Dazzling Duo Makes Sunday In City Something Special
Buffalo Courier Express, 2/21/79
It isn’t smart to expect much out of a Sunday night, a cold sunday night in February to boot, when most prudent people are in bed, giving the body the last rest before work begins again.
I descended the stairs of the basement club with no expectations. Something was up. Two dollars was charged at the door, which is unsusual for Sunday night at this place, when the entertainment is usually free and intermittent – a folk singer, perhaps, or a solo piano player, with next to no audience.
But on this Sunday there was an audience, and few spots were open at the bar. Two people at that bar, friends of mine, said that the piano player had been excellent, the guitar player extraordinary, and that they were about to play together.
And that was why the Tralfamadore was close to full they said on the Sunday night that had recently turned into Monday morning.
The Two Musicians took the stage. Richard Shulman sat behind the piano. Joel Perry sat on a stool in the center, an acoustic guitar on his lap, and mumbled something into a microphone about the best audience he’d played before in many months. And they began.
The reference to the audience was not show-biz flattery. Perry and Shulman began an intricate, fragmented duet of a familiar Thelonious Monk tune, the one stating part of the melody, the other filling in gaps.
The fragile interplay could have been broken if much sound other than the guitar and piano had interfered. But other sounds did not intrude, even from the bar.
The audience was so un-American in its silence. It would not have seemed unusual if this had been a concert hall. But it was not. It was a basement bar on a dead night, and a hundred people held their breath while listening to two jazzmen making delicate music.
The People listened as if they hadn’t been brought up on TV and on music that must be shouted over, if one is to be heard at all. And they did not sit in the churchy silence accorded an Anthony Braxton, the cerebral avante garde master of the ‘70s.
I once heard him take a giant saxophone, mounted on a stand because it was too heavy to lift, and make sounds on it that could have been duplicated by a kazoo. The audence was very good about it. But this was different.
This was a silence with a tension behind it. When Shulman or Perry finished a solo, applause was immediate and enthsiastic, and gone as quickly as it had begun.
the Monk tune ended, and a long impressionistic piece began, and Shulman and Perry wove their melody lines together, sometimes well, sometimes not (or knot, I suppose). The audience stuck around for the exploration, and forgave the doodling.
But then they played “Body and Soul” and it was beautiful. You can listen to a song like that a hundred times and never hear it until it is played like Perry and Shulman did on Monday morning.
After the final chord the silence lasted a few seconds before everyone let out their breath and applauded.
Shulman and Perry played more delicate precise music, picking up each other’s cues as to where they were headed now and then, and it was all very good.
When they ended with another Monk tune, “Well You Needn’t,” the perfect audience called for more.
Perry thanked them but said no, he was superstitious, and he was afraid to change the mood.
It was probably the right decision. And that’s what I walked in on Sunday night and left on Monday morning.
And people still ask why I live in the city.
-Mike Healy, Buffalo Courier Express, 2/21/79