Atlantic City's Sandy Warren has penned 'Art Blakey Cookin' and Jammin': Recipes and Remembrances from a Jazz Life,' about her relationship with the late jazz drummer and educator.
When I first met Sandy Warren, she was living in Ocean City and she invited me into her home to talk about a man who she lived with (at the intersection of Mill, Tilton and Shore roads in Northfield) for several years, loved for many more and whose son, Takashi, she raised in the Northfield and Ocean City areas.
I went to interview Warren about her relationship with one of the most famous, influential and inspiring jazz drummers/performers/teachers of all time — Art Blakey.
Turns out, following that initial conversation, we would meet several more times to talk about Blakey and Warren's many memories of and with him — stopping into long-forgotten jazz clubs in Atlantic City in the late '70s unannounced, Blakey trying to ride his bike up and down Shore Road, or the meals they would cook together in their Northfield home, with fresh veggies that Blakey loved to pick up himself.
Warren, a local freelance writer who specializes in food and cooking writing, as well as interviewing big stars — such as Dr. John, a personal friend of Warren's who she interviewed for AC Weekly in February 2009 — has been working on a new book about Art Blakey related to his culinary side for several years. In fact, when I first met her in 2005 she had already started working on it.
Finally, in January of this year, the book, entitled Art Blakey Cookin' and Jammin': Recipes and Remembrances from a Jazz Life, was completed. In August, the book's Louisiana-based publisher, Margaret Media, sent Warren a final copy.
Warren waited a couple months to officially launch the book, which she did on Oct. 11 (the late Art Blakey's birthday) in New Orleans.
"We did a big launch party at Garden District Books in New Orleans," says Warren, during a chat from her Atlantic City home. "And the week of [related events] ended with an Art Blakey tribute concert!
Warren also held off on doing any book signings for the new book until after the official launch in New Orleans last month. Since then she has done a successful book signing at the Ocean City Library ("we sold a lot of books!") and plans a bunch more in the near future both locally and throughout major cities across the country.
Her next scheduled book signing will be Dec. 17 at Bogart's Books in Millville. To find out about other local book signings and where to purchase the book, visit the Web site cookinandjammin.com.
Back in 2005, Warren told me how much of an impact Blakey's cooking had on her.
"I would not be a food writer now, I'm sure, if it had not been for Art introducing me to different kinds of food," Warren said at the time.
But the 187-page hardback book is not only full of recipes. There are also more than 20 never-seen-before pictures from the Blakey family album, as well as two related pieces by South Jersey artists. And, of course, there are Warren's remembrances of life with one of the true messengers of modern jazz.
"The book is really as much fun for foodies as it is for jazz people," says Warren. "And of course if you're both than you'll love it even more. There are lots of Jersey-fresh recipes and some really good New Orleans recipes too."
Upon reading the book, Warren says most readers have told her that it's like they were sitting in their living room with Warren, listening to her wonderful stories.
"They say it's as if I was just chatting with them about Art and my life with Art. They felt it was a very personal story and that's exactly what I wanted it to be. So I am more than pleased."
ABOVE: Warren shopping in New Orleans during her recent book-signing visit.
Warren held the launch party for the book in New Orleans because she holds a tight connection to the city, even though she grew up in the Midwest, meeting Blakey during a Manhattan night club performance in the late 1960s. She had hoped that her friend Dr. John could make the October festivities, but his tour schedule didn't allow for it to happen. He did, however, write the forward to the book.
"Dr John's forward is worth the price of the book alone," says Warren. "When he tells you how he met Art, that is worth the price of the book. It's too funny to be fiction; it's got to be real life."
For $16.95, the hardback book is available online at cookinandjammin.com, as well as other online retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Locally, Warren is working with several book and music stores — including Sun Rose and GrassRoots Music stores in Ocean City — to have them carry the book in time for the holiday shopping season.
Warren points out that part of the proceeds from the book's sale will go to local South Jersey charities, as well as the New Orleans Musicians Clinic and Voice of the Wetlands.
"It not only makes a good gift to one's self, but to one's friends and family too, because part of the proceeds will go to wonderful causes in New Orleans as well as local causes. I think more and more people these days, when doing holiday shopping, want to buy gifts that are more meaningful."
The book's cover features a photo of Art Blakey and his young son Takashi in Smithville. The photo was used for Blakey's album 1977 album Gypsy Folk Tales and is Warren's favorite picture, featuring her "two favorite people."
Full disclosure: Along with a pen and ink drawing of the home — which is still there — where Warren and Blakey lived together in Northfield by Somers Point artist Kathy Arleth, the book includes a charcoal drawing of Art Blakey by this writer, done specifically for Warren's book.
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When Art Blakey, the legendary jazz drummer (and 2005 Grammy lifetime achievement award recipient), lived in Northfield during the late 1970s and early '80s, he could not help running his bicycle into the side of the 507 NJ Transit bus, which, at the time, stopped right in front of the home he shared with his longtime companion, Sandy Warren, and son, Takashi, at the intersection of Mill and Shore roads. "The bus driver would just sit there and look at him," remembers Warren. "He just never really learned how to ride his bike. But he kept trying because he thought, you know, that's a nice thing that you can do in Northfield--you could ride your bike. "It's so weird because you think of someone talented enough to be the world's greatest drummer, who can close his eyes and throw the sticks up in the air and catch them with his eyes still closed and never miss a beat - that he should be able to ride a bicycle and do some other things that require a bit of dexterity. He couldn't. Drumming was the only thing that required dexterity that he could do!" Thank heaven for that. In the decades after the Pittsburgh-born...
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