Celebrate With Olive My Stuff

Generations of Westporters loved Oscar’s. One of the main reasons was longtime owner Lee Papageorge.

Another reason was Ali. One of Lee’s 2 daughters, she grew up in the downtown hangout. Like her father, she welcomed regulars and newcomers with friendliness and energy.

Ali always loved retail and service. Last March, she started opened a consignment shop. Olive My Stuff is named after her youngest daughter, Olive — Lee’s grandchild.

Ali, Lee and Olive Papageorge.

Her store is on Main Street — in Monroe. She would love to be on Westport’s Main Street, but rents are prohibitive.

Her goal is to build her business, move here, and serve some of her dad’s former customers.

This Saturday (March 24) marks her first anniversary. She’ll celebrate with prizes, refreshments, and pop-up vendors.

Olive My Stuff is hip and eclectic. Oscar’s fans will recognize Ali’s unique style.

Plus, they’ll see a photo of Lee Papageorge, in a place of honor at the front counter.

(Olive My Stuff is at 590 Main Street, Monroe.)

Ali Papageorge, in front of Olive My Stuff.

Photo Challenge #168

In 1906, Westport got a library.

It was a gift from Morris Jesup. A successful businessman, whose money came from selling railroad supplies, he endowed the building on on the Post Road (then called State Street), near Main Street.

The cornerstone was laid in 1906. Michael Calise, Daine Silfen, Matt Murray. Michael Brennecke, Stephanie Ehrman, Rosalie Kaye, Lawrence Zlatin, Janice Strizever, Robert Mitchell, Bobbie Herman, Eva Lopez Reyman, Jonathan McClure, Seth Goltzer and Dede Fitch all recognized Lynn U. Miller’s image. To see last week’s photo challenge, click here.

The library grew, expanded west, then took over the 2nd floor. In 1986 it had outgrown its original home, and moved across the street, past Jesup Road and up the hill, to landfill that had once been the town dump.

The old library is home now to (among others) HSBC Bank, Starbucks and Freshii.

Today, the library is in the midst of another transformation. But none of it would have been possible without Jesup’s philanthropy.

The Westport Library was not Jesup’s only gift. He was a major benefactor of the American Museum of Natural History. He also commissioned a 5-year anthropological expedition to Alaska and Siberia. The northernmost piece of land in the world, at the tip of Greenland, is named Cape Morris Jesup.

In 1908 — just before he died — he donated his old home as a parsonage for the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

This week’s photo challenge comes from Molly Alger. If you know where in Westport you’d find this Stonehenge-like formation, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Molly Alger)

Remembering Buell Neidlinger

If you read the comments section on “06880,” you know Buell Neidlinger. He wrote often about old-time Westport, music, and topics of the day.

Buell commented most recently on Friday morning. That afternoon, he died. He was 82 years old.

Buell was one of the most interesting readers I know. He led a rich, fascinating life, most notably in the music world. Read on to learn more.

Buell Neidlinger

A resident of Whidbey Island, Washington, he arrived in Westport in 1938, at 2 years old. His parents rented a house on South Compo Road. Buell went to Bedford Junior High, then St. Luke’s in New Canaan.

He spent one year at Yale, then floated around. He returned to Westport, working in Frank Zack’s “high-class haberdashery” downtown.

He sold aluminum windows. Meanwhile he practiced bass in a warehouse, playing along to records.

Max Kaminsky, a famous jazz trumpeter renting in Westport, convinced Buell to move to New York — superb advice. He backed Billie Holiday when she played clubs, during the last years of her life.

In 1957, Buell Neidlinger played at the Newport Jazz Festival with pianist Cecil Taylor. (Photo/Bob Parent)

The first hit record Buell played on was Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” He went on to play and record with Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, Elton John, Dolly Parton, the Carpenters, the Moody Blues, Barry White, Whitney Houston, Ringo Starr and Bill Monroe.

He hung out with Pablo Casals — in Westport. (Click here to read about that encounter. For more on his youth here, and his Westport recollections, click here.)

Buell had not been back to Westport in decades. But he discovered this website, and rediscovered his hometown. That meant a lot to him.

