Artie Drops by and Plays the Piano - Article

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Artie Drops by and Plays the Piano
by Don Doman

Peg and I had just sat ourselves down for lunch at the kitchen table when the doorbell rang. Peg answered the door and called out to me, “Artie’s here.”

Artie is Art Mineo. He was Mr. Music in Tacoma at Mike Devoto’s New Yorker nightclub from the 1950s into the 1970s. The nightclub is gone and is now offices of the Salvation Army for emergency housing. An Epic recording artist, Art had some excellent albums produced in the 50s and 60s. Man in Space, written for the Seattle’s World’s Fair is still delivering royalty checks from Europe.

My favorite album is Romantic Strings. Art’s wife Toni, who was music director at Holy Cross Catholic Church for years, composed the music. Art wrote the arrangements and a collection of artists from the Seattle Symphony performed. Jazz great Corky Corcoran, Downbeat Magazine’s Tenor Saxophonist of the Year several times I the early 50s, was the featured artist. Corky played with many different bands including Harry James and his phrasing and smoky solos of Toni’s music are a perfect combination. Quite often I use selections from this album for tribute videos I produce for local funeral homes like New Tacoma Cemeteries and Funeral Home, and Gafney, Cassedy, Allen & Buckley King. The music is timeless and if played on KPLU, it would fit in with both current offerings as well as well-known classics.

Art Mineo at the piano.Art declined our offer of lunch and told us to sit down and eat. Dressed in high New York fashion with a black cardigan sweater and pork-pie hat, he walked over to our baby grand piano and played for us while we dined. Actually, wanting to prolong the moment, Peg and I held hands and listened well after we had finished our meal. It was so pleasant just sitting, listening, and whispering the titles as we recognized them in his medley of tunes . . . Windmills of Your Mind, Summertime, Moonlight in Vermont . . .

I finally joined Art in the living room and we talked. He had eaten lunch at Sar’s on North Peal about two blocks from Art’s North End home. At 86 his taste buds have changed and Art really enjoys spicy Thai food, now. If he had gone directly home he would have had to explain to his beloved wife why he didn’t need her excellent home cooking for lunch.

At my prompting, Art told stories of the old days in New York City. He told me about Buddy Raye. When Art was 18 he was part of a trio. He played string base, Joe Lombardo played accordion, and there was a guitar player. One day the guitarist just stopped showing up. At a talent agent’s office they met Buddy Raye, an excellent guitar player, who joined them.

Buddy was part of a musical family who played in Vaudeville under the name of Reed. When Vaudeville bookings dried up after motion pictures rose in popularity, the family team broke up. The mother divorced the father. The father continued a musical connection by selling razor blades and condoms to the musicians at the union hall.

With a background of performing, Buddy stayed in the entertainment field. His lively personality and skill made him a welcome addition to Art’s trio. Soon they were being booked everywhere. The jobs didn’t last long, however. Buddy was a heavy drinker and was often unable to perform. Art said, “Everybody loved him. He was a great guitar player.” They kept getting bookings.

Beautiful Martha Raye.One day in 1936 Buddy needed to pick up his sister at Grand Central Station. “Everybody in the world was there,” said Art. Rhythm on the Range was a big hit feature film and the New York showing was that night. Staring Bing Crosby, the movie featured Martha Raye in her film debut. She sang her Mr. Paganini number, which became famous. Martha Raye was Buddy Raye’s sister. Art remembers Martha fondly, “Oh, she was stacked,” Art said, “And could she sing.” Art rode in the limo and went to the premier.

Buddy moved to Hollywood, but Art and Joe decided not to join him. Art went on to play with a number of bands and during World War II played trombone and wrote arrangements for the Army Band. But, that’s another story. Artie finished this story by saying, “Buddy was dead by the time he was 26 or 27.”

I always enjoy Artie’s stories. I recognize many of the names. I know some of the music. It was another time and a different world and quite often they end with the comment, “He’s dead now,” but those stories like this one told on a beautiful July afternoon are wonderful.