Artie Shaw, the great swing-era clarinetist, once famously called Bing Crosby "the first hip white man."
I mentioned that quote to Paul Landerman a few years ago, and he said something to the effect that Shaw — who was one of the many celebrities Paul had known personally — was a pretty hip guy in his own right.
Well, just to bring things full circle, let's acknowledge that Landerman himself was about as hip a person as our little city has ever known.
I use the term hip in its broadest sense — to denote someone who is cool without being arrogant, who is keenly plugged into his time and place and, of course, who knows the changes to "Stella by Starlight."
Landerman died Friday night at age 92.
If I have to tell you who Paul Landerman was, you are either very young or a newcomer to Hartford.
Nevertheless, for the record: Paul was a trombonist and bandleader whose career began in the 1930s and flourished for roughly the next 60 years. Later in life, his playing days behind him, he became an agent and booker of musicians, whose agency supplied bands for what seemed like the vast majority of central Connecticut weddings for several decades, until the inexplicable rise of disc jockeys pushed live music out of the way.
Paul was also Hartford's unofficial music contractor to the stars. Back in the '80s, when the town of Bloomfield sponsored a series of glorious free summer concerts called "Sunset Sounds," held on the rolling CIGNA lawns, Paul was enlisted to bring in the talent. The talent he brought in included Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Victor Borge — not a bad lineup for a guy working from a crowded paper-strewn second-floor office in East Hartford.
I have a lot of images of Paul in my personal memory bank, but this is my favorite: On "Sunset Sounds" concert nights, he could be found surveying the scene from his folding lawn chair near the artists' trailer behind the stage, a couple of chilled bottles of above-average chardonnay at his feet. Selected friends would be invited to join him for a taste, and for a new bawdy joke, delivered with the timing of a veteran Catskills stand-up artist. This was a man in his element.
Here's another favorite image of Paul: The setting is the Bushnell Memorial. For many years in the mid-'80s and beyond when I was The Courant's music critic, I would frequently offer my second ticket to classical concerts to Paul. My kids were young and my wife, Nancy, was obliged to be home most of those nights, so I was happy to have the company. And Paul genuinely loved classical music.
Paul and I liked to arrive 20 or 25 minutes before the start time, and we would take our seats and talk. But our conversations didn't last long because almost immediately a stream of people — many of them women of a certain age — would begin to queue up to reminisce with him about some wedding he played half a lifetime ago, or talk about the old days when his band held court six nights a week at the Bond Hotel, or in some cases, seemingly just introduce themselves. (A white-haired retiree by this time, Paul was still one handsome dude, sporting crisp double-breasted suits and a rakish pony tail.)
Paul was like royalty to this stream of grateful subjects. He was also their living link to a vanished age — an age when young couples would don their Sunday best to step out for an evening of dinner and fox trots, when the musicians memorized hundreds of standards so as to never be stumped by a request, and when the guests at a wedding reception or bar mitzvah could converse in a normal speaking voice above the strains of "Moon Over Miami" or "Stardust."
Paul personified that age, at least around here, for years. And in doing so he seemed to be reassuring us that Hartford was a good place to be — a good place to get married in, to have kids in, to go dancing in.
In short, over the course of his long and well-lived life, Paul Landerman, perhaps as much as anyone who's ever lived here, helped to make this city happier. Not to mention a little hipper.
Steve Metcalf, The Courant's music critic from 1980 to 2001, is director of instrumental studies at the Hartt School, University of Hartford.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at