THE FIVE SPOT: ZEN AND NOW
On Sunday afternoon, February 8, 2004, I did a performance at Wesleyan University, where I am part of the private lesson faculty. The gig was held at Russell House, a beautiful old mansion, converted to performance spaces and Philosophy Department offices. There was standing room only, with people overflowing into the next room and sitting on the staircase. The rhythm section was made up of Tony Lombardozzi, guitar, Jeff Fuller, bass and Jesse Hameen, drums.
Halfway through the set, a bearded man in the back of the room raised his hand and said, “Five Spot Blues!” It’s a Thelonious Monk composition, with my lyrics to Monk’s melody and Charlie Rouse’s solo. It’s also the opening tune on my first album, “Blue Skies.” I tell a short story about the club to set up the tune, and we do the request.
About twelve years earlier, when I had begun to write the lyrics, I had met Stuart Troup, a Jazz critic and writer. I asked him if he had any information on the Five Spot, as I had done some library research, but was looking for something more personal. He suggested I call Charles Turyn, who used to be a waiter at the Five Spot.
Charles Turyn was open and willing to share some great stories. He spoke very well of the two brothers that owned the Five Spot, Joey & Iggy Termini. “Sometimes there weren’t enough chairs in the club,” although Turyn remembers a slow night, the brothers paying the band, then borrowing money from the waiters, to get cab fare home…and of course, paying them back…. good cats. Little tables big enough for four drinks and an ashtray…. Monk keeping the club alive, and the club keeping Monk alive… along with stories of players and people who frequented the club.
Turyn is a book of Jazz history himself, working at the Five Spot, in 1957-58 and again in ’60 and ’61. Later, he was a bartender at the Tin Palace… and lastly, the head bartender at the very famous and now unfortunately defunct, Bradley’s, from 1980 to ’86. He knew all the cats, and he plays tenor and piano, as well. Charles told me so many stories; I told him he should write a book. We’ve become good friends.
“Johnny Griffin and John Coltrane, David Amram, Cecil Taylor blew there too.
Let me hip you, it was a time of innovation, there was a sextet with Phil Woods,
Charlie Mingus played his goods, and Sphere, no square.
Everyone raved, Five Cooper Square! Everyone played there, Art Farmer, Lou Donaldson, and even Lester….
Joey and Iggy Termini, they really loved the music, they even helped Monk get his Cabaret Card back for him, yeah.”
One summer night in 1990, I go to Condon’s, on East 15th, to listen to the great Lou Donaldson. He is very gracious and asks me to sit in with him. I call a Blues in Bb, and sing my new lyrics to Monk’s Five Spot Blues…. partially to try ‘em out, but mostly because Lou is one of the cats mentioned in the lyric, and I wanted him to hear it.
So, I finish the tune, and sit down at one of the tables. A man wearing a black, flat- rimmed hat comes over to me, and asks me where I got those lyrics. I respond, “I wrote them.” He says, “My Daddy wrote that tune, my name is T.S. Monk. Would you like to sit at my table for a minute?” Just a few weeks before, I had sent my lyrics to the Thelonious Monk Institute, and now, by chance, I’m sitting with his son, T.S. To cut to the coda, Thelonious Music and T.S. Monk gives me permission to record my lyrics to Monk’s “Five Spot Blues.” I call it “Five Cooper Square” the address of the club. It gets released on the DMP label in 1995, the CD titled, “Blue Skies.”
Return to Russell House, Wesleyan… a very good gig, the rhythm section sounds great, really happenin’…an exuberant crowd, and I feel good. After the performance is over, the bearded cat approaches me, holding a black T-shirt… printed on the front are white piano keys, with the words, “Five Spot” over the top, and the address, Five Cooper Square, NYC. I look at him, he says to me, “This shirt is from the Five Spot, and I’d like you to meet my father, Iggy Termini.”
Needless to say, I am gassed! We have a short conversation, while I am pumping Mr. Termini’s hand. I’m knocked out to meet him, knocked out that he’s hip to my lyrics that pay tribute to his club, the music, the era, and to he and his brother, Joe, who passed away a few years ago…and of course to Thelonious Monk and Charlie Rouse.
His son, who I am too wigged to even think to ask his first name, says to me, “When I heard your lyrics to this tune a few years ago, it made me cry…. I grew up in that club.” I thank them both profusely, for coming, and a little gagged myself, take my treasured T-shirt home.
“Goin’ to a night club, got to be the right club, good folks and swingin’ music…
Everyone’ll be there, baby, don’t you be square, we’re goin’ to the Five Spot…
Baby, can you make the scene?”