From time to time, he would call. “This is Buell,” he’d begin. Though we never met, we felt like old friends. In a gravelly voice, he’d describe some long-ago adventure in town. He’d ask about an old landmark. Then he’d apologize for taking my time, say, “I’ll talk to you soon,” and hang up.

Buell died suddenly — just hours after commenting on “06880.” His Whidbey Island friend Drew Kampion sent more details on his extraordinary life:

Buell’s gone, but the music lingers on through nearly 70 recordings made in a 60-year career in the music business. As a bassist, he backed up many who became household names. But name recognition or not, Buell could hold his own in any musical setting.

Buell Neidlinger (center), flanked by Roy Orbison and T Bone Burnett.

He was born in New York City on March 2, 1936 into a privileged life. He was exposed to great musicians from an early age. His music training began at St. Thomas Choir School at the age of 7, where he also began playing the cello. He became accomplished on the instrument.

At Yale University he became interested in the bass. By age 25 his jazz apprenticeships with Joe Sullivan, Herbie Nichols, Dick Wellstood, Vic Dickenson and Oran “Hot Lips” Page had led to recording and performance gigs with Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Rex Stewart, the Gil Evans band, and Cecil Taylor (whose bassist he was for 7 years).

Composer Gunther Schuller encouraged Buell to further expand his classical abilities (and hired him to participate in history-making Third Stream concerts at Circle in the Square). He also joined Sir John Barbirolli’s Houston Symphony, and moonlighted around Texas with Arnett Cobb, Little Esther Phillips, Bobby Blue Bland, and James Clay.

The recipient of a Rockefeller performance grant in 1965, Buell worked closely with composers Mauricio Kagel, Sylvano Buscotti, George Crumb, and John Cage to develop new string playing techniques and sounds, giving premier performances of their compositions worldwide. He freelanced with Stokowski’s American Symphony, City Center Opera, the Budapest and Amadeus string quartets, and small ensembles led by Igor Stravinsky, Karl Richter, and Schuller.

In 1967 he became a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Erich Leinsdorf, and joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music, where he helped establish the jazz department.

In 1971 he moved to Los Angeles to teach at CalArts. He was chosen by Neville Marriner to be principal bass with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, a post he held for 8  years.

Buell Neidlinger and his wife, Margaret Storer, on the Warner Brothers sound stage in 1993. The big blue trunk carried his 1785 Italian bass.

In LA Buell began an extensive recording career. He played in hundreds of major Hollywood movies from the early 1970s to the late ’90s. He recorded with Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, The Eagles, Elvis Costello, Earth Wind and Fire and Frank Zappa, to name a few. He also produced recordings of his jazz ensembles, toured Europe and America, and produced other artists, such as Leo Kottke.

In his spare time he presented master classes in chamber music and jazz at Aspen, Tanglewood, Eastman School of Music, Harvard, New York State University, Rotterdam Conservatory, and the annual San Luis Obispo String Seminar.

Buell was larger than life. The same passion he brought to his music carried over into his relationships, sometimes resulting in fireworks. He was rarely lukewarm about anything. He brought a full set of emotions to everything he did. He cared deeply about music and our world. Those who knew him intimately found him to be an extraordinarily sensitive and kind man, and felt privileged to be his friend or musical associate.

His wife, Margaret Storer, was also a professional bassist. They were an elite team on the studio and film circuit in Los Angeles, and after they moved to Whidbey Island. They were married for 36 years. She was his love and his rock. He also leaves behind two children, Mike Neidlinger and Miranda Neidlinger.

In his later years, Buell played around Whidbey Island in many venues. He could be found entertaining customers as Billy the Cellist, playing Bach cello suites at the local coffee shop, or with his favorite string quartet, while eating chocolate and telling stories of his long life in the music business.

Buell Neidlinger playing in a coffee shop on Whidbey Island. He called himself “Billy the Cellist.”

Alec Baldwin, Kelli O’Hara Headline Playhouse Gala

A. R. “Pete” Gurney died last June. He was 86 years old.

The playwright holds many distinctions — including most-produced playwright in the Westport Country Playhouse’s 88-year history. Since 1980, the historic theater has produced 21 of his works.

