North Beach Journal

Filthy McNasty, Freddie Freeloader, Magnolia Thunderpussy, Lavern Cummings … and a happy birthday to Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett’s birthday is Aug. 3. And where will he have his birthday party? Well, right where he left his heart last time he was in San Francisco — at Gigi’s Sotte Mare, the estimable North Beach seafood joint on Green Street. Bennett is taking over Gigi’s on his 88th birthday for 20 or so of his closest friends. Happy Birthday to Anthony Dominick Benedetto!


The other day I walked up Vallejo Street in North Beach on my way to Central Station. I wanted to ask the cops there a question about something I was planning to write for this column. But, being an Aries with a short attention span, I began thinking about other things. I passed Little Garden, a Chinese restaurant at 750 Vallejo, and the other things I started thinking about were a long-gone jazz club called Keystone Korner and the jazz artists who played there back in the 1970s. So I dropped in to Little Garden for pot stickers and to commune with some jazz ghosts.


The first ghost who made his appearance was the great hard bop, jazz pianist Horace Silver, who died a couple of months ago. In my mind’s ear, I could hear his jumpy, funky tune “Filthy McNasty.” I knew Horace slightly because wherever he performed — if I happened to be within striking distance — you could find me listening to the Horace Silver Quintet. He finally got to recognize me in the audience. I not only heard Horace Silver at the Village Gate in New York’s Greenwich Village and at the Monterey Jazz Festival, where I talked to him backstage, but I dropped in one night to hear him at Keystone Korner. He played some of his great stuff — “Song for my Father” (about his Cape Verde Islands, Afro-Portuguese father), “Sister Sadie” and “The Preacher.” Between sets, he walked by my table, acknowledged me as a fan, sat down, and I bought him a drink. I told him how much I enjoyed his music and he asked me what my favorite Horace Silver tune was. I replied, “Filthy McNasty.” He said he would play it in the next set. And he did — dedicating it to “my friend, Filthy McErnie.”


Ghost number two was Miles Davis.

One night I went to Keystone Korner to hear the mercurial Miles. Miles was not in a good mood that night. Was he ever in a good mood? Not in my presence, and I heard him play many times. He was a wonderful artist but the word prickly was invented for him. Between sets at Keystone Korner, I timidly approached the man and requested politely that in the next set could he please play “Freddie Freeloader” — from his great 1959 album Kind of Blue.

“Get lost,” he said in his gravelly voice and turned his back on me.

Over those pot stickers at Little Garden I thought I heard Miles playing “Freddie Freeloader,” and just like last time I heard Miles say “get lost” — so I did.


No, I am not just making up these names. Magnolia Thunderpussy — aka Patricia Mallon — provided the food service for the Keystone Korner. A third generation San Franciscan who could trace her roots back to pre-1906 Earthquake and Fire, she ran a catering service in the Haight-Ashbury during the heyday of that neighborhood. She served what she called “dirty food.” Don’t get me started.


Recently I got a letter from Paul L. Cummings from Las Vegas about a Back Story I wrote on Finnochio’s, the wonderful club featuring female impersonators that was above the old Enrico’s sidewalk cafe on Broadway. Cummings’s middle initial stands for Lavern, his stage name when he performed at Finnochio’s from 1956 to 1982. He wrote that he was still performing occasionally as a male, apparently having given up the lip gloss and high heels. So, in this case, what goes from San Francisco to Las Vegas apparently stays in Vegas. And by extension, what goes to Chicago (the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art) stays in Chicago and what will likely go to San Diego (America’s Cup) may stay in San Diego. Now if we could only send Art Agnos and Aaron Peskin to Chicago or San Diego we could slow down progress in those cities and speed up our own.


Well, once again I anxiously scanned the pages of the Nob Hill Gazette to find out if I was included on the paper’s Annual Best Dressed List. Alas, I was not. I’m thinking of establishing the counterpart of the Gazette’s silly list here in the Marina Times. It will be called Ernesto’s Annual Worst Dressed List and I, who get most of my clothes from my North Beach, on-the-street, haberdasher Bernardo Quintana, will take the top award.


I sat down in Caffe Trieste with Angela Alioto not too long ago to discuss Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Piazza St. Francis-Poets’ Corner. Readers of this column will recall that I have frequently taken potshots at Angela over what I perceive as endless delays in the project to establish an Italianate pedestrian plaza on that short block of Vallejo Street where Caffe Trieste and the Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi cohabit. It would be pleasant to see Lawrence’s vision — which he first articulated in 1998 — come to pass in Lawrence’s lifetime.

When we met, Angela was “on the record” as we big city scribes say, and she told me: “I will raise $1.8 million for the Piazza St. Francis-Poets’ Corner. That’s my goal.” She has hired a fundraiser to assist her and is paying him a modest monthly retainer out of her own pocket. “By October or November of this year I will have all the money in the bank — if the city does its part,” she said. The city has stipulated that it will provide (at no cost to the project) the necessary underground infrastructure. Angela continued: “If that comes together, above-the-ground construction should begin by October this year. So if all falls into place, completion of the Piazza St. Francis-Poets’ Corner will be about February 2015.”

Is that what Herb Caen would have called a scooplet?

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