Sunday, November 1, 2009

Diasporic Dining: Episode V (Robert Moses Big Band)

Cruising along the Long Island Expressway late on a Saturday night (when the famed Robert Moses artery is uncharacteristically empty), past the low-lying pine barrens that grow out from Shinnecock Bay, the lone driver picks up the sounds of Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller on the local NPR station. The broadcast is part of an ongoing big band series.

Photographs by Hallie Cohen

There have been few examples of executives tossing themselves out of Wall Street buildings, as happened on Back Tuesday in l929, but the world has begun to shrink, and with the repercussions affecting virtually every segment of society, there is solace to be found in the nostalgia of gravelly old recordings, the announcer intoning, “In l942 Captain Glenn Miller brought his trombone to the armed forces…” It was wartime and yet there was hope and a sense of purpose, two ingredients that are lost in the current oil spill of failed materialism. Driving into the night, a busted distributor cap creates muted fireworks, a baleful underscore to the swinging percussion section.

The big band era didn’t produce the topiaries of hedge fund America, but there was a glamour and formality to the times. Back in the ‘30s and ‘40s it wasn’t just the kids who came to see and be seen. In formal attire, the jitter-buggers congregated in places like the Stork Club, with its lipstick stained high balls, lingering fumes of scotch, and cigarette holders, while Johnny Roventini, the diminutive bellhop, cried out his Shakespearean “Call for Phillip Morris!”

Soon the Doppler sound of the muted trumpet has faded, and the traveler wanders the aisles of this century’s late night supermarket, with its Muzak, its outraged British tabloid headlines, its butcher with a blood stained apron—a latter day Henry V at Agincourt.

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