A.R. “Pete” Gurney

Playhouse artistic director Mark Lamos also has a deep association with Gurney. He has directed many of his longtime friend’s plays, both off-Broadway and at the Playhouse. Some were world premieres.

At Carnegie Hall, Lamos diected Alec Baldwin in Gurney’s “Love Letters.”

So with all those connections, it’s no surprise that the Westport Country Playhouse’s annual fundraising gala features Mark Lamos directing Alec Baldwin in Pete Gurney’s “Love Letters.”

The cast for the old-friends event (April 12) also includes Westporter Kelli O’Hara, a Tony Award winner for her portrayal of Anna in “The King and I.”

Lamos first met Gurney in the early 1980s, while running Hartford Stage. The writer’s understanding of the “New England WASP gestalt” fascinated the director, who saw in Gurney’s characters some of the company’s board members and donors.

“He absolutely captures the sound of a generation of upper-class people,” Lamos says. “He hears their voices, and makes them real. He’s at the end of a long tradition of people like Henry James and John Cheever — New England-based comedy of manners writers.”

In addition, Lamos says, “Pete has a wonderful sense of humor. He has a talent for fine-tuning a joke — or taking it away.”

Mark Lamos

Twenty years ago, when Lamos and his husband moved to western Connecticut, Gurney invited them to dinner with Arthur Miller. Gurney, Lamos and their spouses became good friends.

Over the years, Lamos directed Gurney’s “Big Bill,” “The Dining Room” and others.

Since joining the Playhouse in 2009, Lamos has appreciated Gurney’s long association with the Westport theater. Jim McKenzie — executive director there for 41 years — loved the playwright’s work, Lamos says.

He’s proud to keep up the tradition.

And looking very forward to the April 12 gala, which raises funds so the Playhouse can continue producing many more intriguing, entertaining and thought-provoking plays.

By Pete Gurney — and others, too.

(For more information about the April 12 Spring Gala, including tickets, click here.)

The Westport Country Playhouse

Pic Of The Day #334

Today’s strong winds were perfect for kitesurfing at Compo Beach (Photo/Nancy Lewis)

A Modest Proposal

As reported yesterday, neighbors don’t want 11 homes built on the site of the former Daybreak property off Main Street and Weston Road, near Merritt Parkway Exit 42. They cite traffic and environmental concerns.

And Westporters don’t want a medical marijuana dispensary on the Post Road either. Two proposed locations are too close to elementary schools.

The solution is obvious, and perfect: Instead of 11 homes on Daybreak, put a dispensary there.

Problem solved!

Westport Rocks! The Greatest Stories Ever Told

If you don’t know Westport’s musical history — concerts at Staples High School by the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds, Rascals, Animals and many more; the Remains, perhaps the greatest band in history never to hit the big time; REO Speedwagon’s 157 Riverside Avenue — you must be living under a rock (ho ho).*

But hey hey, my my. Rock and roll can never die.

So mark next Wednesday, March 21 (7 p.m.) on your calendar. Michael Friedman’s Gallery in Bedford Square is the site for one of Westport’s liveliest musical events ever.  

The owner’s stunning photographs of everyone from Janis Joplin and Mick Jagger to the Band and Johnny Winter (another former Westporter) serves as a backdrop for a Moth-style session about rock ‘n’ roll.

Among the storytellers:

Former Paul Butterfield Blues Band organist, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Mark Naftalin.

Mark Naftalin: A keyboardist, recording artist, composer and record producer, he and his fellow Paul Butterfield Blues Band members are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Crispin Cioe:  A sax player and songwriter, he’s played and recorded with James Brown, the Stones, Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Ray Charles and the Ohio Players.

Roger Kaufman: A noted local performer with the Old School Revue, Roger worked last year with the Smithsonian Museum to archive, preserve and pay tribute to Steve Cropper, the legendary Stax guitarist who played on classic songs like “Knock on Wood,” “Midnight Hour” and “Dock of the Bay.” Soon, he’ll archive materials with Weston’s own Jose Feliciano.

