The jazz club was rolling Proud-Mary-slow at the start and then suddenly it seemed like Tina Turner’s legs were dancing and kicking people through the doors by the van load. One large group clogged temporarily at the door as they searched among themselves for cash. They were all in the debit-card generation—under 30. I assured them that they could put their covers on their bar tab but they must have sensed my reluctance. I find that the government’s failure to phase out paper money in favor of coins pretty amusing since the debit / credit card will do it for sure. It started in 1971 with the big Eisenhower silver dollars and then the quarter-size Susan B. Anthony dollar and then the Sacagawea dollar and then most recently the presidential coin series. Because of budget constraints and increasing stockpiles of Sacagaweas and the president series, minting for new dollar coins was suspended on December 13, 2011. The plastic card will triumph, probably followed by retina scans, tattooed bar codes, or implanted points. The new world order. To connect with a couple sitting near the door, I mentioned that the bass player with the exaggerated Italian name had received his over-the-top name after returning from a trip to Italy. They found it amusing and said they themselves are going on a 10-day trip to Italy in three weeks. I was able to connect them with the bass player when the group broke after the first set. Serendipity is wonderful and magical… hip, hip, urrà!
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Saturday, April 28, 2012
The night started slow. We had accumulated around 10 people and the threat started to linger that we'd hover there all night. A couple came and were charging past me when I caught them. They looked incredulous that I was asking for five buck covers from them. They looked around and saw only a few people at the bar and said: "There's no one here, why do we have to pay." The band was into Duke Ellington’s "Things Ain't What They Use to Be," when I bit hard down on my tongue rather than unleash what was on my mind. Instead, I said, "The crowd arrives later so you may want to come back then," and showed them the door. I hoped I was correct. It was early and the place did start to fill. One couple who entered saying, "This place is great. We've never been here before." They are the kind of people our jazz club dreams about. They were walking past and heard the music, which drew them in. For fun I asked them to give me their life stories -- from birth until now -- in two sentences. With little hesitation, the woman said: "In sixth grade, I faked playing the clarinet when I was in band and I just bought a new super-comfortable pillow-top queen-size bed I plan to snuggle in tomorrow because it's supposed to be raining." The quintet grooved into the Hank Mobley song This I Think of You when I thought, ahhhh, a hedonistic woman who doesn't reveal her inabilities. The club had filled to that critical point where if anyone left, it wouldn't look full. But the crowd that was there was beautiful and they hung in there to the end.
Monday, April 23, 2012
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Moochers. That's what we were getting at the jazz club tonight. Anytime we host an event, they show up. Tonight we were celebrating the band leader's birthday, so the club owner and birthday boy invited everyone they knew. They had generously decided to donate the night's cover charges to a charity that benefits animals. They modestly drew a parallel to the band leader and St. Francis of Assisi. I expected to see him with a halo of colorful songbirds, frisky squirrels scurrying about, and a doe-eyed doe or two staring up at him. Instead we had the detritus of society who expected free admittance by using passwords of their own device. Granted, I am just The Doorman and this is just a jazz club, but I felt like I was on a mission to help the least of the generalized "us" in the world. In my mind's eye I saw a cute, but pathetic-looking chipmunk face looking at me with its yearning beady eyes which say "help me, help me!" Fortified by the chipmunk image, I resolved to collect the five buck covers from everyone who walked in. That's why it grew irritating to hear the give-me-a-fee-pass excuses that included I've-known-the-band-leader-for-years, we-used-to-be-neighbors, I work with him, and the worst of the lot was a group of several well-dressed men who had worked with the previous governor and are now political lobbyists--professional moochers! When I reminded them all that the cover charges are going to charity and point to signs and the flier that explains it, they would give me a look like... "Come on... Is that the best scam you can come up with?"
