We learned last week that Ruth, who owned the Fiver (Femmeren) here in Copenhagen, had gone on to her reward and that the Fiver had locked its doors, unlikely to open them again.
This is a great loss – even in this ancient city of 1,525 pubs. Serving houses they call them – værtshuse – which sounds a bit more elegant. Small humble establishments. The Fiver was among the very best of them, a small brown place located at Classensgade 5 on Copenhagen's east side. It had a fabulous collection of jazz CDs and the atmosphere of a clubhouse – a noir club for men and women, with jazz and cigarette smoke, beer and whisky and vodka, and always somebody to talk to if you wanted that or a quiet corner to sit and read or brood in if that's what you were after.
It was at The Fiver that I first heard the wonderful CD Somethin' Else. It was Lady Alice who brought me in to hear it there in 1999 when I was 55 years old. Ironic because the record was cut on my 14th birthday in Hackensack, New Jersey, a stone's throw from my Queens home across two rivers. But I had to fly over the whole wide ocean to the east, thousands of miles and wait forty-one years to hear that album in that wonderful dark little place in Copenhagen.
Anyone who has never heard that record need only hear the list of its personnel and, if you love jazz, you will hurry out to find it: Juli9an "Cannonball" Adderley on alto sax, Miles Davis on trumpet, Hank Jones on piano, Sam Jones on bass, and Art Blakey on drums. On this album you will hear arguably the very best version of "Autumn Leaves" ever recorded – with Miles on trumpet those leaves will break your heart and patch it up again with the wisdom of pain.
At any time if you wanted to hear Somethin' Else in the Fiver, you needed only to ask who was on duty at the bar – Morten, perhaps – to put on "Elsa," which is how they pronounced it in there, giving the record a woman's name, a woman who was really somethin'!
So taken was I by The Fiver that it became chapter 25 in my book Kerrigan's Copenhagen, A Love Story – a novel disguised as a guide to the serving houses of Copenhagen. But more important than that, it became the place that Lady Alice and I would invite our most cherished of guests visiting from abroad – Walt and Alison Cummins, Bob and Lisa Stewart, Dave Poe and Candy Stevens, Thomas and Lisa McCarthy, David Applefield, and my wonderful publisher, Roger Derham, who was the man who put Kerrigan's Copenhagen and the following three books of my Copenhagen Quartet in print (www.copenhagenquartet.com). If I have forgotten to mention others who joined them there it is no doubt because I'd swallowed too many Stolis that night!
The regulars of The Fiver always made my guests feel right to home. One of my favorite evenings was one that went on to the wee hours with Bob Stewart and Lisa. It was Bob's 60th birthday. That was the night, if I remember correctly, that Bob told the story of his fist-fight, at the age of eighteen, with Chuck Berry – a great story which ultimately became a fine poem, scheduled to see print in The Literary Review.
As we sat there, a prominent musician who will here remain nameless came in – let's call him Niels – and I said, "Niels, I'd like you to meet Bob and Lisa. They're from Kansas City." Niels was delighted because Kansas City was the birthplace of so much great jazz. He sat down and started slinging names of great Kansas City jazz musicians at Bob, but Bob, who knows a lot of jazz musicians, didn't know any of those Niels mentioned.
After a while, Niels stopped slinging names, ordered another double Jack, whipped out some hash and a chillum and lit up. After a few moments of meditative puffing, he looked at Bob and said, "You don't know shit, do you?" A moment Bob and I always recall with relish.
I am pleased to recall that before the great Fiver closed its doors, Lady Alice and I managed to invite our good Copenhagen American friend Dave to join us there one evening. Dave had the foresight to take some pictures, and if I knew how to upload them onto this blog, I would do so.
As mentioned there are 1,525 serving houses in Copenhagen. And I will tell about some of them in future blogs. But now there are only 1,524, and the one that is missing is one that was really somethin' else.
Five seconds of silence, please, and five fingers of Stoli, for the late, great Fiver.
Greetings from this ancient capital!
Thomas E. Kennedy