Let Us Honor the Vice President

Today and forever let us honor the Vice President: Paul Quinechette (1916-1983), a tenor sax man who so perfectly imitated Lester Young’s style — down to the way he held his horn — that they called him the Vice President.

I used to hang out with the Vice President at the old West End Café, on the Upper West Side on Broadway. There at 116th Street, or thereabouts, across from Columbia University, was a wonderful waitress whom Paul and his wife called Freshpot.

It was clear that they loved her, and that she loved them back.

It felt so good to me back then — 45 years ago — to see black and white people as one, old and young, men and women.

I wonder whatever happened to Freshpot?

Freshpot: If you’re out there, can you tell me who you became?

If you survived, I’m sure you were great.

Every human being’s life is a story, worthy of being told.

That being said, here is the nugget the vice president told me.

After the first set, he stepped off the stage and sat down. I’d been watching him for weeks, every Thursday night.

“Are you a hone playah?” the vice president asked, leaning over.

“Umm, yeah. I play the saxophone.”

“Can you finger the horn?” he asked, leaning in.

Oh my god, I thought, what could that possibly mean?

Freshpot brought the vice president a beer.

“Aumhmm,” I stammered, “yeah, I can finger the horn.”

Whereupon the vice president seized his beer and sipped it and leaned back and said: “Well, I hope you can finger it, if you a mthrfckng horn player.”

The reason I bring this up is that those words from the vice president make more sense to me than anything I’ve heard from that other vice president for nearly two years. What’s his name? Pennypacker?

Everyone knew the Vice President had a bit of a drinking problem. Even when he showed up sober, he’d be comfortably smashed by the third set. But you know what? He’d still play like a dream, holding his horn sideways, like the President used to, playing those long, sweet phrases. He could sure finger that horn.

But so far as I can tell, Pennypacker and his boss can’t even finger their horns, and they’re trying to tell us they’re mthrfckng horn players.

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