The Last Pre-Covid Supergig
It was the last supergig before the pandemic of 2020 came and held us all hostage. This was a Christmas party in December 2019. The following is written as though things are still the same today as they were at the end of last year, in order to honor the memories, which cannot, and will not ever become infected. Let them serve to uplift us and create hope for all.
As explained in my other posts, a “supergig“ in LA is an A-list, high-level event. To qualify, it must be over the top, set in a paradise location, and filled with the ultimate in comforts, company, and concessions. This last pre-Covid supergig took place at a residence in Beverly Crest, high up, overlooking the entire city with a 360-degree perch, vistas all the way to the ocean, for a regular client whose identity and well-known guests’ identities shall go unnamed for privacy. Let’s just call the husband and wife Mr. and Mrs. Host.
I’ve played 35 years of ornate legendary gatherings, and although many of my other supergigs have their pinnacle moments, this one is it. Not just because of the plural family Bentley's and Ferrari's grazing in the front courtyard, nor the guard house at the gothic iron gates, nor the beautiful separate "country schoolhouse" with authentic barn door where much of the childrens' home schooling takes place. It's not the five thousand lights strung like pearls over the entire estate, nor the separately-housed, enormous private theatre with downsloping rows, theatre-size screen, dedicated lobby with glass candy showcase, popcorn machine and separate bathrooms, nor the giant mechanized yard exhibits matched to the theme of the event, sprinkled all over the spacious beautiful grounds, foyers and nooks. And it's not the breathtaking antique paintings hanging on equally marvelously finished walls, that take your imagination on long magic rides as you gaze at these centuries-old masterpieces (wait a minute, it's not??). As great as all that is, (before even mentioning the piano), it's the human element in this house that knocks the ball out of the park. They are so connected, grateful, sharing, unspeakably decent.
The piano in the picture is their living room centerpiece, one of only a scant few Bosendorfer Emperor Imperial 9 and 1/2 foot concert grand pianos in the country, dripping in gold leaf, gold plate, gold paint, ivory keys and ornate brass cherubs with intricately carved cabinetry. What strikes me more than the piano, is that the family remains so simple and kind in demeanor, dependable and responsible and full of life. It's almost as though they are a farm family, living on hundreds of acres, making everything themselves, giving and taking of the earth beneath their feet. Tonight the farm is having its year-end holiday hoe-down with that spirit.
There will be well over a hundred dear guests tonight, and there are going to be plenty of goodies, spirits, magical things and keepsakes for everyone. Before dinner, everyone will go into the family theatre to see a film of the past year's milestone family events, with messages from friends, noted birthdays, etc. Time is going to pass tonight in a way that will make the evening more precious and warming with every hour, ripening the mood like some sacred elixir.
The children are well-raised and interesting to talk to, home-schooled since well before the end of old-school schooling, each a wonderful combination of youth and brains. I’ve played here for this tribe many times, and the piano is not only always tuned and gratifying to play, but also a privilege that they even let me touch it. Mrs. Hostess has been so loyal to me for many years, for holidays, parents' birthday parties, milestones of note. She's a warm and grounded spirit, glowing in the pending excitement of the party. She cares how I’ve been, always thinking of my best interests, making me feel welcome and dear. That’s always been the start to these evenings, her way of letting me feel that my arrival somehow is the true beginning of the event, which, I know has been fussed over for weeks in advance.
The Christmas tree is at least 18 feet tall, reaching all the way to the ceiling of the main room, and decorated like something out of a Kincaid picture that he could have only painted for his own children. The guests are a mix of very close friends, family, and lucky invited new people. Having played here before perhaps a dozen times, I recognize so many of the same great family friends.
Ultimate concessions? Let’s see, maybe four or more forms of live entertainment on the bill, some going on simultaneously, like an acapella quartet, a harpist elsewhere, a concert violinist, a celebrity singer or two, scheduled to make a stand during dinner, whom I will be delighted to accompany, and thoughtful “attractions” that create a huge amount of joy, for every age of guest. There is an authentic bespectacled Santa, fully-dressed, here for the whole night, for comfort and selfies, along with Santa's equally realistically-dressed wife, always a favorite with kids and moms.
There’s a very skilled gent in the main room with a setup who’s making one-of-a-kind souvenir plastic creations on the spot, made to order, according to whatever you could possibly dream up. A tiny tiger, or maybe a zebra, your spouse, someone’s name, the head of Dwayne the Rock, a caricature of your mother, Fred Flintstone, a palm tree, anything at all that you think of, even a mini-sculpture made just by looking at a pic on your phone. All done before your eyes, out of numerous small pieces of colored plastic that he knows how to assemble and melt until you are completely enchanted, as you carry it away in its cute cellophane bag, probably to share online with 1000 people in the next five minutes.
