Volume 79, Number 18 | Oct 7 - 13, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Lorraine Gordon

A funny lady on a Funny Lady

By Jerry Tallmer

Ask a silly question, and you get…

“What do you mean, was I there? Yes I was there, washing the windows, vacuuming the rug.”

She heard the scratch of pen on paper but she did not, over the phone, hear the scribbler’s appreciative low laughter.

“You’re getting old, you’re losing your mind,” Lorraine Gordon said, or barked. “There are no windows at the Vanguard. If you’ve forgotten that… .”

It was the day after the day after Ms. Barbra Streisand of Brooklyn, New York, and Hollywood, California, had lit up the sky, or the basement, that is the Village Vanguard, the late Max Gordon’s tiny temple of jazz 13 steps down at the tomato-red awning on Seventh Avenue just below 11th Street.

That temple has been kept alive and well by his wife Lorraine ever since Max was called away by a higher trumpet.

“Max died in 1989 [May 11, 1989], and I opened the door here the next day… .” All of which, and a great golden plenitude more, is nicely recounted in her memoir …

“‘War and Peace.’ No, you idiot, ‘Alive at the Village Vanguard.’ I’m getting deaf,” she said, “but I can hear what I want to hear. I hear the music, that’s all.”

The house (capacity 123) had been jammed on Streisand night with beautifully famous people — Barbra’s buddies — plus a considerable number of just plain people who had won an Internet lottery for the privilege of sitting in on this Saturday evening of promotion for the lady’s latest album, “Love Is the Answer.”

It had been, as we were reminded by the media more than once or twice, 48 years since Ms. Streisand last set foot in the joint.

And how had this return come to pass? When had it first been proposed to Mrs. Gordon?

“I don’t know, I don’t keep exact dates,” she answered. “Maybe a month or so ago. Maybe two. Suddenly there was a phone call. From Barbra Streisand’s manager, Martin Erlichman.

“He used to work here, 50 years ago. Well, he hung around here, was one of the guys. When people come to the Vanguard they become part of the woodwork. I think Marty first met Barbra here, as far as I know.

“‘Hello, Lorraine? Is that you? This is Marty Erlichman.’

“‘Marty! How are you?’

“We’re right back to square one, and he tells me Barbra would like to come for a gig — a one-nighter on a Saturday night for the promotion of her new record.

“No, Barbra didn’t debut here. Look, in those days she hung around a lot of clubs, and lucky for her, Max always had an eye for a good-looking girl, so her debut was at the Blue Angel [Max Gordon’s East 50s showcase], not the Vanguard.

“I would sit around in the Blue Angel with Max, and everybody would come up, and we’d talk. And Barbra and I would talk. I was in the peace movement then, and I think I talked her into that.”

No, she hadn’t been hassled by security on Streisand night at the Vanguard.

“They were wonderful. They took care of everything.” Pregnant pause. “I would have burned the place down if I couldn’t get in.”

You better believe it.

Yes, she had schmoozed there with the Clintons — Bill, Hillary and daughter Chelsea.

“Adorable! And he told me he’d been at the Vanguard before — in 1976 or ’67, I forget which.”

And oh yes, she’d made a little speech to start the proceedings off.

“I didn’t write it down, so I can’t tell you what I said, but people were laughing, so I know it was funny.”

No, she didn’t go to the party afterward at the Waldorf.

“I just staggered home to bed. What was left of me.”

One last thought.

“Barbra Streisand’s voice is still glorious, and she’s still a very Funny Lady — and humane.”

One last injunction:

“Just remind your readers that the Village Vanguard will be 75 years old the second week of February 2010. And I’ll be washing those same windows.”

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