[Hpn] inyaface pt 5 pt 3
Sun, 05 Nov 2000 15:36:15 -0700
³Little Vinnie from South Philly²
There it was: a hauntingly eerie photo of all-time great jazz pianist Bill
Evans, staring right back at you from the front page of The Chronicleıs
³Datebook² section. The article touched on Evansı final nine-night run at
the Keystone Korner now out as an eight-CD box set, called ³The Last
Waltz² just one week before he died in 1980 in New York from a
hemorrhaging ulcer and bronchial pneumonia, complications brought on from
shooting cocaine preceded by years of heroin use.
Many of us werenıt around San Francisco at the time, but if you were and
were part of the jazz scene, you probably remember it like yesterday, seeing
a living legend in action. Like a boxer going into the 12th round, Evans
spent it all for that week-plus gig.
When I saw that article, one of the first things that came to mind,
especially in light of all the artists being evicted these days, were those
times in the mid-1990s I used to hang out at the Mason Street Wine Bar, home
to some of the best no-cover jazz this city ever saw in the past 10 years.
Itıs not there anymore, but itıs where I had my own Bill Evans, and his name
is Vince DiCicco.
He played piano for Elena De La Rosa, whose repertoire and range seems
to defy the laws of nature, and Vince was no slouch himself. On clear
September nights, Iıd be out on the concrete landing outside I sometimes
liked it better that way, the summertime-when-the-livinıs-easyı music
providing the perfect backdrop to all the action that was going on there on
the corner of Geary and Mason. Tourist season in full swing, the massive 10
p.m. crush of theater-goers letting out from The Phantom of the Opera,
dodging cabbies barreling around the corner, and that guy with the dolphin
puppet selling Street Sheets. Two-bit hustlers lookinı for a smoke or take
you out to deep water heading down to Ellis on the one side, $100
streetwalkers cominı up on the other.
Of course, on those cold February nights when Elenaıs second set rolled
around, the inside confines were a welcome retreat from the rain-slicked
streets or the chilling winds that made there way through the downtown
windtunnels, sure to find another homeless soul before the night is out,
claiming their life, or at the very least, slamming him or her to the
hospital mat with a bad case of pneumonia.
Regardless of the season, for many a Thursday night, the Mason Street
Wine Bar was my home, and with Vince at the piano, it was almost if Evansı
spirit had been reincarnated. Even for someone like me, a stone-cold jazz
newcomer, you knew the guy was good, up there at the top of his game
night-in and night-out, putting his all into every lousy-payinı set.
Now Vince wasnıt makinı much money at it at the time. None of em were,
even though in my book, you were werenıt gonna find any better. Wasnıt
around for the Billie Holiday era, but the Wine Bar had this other one cut
from the same cloth by the name of Dee Harrell on Monday nights. She could
cover all the classics, and even had wunna those old 40s-style microphones
you donıt see much nowadays. And that all came right off the heels off Vince
Wallace maybe the king of the local jazz sax greats over the past 40 years
on Sundays playing the Schooner Tavern on the corner of 26th and Valencia,
which is now the Dovre Club minus the jazz. One time, while Wallace was
taking us all on an extended musical journey, this white guy two-stools-over
with the Jamiroqoi hat said, ³Iım from New York, and you could go out n
spend $20 to get into any jazz club in town there, and still not see
anything as good as this guy.² Hm, ainıt that somethinı. And here weıre
gettingı in for free. Used to, anyway. The Gathering Caffe...? They had
BlueTrain, with Richie OıConnell on drums and a female English teacher whose
name escapes me, but not the way she worked that sax and took you back to
the days of Coltrane just in case you missed out on the gigs at Bop City and
Blackhawk, and no, ainıt talkinı about the Easy Bay.
