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Live from New York


Afrika Bambaataa
Sees Kool Herc spin at a Bronx party, 1973

Before the beginning, there was Kool Herc, a.k.a. Clive Campbell, who brought "de sound system, mon" to the Bronx from his native Kingston. This was when people did 360s on their skulls and the IRT rumbled over Tremont and Jerome covered with pastel bubble-letters -- Phase 2, Chain 3, Lee (Quinones) 163, the great Taki from 183, and others watching their names go by. Bambaataa, once Kevin Donovan, roughneck of the Black Spade gang, was only 14, but old enough to see the future. There was culture in this scratching vinyl, spray paint, and rhymes. It was a nation, a Zulu Nation, for people who'd never known a Zulu. The message spread in schoolyards, like J.H.S. 123 (the Funky 3), where the Bam engaged Disco King Mario in the new universe's first D.J. battle. It would go over the world, anywhere beats could be found. It was Planet Rock, and it was unstoppable.

At Danceteria, 1982

She says this about the days when she was living in "a crappy tenement on Avenue B and 4th with no air-conditioning" and frequenting Danceteria, a several-story disco cavern on 21st Street: "I used to go there every weekend, trying to meet the D.J. or an A&R person to give my tape to . . . I'd spend all night on the dance floor in some hideous outfit while all the pretty, skinny, fashionable girls threw their drinks on me." Well, she showed them, all right. When Madonna finally did appear on the Danceteria stage (legendary doorman Hauoi Montaug presiding), doing "Everybody," it was lip-synced -- no surprise. But who cares? Sometimes people are absolutely, totally convinced they're stars and are actually right.

Bruce Springsteen
At The Bottom Line, August 1975

It was easy to be cynical about this fagin-hatted Jerseyite who was prophesied to be "the future of rock and roll" on the covers of Time and Newsweek during the same week. Kissinger didn't even get that, and he'd blown up half of Cambodia. Springsteen, the prole straight shooter, understood the wariness -- he grew up in Freehold, where the only thing to do was go to the crummy harness races, a shuck and a half at best. He knew there was something to prove -- all night. The message was: Come and see, dig it or don't. Even then, the earnestness was winning. On line for that first show, we saw the Man off in the shadows bumming a Pall Mall from Clarence Clemons. He shook his head in thanks. Polite, he was always polite, you got the sense it was how he was raised. The piano opener, "Spirit in the Night," brought fears of pretension. But "Thunder Road" and "Rosalita" blew them out of the building. We went back another night, caught "Jungleland," always the favorite, no shuck.

Tito Puente
At the Palladium Ballroom, 1952-1966

It would have never happened without him, but according to Tito, he did not play salsa. Salsa was "something you ate," he said. He played mambo, and of all the fifties mambo kings -- Joe Cuba, Machito, and arch-rival Tito Rodriguez -- Ernest Anthony Puente Jr., from East Harlem's El Barrio, was rey of reys. For fourteen years, Tito and his Orchestra could be found laying down the serious clave upstairs at the Palladium Ballroom on 53rd Street and Broadway. When Puente cranked up the "Baile Del Pinguino," great Latin dance teams -- the Mambo Aces, the Cha Cha Taps -- cut much rug. But the real show was the rank-and-file, dressed to the nines and ready to swing all night. Sabrosa! Tito put his timbales up front, all the better to blow the minds of the visiting jazz players from 52nd Street. He was certainly the best loved Puerto Rican musician; a three-day mourning period was declared on the island after his death last year.

Duke Ellington
At The Cotton Club, 1927-1931

The Cotton Club was "a classy spot" where "impeccable behavior was demanded," recalled the Duke, the Hot Bach, the master of the Jungle Band. The joint, at 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue, was once owned by heavyweight champ Jack Johnson, who called it the Club Deluxe. Then Owney Madden's gangsters took over. They wanted only whites at the fancy tables but had to have the young Duke on the bandstand. Except Duke was booked, long-term, at a Philadelphia theater. Madden called one Boo Boo Hoff, who dispatched his minion Yankee Schwarz. "Be big," Yank told the theater owner, "be big, or be dead." So Duke's band, in white jackets, boiled shirts, and crimson trousers (Duke himself in charcoal gray with henna-tinged pants), came to Harlem. They'd been together a mere four years by then, but many immortals -- Cootie Williams, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Barney Bigard, Sonny Greer -- were already on the scene. Ditto the famous tunes -- "Mood Indigo," "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo," "Rockin' in Rhythm" -- that Ellington would play until his death in 1974. At the Cotton Club, the Duke said, "Sunday was the night. They had about twelve dancing girls and eight showgirls, and they were all beautiful chicks. They used to dress so well! All the big New York stars in town, no matter where they were playing, showed up to take bows . . . They were tremendous representatives, and I'm darned to know what happened to them, because you don't see anybody around like that nowadays."

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