Saturday, April 21, 2012
It took several songs before her quirky personality came through. What makes the show enjoyable is the dramatic contrast of her powerful voice set against her goofball demeanor. It's just her and an old school piano player. Stripped down to the fundamentals: voice and rhythm. It's the piano lounge, except for her Aretha-size voice. The jazz club is accustomed to bigger sound or maybe The Doorman is. Her voice can fill the club, but there's frequently the lingering "if only." Every time this duet has played, I yearn for a stand up bass or a restrained tenor to make the scene complete. On many of their songs it feels like the family photo with a key relative missing. The jazz gods smiled on us and a tenor appeared in the audience. During the break the deal was sealed and the tenor sat in on several songs. The tenor is accustomed to full-throttle, chain- him-to-the-bandstand squeals and vein-popping vibratos. Tonight, he showed restraint and judiciously filled the holes that both he and I saw that were there. He played a couple of songs and smartly underplayed to let the singer's voice dominate. It was wonderful. The tenor was retreating to return to his seat when the piano player laid down a heavy beat with his synthesizer and the sax was called back for their version of Down Home Blues. The pinnacle of the night was when the singer, her husband who also is a terrific singer, the piano man, and the sax belted out a version of Fever--the Peggy Lee song. A cozy couple sitting at the bar caught the fever and were into full-on plecostomus-mouth kissing (anyone who has owned a fresh-water aquarium knows plecostomus as the o-mouth algae-eaters that spend their lives attached to the glass with their tongue-thingies rasping and sucking--they are actually kind of gross to watch up close). So, the night peaked with “You give me fever when you kiss me - fever when you hold me tight” and the couple’s sound of slurping filling the spaces between the notes.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
We have two young tenors who play at the club regularly. In their mid-20''s, both are insanely gifted. I was talking with one of them before he played tonight. "Swear on your mother's breath, you'll never blow town (knowing I was asking the impossible)." He's clearly destined for a larger market. He said he's not going anywhere for three years, then he's off to grad school for his MFA in jazz studies. He loves to teach and he loves to play. Two paths that could run parallel or diverge. I'm not sure whether to be jealous of his raw talent and clear destiny or feel pity to be plagued with singular passion. There's no escape. He is a jazzman. And tonight, we get to hear him blow his heart out. The club was filling. There was a loosely-formed group of a half-dozen or so sitting at a couple tables up front. It was hard to tell who was with who since at any time one or more would wander up to the bar or someone would enter the club and join them. At one point, I admired the jazz hats that three of the men wore. One was wearing a hideous plaid fedora that sort of went with the clothes he had on, but sort of didn't. As I observed him throughout the night, it became clear that he was pulling it off. The ugly hat worked. The band was into a Hank Mobley song, "This I Need to Be," when the leader noticed the other tenor sitting in the crowd. After the song he yelled to him, "Have your horn handy?" (which is like asking "Does the Pope wear underwear?"). The tenor man retrieved his tenor from his car trunk and stood next to the other young tenor buck. They launched into a deliciously long version of Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. They played together flawlessly, then took tuns for solos, which showcased their individual styles ant talent. In the way they played together it was crystal clear they like and respect each other -- two jazz amigos. They pushed each other to exceptional playing -- and the rest of the band too. The outstanding keyboard player pounded out one of his most complex and stellar solos which made my jaw drop even further. If we all died during this song, it would be debatable whether heaven could be better.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Monday, April 9, 2012
I arrived early anticipating a healthy size crowd. There was a dozen or so jazz patrons spread around the club. I chatted with the bartender a bit before circulating among them to collect the cover charges. One gentleman had a stack of glossy, ad-postcards in his hand and told me he was waiting for the club owner to arrive and then described a theatrical show that his daughter created. The cards were for her show. He described a number of her other creative accomplishments and big names she has worked with. Her dad is clearly proud of her and is her No. 1 fan. Being a student of the effects of birth order on an individual’s drive and success, I asked where his daughter fits. He said: “She’s our second and now only child – her older sister was recently murdered just two days before the opening of a play she had written.” What an incredible tragedy. I told him that and offered my condolences. I felt bad having to leave him there staring at this sorrowful jack-in-the-box I had inadvertently sprung open. I moved on and sincerely wished that he may have that possibility some day. A couple I know entered and I tried to wave them in without paying, but my friend would have nothing to do with it, saying, “The music is great and we want to support it.” As the band kicked into a Dexter Gordon piece, I thought this will be a good night.
