A Few Words with Woody Allen

My chance meeting with Woody Allen leads to talk about music, not movies

One reader responded to my story about a couple of weeks ago by mentioning that she once saw Woody Allen on the street in New York. That reminded me of my Woody encounter last fall at the Toronto Film Festival.

I went to a screening of his film “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” which was followed by a press conference with Woody and some of the stars of the film, including Sir Anthony Hopkins (who, it turns out, likes to be called Tony), Josh Brolin, and the great British actress Gemma Jones.

After an hour of questions and answers, it ended, and my journalist pal Janice asked me if I were going to the party.

“What party?”

“The press party for the film.”

“No, I don’t have an invite.”

“So come with me; be my guest.”

It was 4 p.m. We hopped in a cab, went across town, entered a small, cool, hip bar, ate hors d'oeuvres, drank some wine, then the cars started pulling up outside.

Tony Hopkins got out of one, Josh Brolin got out of one, others go out of theirs. Then Woody got out, walked in, and was immediately surrounded by people saying, “Oh, I loved ‘Annie Hall.’ ” Or “Are you ever going to make another movie in New York?” Or “Oh, I loved ‘Sleeper.’ ” He put up with all of this, smiling patiently, even though he’d heard it many times.

I’d met him twice before, only in group interview situations, but I’ve been a fan since he was doing standup comedy on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

I waited my turn, saw an opening, went up, and said, “Mr. Allen, I just wanted to thank you for turning me on to the music of Django Reinhardt.”

And I meant it. I wasn’t familiar with the great Gypsy guitarist until I saw Woody’s sadly underrated 1980 film “Stardust Memories,” which has a soundtrack filled with Django’s sounds. I now own many Django records and CDs.

Woody was caught offguard. Everyone talks to him about movies; no one talks about his favorite music, even though he plays clarinet with a jazz band most Monday nights at the Carlyle Hotel in New York. He smiled and shook my hand. He said, “Really?”

We went on to chat about Django’s one-of-a-kind genius, about how people have tried to imitate his style but have never really caught his spirit. Then, standing there in the middle of that bar, ignoring everyone else, we talked about Thelonious Monk and Sydney Bechet and all sorts of older jazz.

It was a really magical 10 minutes, and kind of surreal. I wish it went on for an hour.

Jhon May 02, 2011 at 07:54 PM
This is a beautiful piece of writing. Great build-up. Plus it is quite instructive as to what makes great conversation, whether party guest, dating, whatever. Finding that common passion, but doing the unexpected. Cheers!
Anna Rubin May 02, 2011 at 08:49 PM
Hi-I'm the person who passed Woody in NYC. Thanks for this great follow-up story! I love your work and eagerly await your next piece.


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