Monday, December 17, 2012
As night sweeps over the city... bringing out the sparkles and neon of light, I am at my my post as The Doorman at the jazz club. I am the gatekeeper troll and Mr. Rogers. I catch the overly aggressive and encourage the timid flighty. I am the force for good and evil. Tonight we have a sparse crowd, but those that come... stay for most of the night. The quintet keeps them glued in place, playing superbly. The horn players demonstrate repeatedly that they are both exceptional. The trumpet / fluegelhorn player blows clear crystalline ice, while the tenor, alto, soprano plays molten fire. A father and teenage son enter. "I want my son to hear some jazz," the dad says. "You've come to the right place...the cover is five bucks for you; your son enters free as a guest of The Doorman." On the spot, I institute a new policy: a parent bringing an underage child to the club with the express purpose of edifying them to jazz music and culture shall only pay for their admission, while the kid enters free. They enter and disappear into the club. I loose them until the night starts to finish with the last few songs. I'm off duty, enjoying a beer from the nearby boutique brewery. I look over and see the two of them at a hidden high-top, thoroughly enjoying the music. The horns were in an incredible overlap exchange--trumpet and soprano sax--pushing each other and supported by the drummer laying down a complex beat pattern that by rights should require three drumming arms. The son goes to the men's room so I seize the opportunity to speak to the dad without embarrassing the son: "You're a good man," I say. "I try," he responds. "And succeed," I finish his statement. I tell him that it's incredibly cool that he brought his son to the club and that they're always welcome.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
Mellow jazz guitar quartet. A couple sitting at the bar near the door proved interesting. The guy steps outside to have a smoke as I was propping the door open to let cool fresh air in. We get talking and I learn that he has history working jobs through a temp agency. Long term--like years--at these jobs. He had been security at a huge music hall that brings everything from metal to hip hop to country. Currently he works at a huge web-press magazine and catalog printer. "Any chance of being hired direct?" He says: "I don't have a car, so I can't get there and I can't afford a car 'till I get paid better." So he lives a Catch-22 life of treading at $8 an hour with the temp-agency van driving him to work and back. Been doing this for years. I was happy to see again and old jazz cat. A wizened face and black beret. Said to him: "Good seeing you, it's been awhile." He recently returned from New York where he was helping on his son's campaign for Congress--going door to door in Harlem. Tells me he turns 84 in four months. His life: Born in Texas, near Louisiana border...orphaned, then adopted...troubled youth...joined the Air Force when facing a join or jail choice...his all Black unit were guinea pigs in jet propulsion testing, 16 died during the testing...got Bachelor's and Master's at George Mason University...married a Jewish woman in the 1960's which was a convictable offense (the police chief and circuit court judge at the time would have gleefully arrested him and locked him up)....went to Kansas to get married...raised five kids, all successes...helped found a neighborhood association in one of the city's first integrated neighborhoods. He mentions all the hassles in trying to uncover his roots. My advise is easy, but I think pretty accurate: forget about your past, you’ll hit nothing but dead ends and misery when faced with your slavery lineage. You are living a successful life and you're the grand patriarch of a wonderful extended family. The history starts with you, my dear friend. You are the center of your family's universe!
