My friend Bob Greene is cool. He is tall, suave, and an excellent cook. Bob is a tennis writer who travels the world to watch famous and not-so-famous athletes whack a fuzzy yellow ball across a net at 100 mph. See what I mean? He even has a cool job.
Bob and I share two essential interests: booze and jazz – sometimes enjoyed simultaneously. There’s nothing better than savoring a velvety Syrah with side of a bebop from Dr. Billy Taylor or sipped under a cloud of moody Miles Davis.
Bob collects unique wines and spirits like Slivovitz, fiery plum wine from Czech Republic, or Becherovka, herbal bitters also from Eastern Europe. “In other words,” he says, “I’m a lush.” We agree that a few beverages in his collection taste like gasoline and might be better suited to removing paint.
Bob’s Maine roots date back to the 1700s. His relatives buried in venerable Eastern Cemetery on Congress Street pretty much make him Portland royalty. He helped establish Portland’s Freedom Trail, Maine’s small but significant piece of Underground Railroad history. Local artist Daniel Minter designed the beautiful brass markers at each stop along the tour. Bottom line: Bob gets things done.
^ Kwanzaa stamp by Portland’s own Daniel Minter, world-class artist and friend of Bob Greene
Bob’s birthday falls on Valentine’s Day. Each year, he throws himself a slammin’ party packed with musicians performing jazz standards from afternoon well into evening. Guests mingle in Bob’s packed “jazz club” – wherever it pops up – with local musical all stars like Flash Allen. There’s nothing like hearing “Your Cheatin’ Heart” delivered in a Maine accent over a plate of fried chicken and mashed-potato salad. (Note: Both are way better than you’d think.)
Pretty In Pink
We also celebrated Bob’s birthday with a monochromatic food event all in pink – from food to flowers. Highlights included pink-rice nori rolls, new potatoes with creme fraiche and caviar, and dozens of briny pink shrimp. Jello creations evoked the fab fifties, and a cheese ball brought back the lounge lizard ’70s. Raspberry birthday cake with delicate, pale rose-scented icing was bliss.
We followed our monochromatic excess with a special tasting of Maine-distilled Fernet Michaud. We’re all familiar with Fernet Branca, served in Italy as a digestivo when a party has gone on a little long. After Bob’s birthday blizzard of piquant pink, a golden herbaceous hit of Fernet Michaud was, as my mother would say, “just the thing.” Go Maine.
To alleviate the boredom of another winter waiting for his birthday, Bob Greene compiles a weekly list of jazz happenings – who, what, when and where. Bob’s got this end of Maine covered with an eclectic, ever-expanding list of venues from Portland House of Music to Dogfish Bar & Grille; Snow Squall to Local Buzz; Solo Bistro in Bath to my townie favorite, MJ’s Wine Bar … and more.
The Music Scene is a good list to be on, and Bob is a spectacularly great friend. Here’s to his robust recipe for a soulful and flavorful life: Eat, drink, and listen to good music. Cheers, Maine Bear!