People give you a hand up, now and then, even sometimes not knowing it. Such was the case when Leah Jorgensen invited me to a winemaker’s luncheon with Dave Hansen of Arborbrook Vineyards. The concept was digital media and the wine industry, and while the topics of Facebook, Twitter, iGadgets, YouTube and accessories percolated at one end of the table, I ended up at the other end with the winemaker. We quickly discovered we were the ones who still had flip phones—and talked about wine for the next 45 minutes. I wrote an article about that day, which I never sold—but I used it half a dozen times as a writing sample, applying for work and remodeling my career. I’ve thanked Leah every time I’ve seen her since, which is not enough. So it’s going to have to be an equally pivotal record, upon opening a bottle of Leah Jorgensen Cellars “Tour Rain.” I’ve been saving it for awhile.
Inasmuch as Leah had helped me get a job, I picked a record that had lost me one: Les McCann & Eddie Harris’s Swiss Movement. Patrick O’Hearn wrote that this live album was as significant as The Who’s Live at Leeds. Part of that significance is the imposing intensity of the band—a group that was performing together the first time, unrehearsed. Ella Fitzgerald was seated on the third row. There are employers I’ve had to quit because they still didn’t get jazz after hearing this album; clearly philistine. There are also employers who quit me for similar reasons (we’ll get to that). It would be an inside joke when people hear me say, “Compared to what?” except that my generation said that reflexively, and it was because of that song. The history is interesting in its degrees of separation.
“Compared to What” has been recorded by almost 280 different artists. Roberta Flack recorded it first, when Les McCann was her manager. His version, this version, sold over a million copies and went to #35 on the Billboard chart. It’s featured in Martin Scorsese’s Casino (Sharon Stone got an Oscar nomination). Most recently, it showed up in The Man from U.N.C.LE. Top flight musicians, on their game, on fire, with a powerful, socially provocative single, making history at THE internationally acclaimed music festival celebrating their discipline. Swiss Movement is a snapshot of a perfect moment, but it’s manipulated: “Cold Duck Time” was the first song of the set, followed by “Compared to What.” All of these factors plus one (writing “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” also performed by Roberta Flack) allowed Gene McDaniels, the songwriter, to quit his day job. That, I would say, is progress.
Unfortunately, when the program director at Oklahoma Christian College heard his Supreme Faculty Advisor’s name taken in vain, he fired me. Oops.
Jai’s early response to the wine was, “spicy, sassy,” and she suggested we step out to our balcony and smell the rain as we savored the wine—as mentioned on the label. That worked very well. Too, there’s a peppery, earthiness to the wine that brings me back to the ground after all these musings, although not as abruptly as that program director did. Savoring a wine like Tour Rain reminds me to savor other moments, other victories.
I played “Compared to What” at least a dozen times before that guy caught me—while he was driving his mother-in-law home from the airport and turned on the radio...