After writing about trombonist Eddie Bert this week, seeing him play last night at New York's Swing46 was frosting on the cake.
What you notice first about Eddie are his eyes. They are sharp and piercing. Eddie looks hard before he talks. The next thing you notice is the full head of perfectly groomed snow-white hair and sharply sculptured mustache. Eddie is courtly, and even if you don't know who he is, you instantly sense that he is and was somebody when New York mattered in the entertainment industry.
Eddie's is very much on the ball for an 85-year-old legend. His solos last night were warm and swinging, despite the six cruise-ship musicians banging away around him. As I scanned the room of out-of-town diners and dancers, I wondered whether anyone there knew who Eddie was or what he has seen and done.
When Eddie came off the bandstand following a 50-minute set, we both looked at each other and laughed. "It's a gig," he said, with his cat-that-ate-the-canary grin. After we were seated, a young guy half in his cups came over to shake Eddie's hand, saying, "Respect, respect." More a son-like Ali-G salute to an old-timer still plugging away than a jazz-fan accolade.
Eddie told me he's off to play at Ronnie Scott's next week in London. It's a Sinatra birthday tribute featuring vocalist Betsyann Faiella, house pianist James Pearson and guitarist Howard Alden. The same group is going into New York's Birdland in January.
Eddie said he's driving himself to Kennedy Airport very early on Sunday morning to catch a 7 am flight—taking only a suitcase and his trombone mouthpiece. "I stopped taking my horn after 9/11," he said. "They'd make me check the case, and my horn would be ruined on the other end."
Finally, at 10 pm last night, I had to take off. After our goodbyes and a gracious thanks for this week's blogs, Eddie started to head back to the bandstand. It was time for the second set, followed by a two-hour drive back up to Connecticut. Steady Eddie. At 85, we all should be gigging like Eddie Bert.