Back at that same time, out on the street, you had John Chatman, a
soul-to-soul jazz cat from The Big Apple who could do more tricks with a sax
than close-up magician David Blain does with a deck of cards. Just the way
John talked, in no big hurry and like the weight of the world was on someone
else, it was like he graduated top of class from the Dusty Baker School of
Cool. And he always had time to talk, whether it was with passersby heıd
never met, or those heıs known some time. Maybe thatıs why at Christmas,
John raked in the tips. Other times, heıd do fair-to-all right on the
quarters and dollars people tossed into his leather sax case. But part of
that had to cover the BART ride over from Oaktown, since even back then, it
was too expensive to live in S.F., which is where he first landed. The first
time I met him, a lazy Sunday afternoon on Market near Fourth St. John told
me that as a child, either Ella Fitzgerald or Billie used to babysit him, I
canıt remember which one he said. My money goes on Ella, but can you
imagine...? No wonder that by the time he was 16, he was slippinı outta his
upstairs window at night, playinı the clubs with an old sax his high school
music teacher pulled out from the spider webs in dusty basement and said,
³If you can get a note out of it, itıs yours, you can keep it.² Not only did
he get a note out of it, probably still plays the same one to this day.
Unfortunately, I havenıt seen John in about three years.
Itıs funny, well not really, but that was all just four or five short
years ago, when it seemed that the jazz scene was thriving, as well as the
rest of the arts. To me, thatıs what made San Francisco. That you had these
people out there who were playing for the love of the game, and they were
able to because there were still cheap rents in parts of the Mission, South
of Market, even the Haight and the Richmond, that aided and enabled it. Not
What was it a month or so ago? they had various people standing out
in front of City Hall, protesting the shrinking amount of rehearsal space as
rents soar from $2,500 to $10,000 a month in some instances. Others held
signs over their heads that read ³Evicted Dancer,² ³Evicted Teacher,²
³Evicted Singer,² and ³Evicted Student.² I doubt I even have to say why.
They and 38,000 others of low-income persuasion are in danger on being
forced out of The City by escalating rents brought on by the Dot-Com boom,
and places like the Mission are home to rents triple of what those
³dwellings² are actually ³worth.² In a recent Chronicle piece, real estate
analyst Daniel Cressman of Grubb and Ellis pointed out that ³People better
wake up. We canıt push the arts down to South San Francisco. The arts help
maintain the diversity that makes this such a cool city.² Or as internet
entrepreneur James Au added, ³Internet economies move to wherever thereıs a
great artistic community because they need that artistic foment. If you
drive all the cool people out, you shoot your economy in the heart.² If this
keeps up and even if you make a ³living wage², youıre still gonna be in
poverty, considering whatıs left after rent. Could be that some folks fast
food workers, retail and others who make less than $10-an-hour wind up
homeless themselves. Thereıs just nowhere to go. If thatıs the case, does
anyone really believe that weıll have any John Chatmans, Vince DiCiccos or
Vince Wallaces coming around any time soon With Elena, sheıs still around,
but itıs like the proverbial spiderıs web trying to survive a gale force
wind. Sheıs chillinı, but getting her new material ready for the New Year.
Thatıs when youıll hear all that playfulness of a Basia, or the way Anita
Baker melts a candle with nothing but words, and combines it for a style all
* * * * *
³Hey, Hoops, get in the car.² It was about five summers back, and I had
just gotten off the Muni-15 and was making may way east on Gilman St. to get
to Candlestick for that afternoonıs Giants game. Shock-surprise, it was
Vince in his Honda Civic - the same one we used to get to the West Coast
Conference basketball championship the winter before pulled over and
willing to spare my that eight-block walk to the ballpark. He had his
³Little Brother² with him as part of their Big Brother/Little Brother day
I forget the boyıs name, but he was probably about 11 or 12, a black kid
with a smile that belied the unfortunate hand heıd been dealt throughout
much of his life.
³Man, I wish I woulda known you were cominı. I mighta been able to line
us up with some free tickets.² Back in the days of ³old² Candlestick, that
was never much of a problem, what with friends in the front office, or this
one lady who knew I was a big Giants fan, and would send me ducats, all box
seats, for practically very homestand. One time, I went to the jazz club and
stuck a few bucks in the tip jar at the end of the set, and went up and
asked Elena if she or anyone she knew wanted these three tickets for the
Braves game that Saturday. She said, no, but check with Vince. Asked him if
he was doinı anything, if he wanted the tix. ³I canıt go. Iım goinı outta
town that day, so if you want em, theyıre yours.²When I told Lower Box
Section 5, his eyes lit up ³yes.² When I said I got the Preferred Parking to
go with it, he wanted to know what he give me for money. I said forget that.