Sunday, December 9, 2012
The club is empty when I arrive. The bartender as soothsayer predicts we'll be busy come 9:30pm. Turns out he received calls from several groups a bit earlier. A woman with two others crowded behind her announces that she has a public TV membership card entitling her to two admissions for one. Didn't want to spoil their little field trip, so I honored it. We probably won't see any of them again, but it won't hurt when they return to their deep suburban fortresses and can talk excitedly about their dangerous night out to the jazz club. Another group that crowded the doorway is a bunch of scrub-faced underage kids. I begin to dissuade them, since I'm continually reminded to not allow the under 21 set. I learn that they're a part of a jazz class. The teacher arranged for them to visit but no one told me. They were admitted with pinky swears they won't try to drink. The horns in the jazz quintet are on fire tonight--actually everyone sounds good. The packed club is in for a treat. I finish the night and have seasonal beer at the bar. I'm enjoying the last of the night's music when I become aware that someone has sat next to me. He's an older man...a clear jazz lover. We get talking about all the big name jazz greats who've visited our city over the years. He tells me about a relative who was working at a venue that got him in to meet Miles Davis, which is cool. An attractive woman leaves her man friend at the table to step up to the bar to order a drink. I tell her I'd like to get a photo of her and her friend for the club's Facebook page. She hesitates and says she's 40-years-old and on a blind date, courtesy of match.com. Her date seems fine to me, but she's not pleased. It's got to be tough to date with experience, expectation and reality all vying for a place in a yeah/nay decision on whether to invest the time in getting to know someone new.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
The jazz club is filling comfortably tonight. When I first arrive, I sit at the bar with the bartender and share a cup of coffee. A couple of women walk in and sit at the bar and order drinks. When the bartender serves them, he says to me: “I’ve got their cover charges.” I couldn’t help it, so I say: “I don’t know… two beautiful women… I’m not sure I would have collected a cover.” They’re flattered and literally giggle. My intent is a compliment, which is how it is taken (I think), but I think afterwards: “You idiot… don’t say stuff like that because it can easily be interpreted as being smarmy.” Later I learn that they are a daughter and mom—the daughter bringing her mom to enjoy the jazz music. How sweet is that? A guest vocalist joins the quintet tonight. She incorporates African chants, as a form of scat singing. She does a very interesting West African tribal chant as a prelude in the Horace Silver “Song for my Father.” She’s delivering the chant with vim and power while the keyboard, bass, and drums lay out an extended baseline for her exotic vocals. A young blonde woman jumps out of her chair, throws her arms in the air and dances freeform hippie style. She runs back and pulls a young Asian gentleman into her Dawn of Aquarius dream state. Only in America does it seem so natural that in a small jazz club there can be a black singer singing indigenous West African chants that move a blonde white woman and her Asian friend to spontaneous, impromptu dancing.
Saturday, December 1, 2012
No jazz tonight. A trad R&B band is pleasing the full house. Those old enough to remember the songs being played from their youth gyrate next to kids who wish their music could be this good. The band during this first set is really not that good, but the crowd is forgiving. I don't doubt that the musicians and three singers aren't all great, but it's too much like a high school football game where every player is doing their part but forgets they're a part of a team. Their version of Mustang Sally is a cylinder short of a V-8 Shelby engine. Toss in the band leader's repeated requests for affirmation--"You-all having fun yet?"--and it is becoming challenging to be sober. Fortunately, the second set is much better. Music and vocals are harmonizing. Any missed notes aren't as apparent as the first set. It's actually a credit to all on stage that they have tightened things up and are so in sync after it was clear that they hadn't played as a group before. What's not to like about the Theme from Shaft, Brick House, Papa Was a Rolling Stone, when delivered with verve and passion. The house is silenced when a timid woman steps on stage and up to the mike. She mumbles something softly and the audience courteously waits. I’m thinking (as no doubt everyone else).... Please God, don't let this be a train wreck. She opens her mouth and sings a Billie Holliday song in the same voice as Billie Holliday. It was exquisite and what it had to do with the rest of the music no one knows or really cares. From somewhere in the cosmos, Billie is smiling and maybe even guiding this poor woman as she sings this random song.
Friday, November 30, 2012
H. T. Webster, aka Harold Tucker Webster, was a prolific cartoonist who drew more than 16,000 single-panel cartoons in his career from the 1920s into the 1950s. He disliked his given name so his readers knew him as H. T. Webster or simply as Webster, which is how he signed his cartoons. Webster grew up in Tomahawk, Wisconsin. He sold his first cartoon for $5 when he was 12 to the magazine Recreation and studied drawing from a correspondence course when he was 15. Two years later, he left Tomahawk and high school, moving to Chicago to attend the Frank Holmes School of Illustration. A few weeks after his arrival, the school closed, thus ending Webster’s formal education.
Webster’s most famous syndicated cartoon series is The Timid Soul featuring Caspar Milquetoast, a wimpy character whose name is derived from milk toast. Webster described Caspar Milquetoast as "the man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick". The modern dictionary definition of milquetoast (meaning a very shy or retiring person) comes from Webster's cartoons.