And Tony plays on, as the atmosphere remains lighthearted and empathetic. In another corner are some young bohemian literary Edwardians, with an ancient typewriter and a stack of blank parchment cards, just waiting for a guest to sit and visit with them for 2 minutes and let them type out a custom mini-poem on their genuine vintage machine, composed all about that particular guest.
Party favors? What an understatement. The family wine cellar manager (not an actual member of the family, but a close friend and trusted expert for so many years now, he may as well be) is in his vast corner bar, ready and willing to pour you any amount of any label from any year that’s worth asking for. Throughout the night he’ll walk around with an open bottle of some exclusive vintage and a couple glasses, insisting that you try it because it fits with the whole event and that your life is not complete without having a nice glass of it immediately.
Well then, now I see Mr. Host's mom coming up to me, wanting to sing a couple of her favorites. She makes me feel like Oliver, the orphan waif who was rescued out of the street by the family, and here is the matriarch now to reassure and comfort me. Though I've accompanied thousands of people, how is it that her grandmotherly voice, softly wavering as she's negotiating some old standard, just audible enough for the two of us, is so comforting,? And when she does this ritual, I’m feeling home again, re-energized and blessed for another year. Don’t change a thing, Mom-of-Mr.-Host.
The black-tuxedoed party staff are carefully filing through the schmoozing guests, with silver trays of scrumptious hors d’oeuvres, cooked fresh continuously in the huge kitchen, which they commandeered probably at 7:00 that morning, with the same chefs that Mrs. Hostess hires for every party. And they know the kitchen as intimately as their own. The guests sit for the supper proper, toasts are made, the scrumptious food is trotted out, and all is splendid.
And then there's the separate, waiting finishing table of baked sweets that is a mountain of dreams. Miniature golden forks, and stacks of dessert plates wait to be piled with of sheets of fudge bark of all varieties, farm-style fruit pies a la mode, cakes galore, fountains of toppings, jewel-box shaped pastries and warm, moist multi-colored cookies of every shape, some with chocolate chips still cooling in semi-liquified finery. Tony plays on, occasionally sharing a cheerful funny remark or cajole with the servers or assistants, with a familiarity that took years to foster.
Mr. Husband Host comes around, asking me how everything has gone with me in the past year, and doing so with such genuine interest it actually makes me think. Therein I realize a huge point: I am allowed to come into their home and share every family moment, any issue, during this five hour plus gathering, and be witness to their emotions, feelings and personal activities. That to me is so humbling and utterly beautiful. Not to mention their marvelous relatives, guests and friends, who, due to such an intimate family setting, end up becoming MY friends too. (This may be the last pre-Covid supergig, but it's the umpteenth and never grander Christmas party for me at this house).
It's shocking because in my own family, growing up, we didn’t have dozens of hired people come into our house on holidays and take over the home and hear our every single laugh, cry, whatever. So I take it as an immense responsibility, and it makes me realize this is what I wanted to do all along, to make people happy in a face-to-face way. It’s a very different kind of entertaining from jazz clubs, bars, conventions, what have you. All of the above-mentioned attributes make this not just the ultimate gig, but really the ultimate supergig.
At some point, Mr. Host gets on the family microphone, and we adjust the permanently-installed family sound system, replete with satellite wireless microphones, multiple hidden speakers and all kinds of gear. He talks from the heart, to the adults and kids alike, eloquently speaks of the value of having the cherished company that are present, and we go on.
A couple hours further, and the evening has dwindled down to a handful of super-close, super-dear guests, in the magical waning late night, when precious wishes are exchanged, once-stout candles have melted into bizarre gargoyles, and the most earnest plans are laid. The voices in the hitherto bustling room, whose decor is still every bit as glittering, are now soft, cooing and faint. The last of the heavy sparkling gift bags and carefully-wrapped goodies-to-go have been given out. Eventually the final sweet note of piano music trails away, I close up, I'm offered any array of drink and cheer a man could dream up, receive the warmest of thanks and wishes from Mr. and Mrs., as we promise each other to do it all again soon. We blow some kisses, and I head out into the dark snappy chill of Christmas promise. I roll on my way back down the cheerfully-lit, fabulous winding streets, back to reality again, yet I'm feeling 10 feet off the ground. If this were ordained to be the last pre-Covid supergig, then I guess it's fitting. Making my way home, I dip a hand into the warm bag of goodies and treats on the passenger seat, that our thoughtful chef had assembled for me. I really must keep a roll of paper towels in the car for these supergigs.