For many years “Lush Life” has been a favorite song of mine and it’s also a number that I have storyboarded throughout my life with ingredients of plot, character and a rather sad scenario.
The main character is Amelia Lehrfield, who was 89 years old when I met and boarded with her at 507 W. 113th St. in New York City, which was on the corner of Amsterdam Ave. The apartment was very near Columbia University, Sweet Daddy Grace’s Church and the Apollo Theater.
Miss Lehrfield often talked about the old days. Occasionally she’d mention sad memories of relatives who were caught in the Holocaust.
But many of her memories were beautiful and had the essence of deep nostalgia. She kept a scrapbook in her room with pictures of her family and the fashionable gowns she wore in the teens and 20’s of the last century
She would go to Upper West Side ballrooms and especially loved the A train subway, which was not the one that was convenient to her house.
She lived very simply, had mild and elegant friends, and used old words of admiration such as “swell”.
As I got to know her, she met George Russell, Gunther Schuller, Sister Tee, and the Modern Jazz Quartet. I like to feel I changed her life, and I know George Russell introduced her to Bordeaux wine when she was 90 and was thinking that it was a sour grape drink.
As I got to know her those important three or four years, I became obsessed by her life and memories. Many of these were shared on the Friday night Sabbath evenings where the curfew was strict.
I remember often looking in her private room, you might say being a voyeur, but she was very well aware and had give me permission to occasionally join her and I saw these vivid reminders of the past. Often I played “Lush Life” on my phonograph in the apartment.
My version of the piece takes place late at night. It’s raining. We are across from a firehouse where a lonely Dalmatian is sitting. Pedestrians are walking outside, coming from either St. John the Divine or St. Luke’s Hospital. But we only hear occasional murmurs as Ms. Lehrfield is talking about 1922, where she meets a young man called Eugene who was a swell dresser. He took her to Harlem on the A train and gave her a music box.
Now there is thunder in the air and we hear the music box. We leave the verse of the piece, come back to reality during the A section, and then the piano will move to waltz time during the bridge when she collapses at a dance upon hearing of the death of a family member.
The light fades in her room as she grows older. The photographs of her past fade, her skin wrinkles, and yet the music box plays late into the night. She moves back from the pluperfect tense to the present tense.
I vividly remember these scenes from more than 63 years ago.