check my tuning every time I play. He said he tuned from an electronic instrument. I said that it must be the temperature changes that have put my guitar out of tune but all the strings of my guitar were tuned a half tone lower so this wasn't a satisfactory explanation. I tuned myself to him. If they had expected to embarrass me, they must have been disappointed for I re-tuned my guitar in three minutes, mostly by pure ear and then asked them "Good enough?" So we started to play. His book was opened at Desafinado so we started with that. We played it twice then I started singing. At this point we stopped and plugged the mike in, and I sung and played with them. On a wall a sign said a rehearsal cassette could be obtained for $5. It was going all right although the bass didn't have anything really exciting about it in spite of the Bossa rhythm. Then I picked the following numbers from the list I had brought and then he picked them. The way he played Autumn Leaves was so unemotional that it left me depressed and frustrated. At one point I surprised him by saying "Do you want to play a solo?" so he played a solo that was really not great. He proposed tunes that were not on my list. I said I limited myself to the list in order to be able to play well each tune listed. He also suggested I could sing without playing the guitar. I asked what they had had in mind to do with the pianist they advertised for before I called. The answer was rather vague. I asked them if they were interested in playing with a singer, saying that it was a different thing altogether than an instrumental band. They said they were very interested, that they would learn my repertoire, even a few French songs. On a wall a sign said a rehearsal cassette could be obtained for $5. At two o'clock we stopped playing. In the lobby, William the drummer sat down on a couch and asked me to sit down. We chatted a bit. Tony, the bass player, was standing at the desk. A young black man was sitting inside an office that was glassed at elbow level. Tony said he was going to ask for the price, although when we first spoke on the phone he had said the session would cost $10 each. The young man in the office was looking in front of himself. He wasn't writing a bill. Then Tony asked us $10 each. I kept chatting with William and Tony was looking toward us. Finally the young man in the office went out into a room, followed by Tony. Tony returned and gave us a dollar back in change. then we left. On the way downstairs Tony asked if I was looking for a job. I said I wasn't. I made a living playing outside. Then they offered to play with me outside, and they would be my bodygards. I said I needed them and complained about the people who bothered me when I played. But I rememberd having told a young man just a few days earlier that I needed a bodyguard and again Tony was using the same words as I had said to someone else. Both showed enthusiasm about playing outside with me and they led me toward the West Village. I felt uplifted after playing and was gay. Tony suggested that I give him the charts transposed to my key. I said I had everything written out, I only would have to make copies. William said that I should also give them the recordings of the French songs so that they could learn them. I said I didn't have the recordings but I could record them myself. "Of course, I added laughing, it won't be a studio quality tape." There was this tell-tale pause. They were taken aback. Without knowing I had hit at the heart of the matter when I was only making fun of musician's obsession with the production of their demos.
Tony seemed to have waited for the right moment before he asked me about our next rehearsal. He said that there also was a rehearsing place in the 20's that cost only $5 each but it was free at midnight. He explained that it was his bass teacher's studio, that he rented it to his students and that everybody wanted to play there. Hence the late hours. He asked which studio I would prefer. I said the cheaper one, although I didn't like the hour. But of course before we got together next, I would have to provide my charts, Tony reminded me.
When we reached 6th avenue, I said I was going to take the subway there. Obviously, they had expected me to continue with them. They tried to talk me out of it "Let us take you to the number one, it's better for you". I said the A train left me closer to my home. Were they trying to tell me that they don't know where I live? Or did they have a little surprise for me further along the way?
I was unwilling to give up the prospect of playing with a bass player and a drummer, and unable to process all the new information at once. When I arrived home, I still was in a happy state of mind. I had felt in my element in a studio, playing with other musicians, and have a chat with them. I had felt I belonged at last and I was eager to go on. Soon I would be able to say with complete confidence that I was a professional musician.
As soon as I got home I put some order on my music table. I put away the open books and assembled my transposed charts. I didn't have as many as I thought. It would take some work after all. Maybe I could send Tony a first batch of six tunes and while he was working on them keep writing down the others. It would take a lot more time than I expected to spend on that. I realized that my music, my arrangements were valuable and I didn't want to give them to just anybody. Then it hit me: the fact that they had been waiting for me in the lobby instead of warming up in the studio, the lit amplifier when we entered the studio, the sign that offered to record sessions for 5 bucks, the wait at the studio after the session, and their stunned silence when I had spoken of studio- quality tape: it all meant that they had secretely recorded the session.
They had been waiting in the lobby to make believe that they had not gone into the studio before I arrived. The lit amplifier was for the mike connected to the tape recorder, and the wait in the lobby at the end of the session was to rewind the tape.
Then they had gone into another room to exchange the tape and the money.
[Chapter 8] [ToC] [Home]