This is a small slice of an expansive soundtrack I pulled together for the Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village when my partners—Sean MacPherson, Eric Goode, Emil Varda—and I took it over, in 2006. The restaurant had been around since before Prohibition, and we wanted music that would go with the Ed Sorel murals in the main dining room that featured Village artists from the middle part of the last century. We also wanted music that wouldn’t be too intrusive for diners.
The lineup was based in part on the soundtrack Mateo, our D.J., and I had constructed for the Vanity Fair Oscar party back in the early 90s. At a certain point, much of it became personal. Artie Shaw was an old pal, and I mean in the literal sense—I met him when he was in his 80s. Artie was considered the greatest clarinetist ever. He also happened to be a legendary leg-over man who was married to both Lana Turner and Ava Gardner. He pretty much gave up the clarinet in the 1950s to write—for the most part, a partly fictional memoir that was running into the thousands of pages when he died, in 2004.
I met Ella Fitzgerald backstage in 1979 in Atlantic City, just as it was coming back to life—a life that turned out to be temporary. She was opening for the ancient comedian Henny Youngman, which speaks volumes about how tough things were back then for the greats of the American Songbook, and specifically the finest female vocalist ever. Ella owned pretty much every song she chose to sing, and no two performers ever built a song together the way she and Louis Armstrong did.
Dave Brubeck and Chet Baker were simply jazz incarnate. Brubeck’s “Take Five” was the music we used to open the first session of Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summits in San Francisco and, later, Los Angeles. I saw Peggy Lee downtown in New York in the early 80s. Her “Bali Ha’i” is as slow and glorious as a nap on a warm afternoon. There is nothing so heartbreaking as Lena Horne’s “Stormy Weather.” And no playlist would be complete for me without the Ink Spots, the Drifters, or Frank Sinatra. I could have chosen a dozen or more of Sinatra’s songs alone. “Fly Me to the Moon” will have to stand in for all the others. “Heart and Soul,” by the Cleftones, is, to me, near perfection.
I would have chosen “Shout,” by Otis Day and the Knights—they played at my wedding, a gift from two friends in the music industry. But since I’m getting personal, for me and my wife, Anna, our song was, is, and always will be “La Mer,” by Charles Trenet.