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POETRY + MUSIC = INSPIRATION?
Remember that scene from “The Big Sleep,” where Bacall (a sizzling Sternwood) purrs “And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine,” at Bogart’s Marlowe? Jazz aficionados looking closely, will notice that the piano man bears an uncanny resemblance to Mel Powell (1923-1998), boy genius who played with Benny Goodman in the 40s. We chanced to meet Powell circa 1986 at a conference held by Norman Cousins for Chinese and American writers. At its close, a salon was held in the home of playwright Jerome Lawrence (“Inherit the Wind”). Before Powell’s arrival, Lawrence explained that he had invited a “famous” friend who had been severely depressed for years, unable to work, ailing and using a cane. We were asked not to pester the man. There was a baby grand in the room, and Cousins boldly urged Powell to play. Lawrence chimed in. Powell was reluctant and invited anyone to join him. My husband egged me on: “Now, honey, here’s your chance to sing with the great Mel Powell.” Nervously, I joined him, hastily recalled the refrain of a recently written blues poem (“mean-lovin’ woman”), and quickly explained the “sound.” He laid fingers to the keyboard, gave them seconds to think, went into a flourish, and voila duet ala improvisation. Genuine applause and photo session followed. Powell forgot his cane at the piano. Within months, his name reappeared in the entertainment news. Not only was he recording again, he was composing—receiving a Pulitzer Prize in 1990—all because, we liked to speculate….