Sarah Vowell and Louis Armstrong

Sarah Vowell and Eric Bogosian came to the Bywater this week to teach some master classes at NOCCA. They did this for free, to show their support for the city, and for the school, which after the hurricane was in danger of being shut down.

During the Q and A after their public reading, most of the questions were strangly not questions at all. Or they displayed how desperate we're all feeling down here: "What should we do? What will you tell people about us?"

Toward the end though, Sarah started talking about how she had started out as a trumpet player in her youth, and spent her evenings listening to Louis Armstrong thinking that eventually she would figure out how to play better. Instead, what she remembers is this: the way Armstrong altered the lyrics to one song. "We'll sip a little glass of wine; I'll gaze into your eyes divine; I'll feel the touch of your lips pressing on mine." After singing the lyrics unaltered, he goes back them and changes "your lips" to "your chops." Even then, she says, she understood that "your chops" was better writing. So her advice is always "less lips, more chops."

Afterwards, my friend Richard Read introduced me to Eric and Sarah. "...and this is world famous author Ken Foster," he said, which is the neighborhood dog run joke. Sarah and Eric looked confused.


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