I mean, cımon. Dude is this ultra-cool jazz piano guy - the best I know
anyway in all of San Francisco up there like itıs the gig of his life. You
just know that in his 50 years of living, this is what he was meant to do
almost from the day he was born. I wonıt forget that time in-between sets,
either, when we went over across the street right next to the Pinecrest
Diner, and he offered me a couple pops off his stainless steel flask. We got
into the sports talk, and he told me that back in the day on the basketball
playgrounds, he was known as Little Vinnie from South Philly.ı He wasnıt
all that little, though, as he here was this guy may close 6 feet tall. My
guess is there was some other Big Vinnie runninı around South Philly, so he
had to go by Little Vinnie.
That day out at Candlestick, he let the kid go run around for an hour
before the game tryinı to get autographs. Thatıs when he broke to me the bad
³He doesnıt know it yet, but this is the last time Iım ever gonna see
him. Iım movinı this Saturday.² What?! I couldnıt believe it. Apparently,
even back then, the rent market put the squeeze on him. Vinnie and his wife
could no longer see paying close to a two-thirds of their income on property
they would never even own. San Francisco is a great city, yes, but not at
that price, they said.
Knowing this, it just killed me that here was this boy letıs call him
³Penny Jr.² having the time of his life, and come next week, heıd either
get a phone call or some explanation that made no sense. In his world, one
in which he lived with his grandmother off San Bruno Avenue because there
was no father to speak of, and his mother was addicted to drugs, it would
become just one more reminder that nothing good last forever, and that
whatever you do, donıt get too attached to anything or anybody cuz it could
Poor Vince, he didnıt have the heart to tell Penny Jr., and I canıt say
that I blame him. As the game went on, there we were with our little
homemade smorgasboard: peanuts, popcorn, sandwiches and soda After the game,
just like before it, I had offered to split off, but Vince insisted that I
come along. After all, there was still daylight left.
³I told him weıd go shoot some hoops, so we can go do that, then go get
some McDonaldıs,² said Vince, and thatıs exactly what we did. Once we walked
out to the sidestreets to get the Honda [cheaper than $6 parking, get a
couple extra Big Macs], we squeezed our way through the fence of some
elementary school within a mile of Candlestick, so that we had the whole
playground to ourselves. The Kid and Vince went one-on-one, which wasnıt
really that much of a contest considering the age discrepancy and the fact
that that Vince was wearing his old worn-brown stomper boots, the same ones
heıd wear up on stage at the jazz club along with a nice shirt and
sportcoat, because comfort is key when working those pedals for four hours.
The Kid was really showing off his moves, a little too much razzle-dazzle,
especially on some of those double-clutch shots going to the hoop, but
still, you could tell he was cut out to be a good one. Next it was my turn,
and Vince took over doing the ³play-by-play.²
The Kid was in heaven, what all with the sunny day, just a little wind,
the San Francsico skyline at his back, and the ball going through the hoop
time and time again. We musta been there an hour, and I know that that whole
time, that smile never once left that kidıs face. Vince and I were in
heaven, too, but at the same time, we were cryinı inside, knowinı that this
day was a one-and-only. Same thing all over again at McDonaldıs on Bayshore,
where Vince again insisted on springing for the whole sha-bang. He dropped
me off at The Seedy Mission Flat, but I was lucky, Iıd get to see him one
more time before he took off for the San Joaquin Valley.
Vince had two movers all lined up, but said he could put me on as a
³helper² for about $30 for the three hours work. Even though I had done that
for a living and had offered to pitch in for free, just because I know how
hard it is to get ³friends² to come over and ³help you move,² he wasnıt
havinı any of it, and insisted on paying me.
