Seen and Heard: “Having a Wonderful Time”

On December 7th, 1957, Rochester’s Democrat & Chronicle published Henry W. Clune’s latest installment in his Seen and Heard series– a foray into Ridgecrest Inn. This is the transcription.

There were three men on a dais in a place called Ridgecrest Inn, which I had never been in before; and they were like three fellows having a musical kaffee-klatsch. They mumbled to one another and laughed lowly as though at a closely shared joke, and now and then sang a snatch of song. They were enjoying an intimate fellowship from which the audience was excluded, though the audience was hanging on their every note.

There was a short man with reddish hair with a guitar, a tall man with a bass viol, and a large, eupeptic man, with black, crinkly, well-pomaded hair, who played the piano. The piano player was Oscar Peterson. It was his trio—the Oscar Peterson Trio—and Donald F. Southgate, who was trying to educate me in modern jazz, said that it was about the best trio of its kind in the country.

They were playing “You Are Too Beautiful.” It was soft music, it was pulpy; though perhaps the esoteric term for it is “very cool jazz,” and I was fascinated by Peterson’s technical skill. His big hands didn’t raise half an inch off the keyboard, but his fingers did remarkable things with the ivories. There was no effort about his playing; the man might have been doing it lying in a hammock. He laughed lowly with the others of the coterie, mumbled to them, gave with a little song.

Don Southgate said, “They’re just playing for their own amusement. They’re having fun. They wouldn’t care if there wasn’t a soul in the place to hear them. It’s their party.” But the woman who runs Ridgecrest sat down with us at that point, and dropped a hint about the cost of the trio. Peterson and his boys weren’t getting peanuts. I am sure they were having a wonderful time; it was like a vacation with pay.

“They play a theme through, and then they start improvising,” Mr. Southgate explained, as the trio went into another number; piece called “Falling in Love with You.” “It’s interpretive music,” he went on. “Maybe, really to get it, you have to FEEL that the musicians are talking to you. Until then, well—it may be slightly recondite.”

The trio played “Lullaby of Birdland”—Birdland being a house of modern jazz in New York; and the “52nd Street Theme,” and left the platform for a cup of coffee and a sandwich. I then asked Jane Morey, proprietress of Ridgecrest, to tell me something about her own career.

A blonde lady, in an evening dress, she said she had left the family farm down in Cattaragus County at an early age for a semi-pro career as a café singer and Charleston dancer. She has had half a dozen businesses, including a messenger service, with delivery boys on shiny bicycles; she won the state bowling championship, operated a beauty parlor, worked as a waitress. She now has Ridgecrest in Ridge Road East and another spot in Clinton Avenue South. She has a catering business on the side.

“Keeps me busy,” she said. “I sometimes think, if they cut me deep enough, they’d find I’ve got atomic energy in my veins. Show business as always been my real love; and jazz the thing I want to promote. I want only the best performers. They come high. Sometimes it seems as though I work at the catering business to pay for the jazz artists. I won’t settle for second rate music. I’ve got a husband and a 15-year-old daughter. Peterson’s phenomenal, don’t you think?”

“You’re phenomenal, too,” Mr. Southgate said.

“And you,” Mrs. Morey said. “You’re unique.”

I went along with Mrs. Morey there.

Mr. Southgate, who wears Brooks Brothers clothes and flies all over the land on business, is different from almost nay high ranking industrial executive I know. He is president of the Shuron Optical Co., lives on a 50-acre farm outside of Geneva, is devoted to modern jazz. And a real devotee! He sits for hours at a time in places in various parts of the country where they serve hard liquor and jazz, leaves the former strictly alone; just drinks in the music. He carries four pairs of ice skates in the rear of his car. He is a man who must be crowding three score, if he hasn’t actually reached that mark, but the pace he sets would leave many a much younger man breathless in his wake.

He skates a couple of nights a week during the summer months on the RIT indoor rink; skates once or twice a week during the winter at Genesee Valley Park. He may drive from Geneva to Shuron’s Rochester plant, return to Geneva for dinner; drive back to Rochester to skate until 10 o’clock, then go down to Ridgecrest to hear the jazz. Home, and to bed!

“What do you do about sleep?” he was asked.

“Don’t do it very much,” he answered. “It takes time.”

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