Rob Fraboni: A producer and audio who worked with Bob Dylan, the Band, Eric Clapton and the Stones — and who as vice president of Island Records oversaw the remastering of the entire Bob Marley catalog. Keith Richards called him “a genius.”

David Bennett Cohen, with Country Joe and the Fish.

David Bennett Cohen: The original keyboardist, and also a guitar player, for Country Joe and the Fish.

Wendy May: She’s spent the last 20 years performing with Charlie Daniels, Kenny Chesney, Mark Chestnut, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., Marty Haggard and many others.

Dick Wingate: In a long career with labels like Arista, PolyGram, Epic and Columbia Records, he worked closely with Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann, Peter Tosh and Pink Floy, among others.

Michael Friedman: In addition to photography, he worked as a publicist with the Mamas and the Papas, Bee Gees, Herman’s Hermits and Glen Campbell, and was an artist manager for Dylan, the Band, Janis Joplin, Gordon Lightfoot, Todd Rundgren, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge.

Rusty Ford: He co-founded Lothar & the Hand People, the psychedelic band that was the first to use a theremin and Moog synthesizer in live performances. He also played bass with the Beach Boys.

Lothar and the Hand People

Also on the bill: Bari Rudin and Caissie St. Onge, comedy writers who have worked with David Letterman, Phil Donohue, “Saturday Night Live,” Rosie O’Donnell and Joan Rivers.

Incredibly, every storyteller is a local resident. This area remains rich in rock history. We don’t have to ship in stars. They’re right here, living as our neighbors and friends.

They’ll each speak for about 8 minutes. Every one though has a lifetime of stories to tell.

* Let’s not forget the Hall & Oates “concert” too.

(Tickets for “Rock & Roll Stories” include food, beer, wine and an auction. It’s part of the Westport Library’s week-long “Flex” series, which features a celebrity lunch with Sam Kass and Jane Green, a conversation with Ruth Reichl, movies, a dance-a-thon, a family day, gala party and much more. Click here for information and tickets.)

Pic Of The Day #333

Lift by the river (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Westport’s Neat New Restaurant: OKO

First it was a fire station.

Then it was De Rosa’s Brick Oven Pizza. Eventually the tall, slender building on Wilton Road became Neat: a coffee shop by day, wine bar at night.

Now the former Vigilant Firehouse — tucked between Bartaco and The ‘Port — will become OKO.

Chef Brian Lewis

The Japanese restaurant has great promise. It’s the latest project for chef Brian Lewis, who draws raves for his innovative cuisine at The Cottage in Colonial Green.

Lewis has studied Japanese cooking techniques for many years. He’s layered Japanese influences into his cooking. But when he introduced the Okonomiyaki — a savory Japanese pancake filled with seasonally inspired ingredients — to the Cottage menu, he realized he was on to something special.

Guests loved the dish — “Japanese street food with some rarefied touches,” he calls the immediately popular dish.

But it’s not easy to say “Okonomiyaki” (unless you’re from Japan). So, in a non-tongue-twisting tribute, Lewis is calling his new venture OKO.

Lewis will of course include local ingredients on the OKO menu. An opening date has not yet been announced.

But the sign went up this afternoon.

If You Didn’t Have A March Madness Team Before, You Do Now

It’s pretty hard for a 7-2 guy to fly under the radar.

But — at least around here — Paschal Chukwu has.

The Syracuse University junior — ranked 14th in the nation in blocks per game — is apparently from Westport.

His bio on the Syracuse website lists this as his hometown, and his parents as John and Sheila Featherston.

Chukwu did not — very unfortunately — play for Staples.

He spent 2 years at Trinity Catholic High School. (Where he played soccer — a sport he loved in his native Nigeria — and scored his team’s only goal in a 7-1 loss to the Wreckers.) He then transferred to Fairfield Prep.

Chukwu played one year at Providence College, before transferring to Syracuse.

You can watch him at 9:40 tonight (CBS-TV). The Orange take on Texas Christian.

TALL BASKETBALL PLAYER FUN FACT: I once saw Manute Bol on Main Street in Westport. He and Chukwu are 2 guys I really look up to.

(Click here for Paschal Chukwu’s full bio. Hat tip: Bill Ryan)