The day I showed up at his place in Noe Valley, the U-Haul truck and the
³professionals² were already at work. What I saw as a special treat was that
here was this guy for all we know, another Bill Evans, only one that went
³undiscovered² and he was entrusting me as the one to carrying down the
steps those 12 crates full of jazz albums, probably worth thousands and many
of which are of print. Youıd think that heıd wanna do it himself, but he
knew, that just they way I appreciated hearing him play all those times out
on the concrete landing on Thursday nights, there was no way anything was
gonna happen to those babies. You saw that and his hi-fi set, no doubt the
best Iıve ever seen, and you could almost sense all the behind the scenes
work he put in, the understanding of his craft city, and what a shame that
this local jazz great had had to hit the road.
That day when the ballgame was winding down, I was kidding myself when I
said that, who knows, maybe thereıs a chance that he could still make it.
³No, my time has come and gone, my friend,² he said, but didnıt sound
one ounce sad when he said it. Just acceptance of natureıs way, and
appreciative that he actually did get to play here, once a known jazz
hotspot on either coast.
³Donıt worry, Iıll be back. I might play some gigs at the Nikko,² he
said, but I think we knew that was I a lie, too. Once an artist like that
leaves San Francisco, itıs pretty rare they ever make it back.
I just hope that, endangered species as they are, that artist community
somehow survives this ever-present threat of extinction, and that the
powers-that-be realize that up to now, San Francisco has always had a place
for them. It will never be the same without them.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN HOMELESS . . .
Whichever Republicrat wins the election, the choice will be / has been made.
My sympathy goes out to all of us! Poor people need to get out there and
tell whoever is elected that we are here suffering because of the rapacious
laws on the books that keep poor people poor. When will they understand that
a booming economy to us is a bomb blowing up in our faces?
In administrations long ago safety nets were being shredded, and finally
removed with welfare reform, which changed both the family and single adult
welfare delivery systems. Not just welfare has changed, but HUD regulations
regarding Housing Authority and Section 8 units. This means that income and
housing are affected for poor people.
If you donıt have enough income, whether working or on welfare, you
certainly canıt afford housing in this hot market. If you canıt afford
housing, then you are homeless.
Housing Authorities used to provide low-income housing, affordable to
poor people. In this region, according to the HUD median income, a
low-income single person qualifies at $40,800 and a low-income family of
three qualifies at $52,500 annual income. Most single adults and families on
welfare receive less than $10,000 a year, so where do they fit? Now, with
the new HUD regulations, working people are given priority, again leaving
the poorest people literally out in the cold.
On a national level, candidates have neglected to mention what they were
going to do for the poor people. They debated about various issues, and
mentioned children when talking about improvements to the educational
system. Politicians need to realize that poor and homeless children can not
fully concentrate on education, no matter how good the teachers are, if they
are hungry or homeless.
Maybe one day we can see political candidates who truly care about
people on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. Perhaps those candidates
can push our agenda and fund real low-income housing for singles, couples,
and families who have incomes well below the inflated low-income threshold
now being implemented. There are a few candidates at the local level who do
understand these issues.
This election has been a very important one. There were national
candidates, state legislative candidates, and local candidates for various
positions. Before the dust settles from this election, get involved. Keep
informed to what is going on politically, because a lot of the new policies
will adversely affect poor people. As bureaucracies ³tighten the belt²,
remember those are buzz words for reducing services. And just who are these
services for? Poor people of course!
If you are comfortably housed, and have a good income, you should be
involved fighting for the rights of homeless people. The men, women, and
children who make up the poor and working poor need your help. They have
been struggling so hard to survive in this booming economy, and being beat
down at every turn. Itıs about time for you the calvary to ride in and back
us up, cause weıre exhausted.
I heard a comedian once say she didnıt care if her ends meet, but just
be close enough to wave at each other. If your ends donıt meet, itıs the
beginning of the slippery slope of poverty. Each day itıs hard to walk
around San Francisco without seeing homeless people on the streets, you
could be next.
Think about being one paycheck away from homeless, and join our fight.
If homelessness should happen to you, maybe then you wonıt be so quick
to feel you have the right to remain homeless.
Ain't the worlds best writer, ain't the world's best speller, but when
I believe in something, I'm the world's loudest yeller. Woody Guthrie
A Publication of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
415 / 346.3740 - voice
415 / 775.5639 - fax