It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in fall. My army buddy and I were on leave before being shipped out to our next outfits. I would be heading for New Rochelle, New York, to attend the Army Information School. My friend was going elsewhere. We’d just completed three months of boot camp in Fort Ord, and had flown to L.A. from Monterey the day before.
We were wearing our “greens,” the brand new dress uniform that replaced the OD, olive-drab, dress wear and the old Ike jacket.
Every once in a while, as we strolled down Hollywood Boulevard, servicemen from other branches, seeing us, saluted as they passed by. Being courteous guys, we returned the greetings, and then laughed our asses off each time, once we were out of earshot. It was obvious that the enlisted men from the other armed forces branches were unaware of the Army’s new uniform. To them we looked like officers in our saucer-shaped hats.
As we strolled by Sardi’s, we heard cool jazz music wafting out. Neither of us were twenty-one, the legal age for consuming alcohol, but we tacitly decided to see if we could get served. We were relying on our uniforms to avoid being carded by the cocktail waitress.
Inside the dimly lit lounge, we were shown to a seat in the rear. We ordered beers. After the waitress went to fill our drink orders, we winked at each other, our faces beaming. We had passed the test.
On the low stage a woman began singing some scat jazz. She was good, and her style had me grooving. I was already into jazz, having been hooked by Johnny Hodges’ tenor sax while attending city college a year earlier.
After our beers were served, we relaxed and settled into our seats to suck up the suds and the soulful sounds.
At one point, while the lady on the stage sang, the cocktail waitress, carrying a tray of drinks, walked right in front of the singer to serve a front row table. Since the stage was low, the waitress blocked our view.
It was apparent the singer didn’t appreciate the interruption. Her frowning expression displayed that; still, obviously a pro, she continued singing.
When the music set ended, the singer stepped off the stage and came around the room heading toward the rear. Her route took her by our four-person table.
As she passed by, I called out, “Great voice, ma’am. That wasn’t very polite of the barmaid.”
The singer paused, studied us momentarily, and smiling, stepped closer.
I quickly stood. “Please, join us,” I said, nudging my friend to get to his feet. He did.
She said, “Don’t mind if I do.” She drew up a chair and sat across from me.
The waitress immediately stopped at our table.
The singer ordered a soda water with lime, then looking at me, she asked, “So, you boys enjoying the music?”
For the rest of her twenty-minute break we chit chatted.
When she got up to go back to the stage, I scrambled to my feet. “I love your voice,” I said. I’ll be buying your albums.
She looked back. “You boys are sweet—do enjoy the show.”
To this day I will never forget my afternoon sitting with Lady Jane, the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald.