Mr Short, the Duke, Mom and Me…A Rite of Passage at the Café Carlyle

Having a travel memory.  I’m 23.  Living back east.   My mom has come to visit me in NYC for her quarterly pilgrimage.  We are doing the town.  Shopping at Bendels.  Afternoon champagne at The Oak Bar.  Dinner at The Box Tree.  The theater.  Caviar at Petrossian.  The works.  Heady times, no question.

Scanning through the paper on a Sat morning, Mom sees that Bobby Short is in town and playing his home away from home – the Café Carlyle.  She insists we go.  Says I MUST see him.  And as my mom is known to do – and I can speak from experience having seen her do this around the world – she picks up the phone.  The next thing I know, we’ve not only got tickets to the late show.  He’s expecting us.

Context – for those of you who don’t know Bobby Short – do you remember the “Charlie” perfume commercials back in the 70s with Shelley Hack?  “And they call her…Chawlie”.  That divine piano player who was so cool and elegant and sang those famous words with that drippingly elegant – DRIPPINGLY ELEGANT accent?  That’s Bobby Short.  Beyond chic.  Beyond talented.  Iconic.  A legend.  Look him up. You’ll see.

The Café Carlyle was home to Bobby Short, who performed to sell-out crowds, for 36 years.  His show was absolutely de rigeur. (Of course, we’re talking about the Carlyle Hotel on Madison & 77th – a sophisticated and elegant hotel where the most distinguished of the social strata stayed in relative peace and discretion.)  The Café Carlyle has a history as a chic, understated boite, a defining jazz venue on the upper east side.  We’re talking sublimely, eminently chic – understated chic.  Marcel Vertès murals and Fortuny silk curtains.  And gorgeous gorgeous banquettes.  Small table lamps.  White table cloths.  Dark and atmospheric.  Atmosphere for days.

I was not up to speed on Bobby Short on that fateful evening, which I regret.  I was not enlightened to the power or the history of the Café, nor did I have any idea how compelling – how amazing – how intoxicating Bobby Short’s performance could be.  I felt like a little girl wearing her mother’s high heels.  It was very grown-up, sophisticated and powerful.

We sat at a table for two up front, of course, ordered dirty – dirty martinis and sucked in the atmosphere.  I was in sense overload.  And then he came on stage, and my world changed. It was intimate – like visiting someone’s fabulous salon.  He spoke fondly of his home in Paris and his BFFs – Liza, Betty Bacal, Jackie.   And then he sat at his piano and began to play.

And we listened.  And we absorbed.  And forgot about anything else in the world.  We were consumed. I was consumed.  With his performance.  His persona.  With the air and the history of the Café.  With the magnitude of that single moment in time, shared with my mom.   I remember being so caught in it that I felt as though I was looking at myself from a distance.  This is what it means to be fully plugged in.  Total, full-on sensoral connection.  PS – this is classic life with Patty.  My mom has never failed to deliver these moments.  Truly.

Just as Bobby Short starts the first sexy, jazzy notes of Duke Ellington’s The Black and Tan Fantasy (I have NEVER forgotten this), I looked around the room.  All these incredibly elegant, slim, immaculate,  impossibly chic, and possibly uptight women that had entered earlier were entirely different characters now.  With each note of this provocative, hypnotic beat, I watched with awe and such joy as their shoulders dramatically, sensuously rose and fell in time to the beat – boom boom ba boom – they were lost – they were in it.  Their posture was straight.  Lipstick perfection.  Yet their shoulders gave them away.   It stopped me in my tracks.  It was fascinating. It spoke to the power of transformation – how music can scoop you up and turn you inside out so you wouldn’t recognize yourself.

After the show, Mr Short (he was now Mr Short to me, so in awe was I)  joined us for a drink.  As I listened to my mom and this ICON chat on and on, laughing and enjoying each other, it was so clear, so clear, that this was a defining moment in my life.  No question.  I have never forgotten the image of those women and their shoulders.  Never.

Flash forward 10 years.  I was in New York on business with my beloved colleague, guru and BFF Georgia.  As I thumbed through the Saturday morning paper, I saw that  Bobby Short was playing the Cafe Carlyle.  My turn to indoctrinate.  There was no way that I wasn’t going to take the opportunity to share this rite of passage with Georgia, cost be damned.   And so that night, off we went.  For me, it was the natural order of things – it was my turn to pass along this experience.  And it was sublime.  Sublime.  Of course, we stayed after the show so I could extend my mom’s regards to Mr Short, who looked fabulous and was so gracious and elegant.  We said our goodbyes and as we headed back to our hotel that evening, I knew what a gift I had received in this experience that I had shared with my mom, and then with my dear friend.

Mr Short must have been thinking of me tonight to have raised all these wonderful memories.

3 comments for “Mr Short, the Duke, Mom and Me…A Rite of Passage at the Café Carlyle

  1. July 29, 2010 at 5:22 am

    What a treat, maybe you should do something like “travels with my mom” you two have had some many great trips together. She is the most fun on a trip!

    It is just a great start to my day when I check in and there is a new offering from you!

    Love, Aunt Jules

  2. July 29, 2010 at 8:42 am

    Hiya.
    Have definitely thought of putting together “Traveling with Patty.” Such funny – screamingly funny – stories. xo

  3. Mom
    January 26, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Jst finished playing one of his CDs. What a fun time that was at the Carlyle and what fun we have ALWAYS had on our various flights into fantastic memories.

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