Sunday, April 8, 2012
Just like the box of Whitman’s Sampler Assorted Chocolates, the album “Mazatlan Sampler” provides an incredible collection of musical talent residing in Mazatlan, Mexico. Keeping with the theme, the album is subtitled “ear candy from Mexico’s Pacific Coast.” Each song is different from the rest, but all are very good. There are 15 songs on the CD performed by as many musicians or groups. There are a few original songs, but most are covers of old American favorites. The majority of songs are sung in English. One gets the feeling that the American expat community in Mazatlan must be vital, which makes sense since Mexico has the largest population of Americans living abroad, with the number reported to be well over one million. The song selection gives the CD a nostalgic yearning… perhaps a longing for a lost American youth? Or maybe an America that was left behind. Even the jewel case design, ala the Whitman’s Sampler box, is a tug at the past. Probably much like the warm-breeze weather of Mazatlan, this CD is best enjoyed on a summer day or night with a cerveza fria or tooling down the highway with the windows rolled down. The musicianship throughout the album is excellent. You’ll hear marimba, wah-wah, and slide guitar. And some incredible vocals. The CD is really ear candy. Click through to the Mazatlan Music Lovers Club page for information about ordering the album, which I recommend that you do. Oh, and don’t be put off by the quoted price of $120—that’s in pesos. The current conversion is a little more than $11 US.
Thanks to my friends Jim & Marilyn for bringing my very own copy of the Mazatlan Sampler back from their home away from home.
Saturday, April 7, 2012
A disappointing night as far as music. I had been looking forward to this jazz quintet all week -- buffing my shoes, pressing my trousers’ razor-sharp creases, and choosing the right tie from either my corporate-enslavement collection or my vintage ties collected from deceased relatives, thrift shops, or rifling through friends' closets when they are unaware. (I'm joking about that last part -- I am not a closet snooper). All of the above activity is standard prep for The Doorman. But, as I was saying... I took extra care for tonight because I truly like this group. The first disappointment was two of the five musicians were stand ins--albeit seasoned jazzmen, but still new to the mix of musicians and their songbook. Without a practice session, it would take at least two or three songs before they would jell. Second, the mike for the jazz singer, who accompanies the quintet, was on mute. It was excruciating to hear her exquisite voice being buried under the group's initial floundering for cohesion. And lastly, the group took a break with barely an hour of play in--which meant that anyone with an ear for music left. Our modest-sized crowd was immediately halved. I felt totally WTFed. Fortunately, the mike was fixed and the band found its groove, but that was at just-beyond-the-half-way point of the night. It was nice to hear the trumpet and tenor in sync. Their individual solos had been wonderful, but they always sound best coming from a baseline of harmonizing. The group did a terrific version of Mary J. Blige’s My Life, before it was time for me to fold up the sidewalk easel sign proclaiming LIVE JAZZ & BLUES and retire to the bar for my post-door-duty Jameson, neat.
Sunday, April 1, 2012
The club filled quickly and the music and drinks kept them velcroed to their chairs and stools ‘til the end. We had a wonderful mix of people, which underscores that jazz is the great communal connector that embraces diversity. We had all ages, races, and sizes. We had the 21-year-old-by-days daughter of the bass player show up with her equally young date. There were four or five interracial couples combining pairs of African American, White, and Asian people. We had an easily 7-foot tall gentleman enter the club who folded himself into a chair (without anyone inanely asking if he plays basketball). There were gays sitting comfortably next to straights. And there was the rough-hewn, leather-clad couple who look as though they’ve survived more than a couple barroom brawls. They were all here with one purpose…. to enjoy the jazz group’s original music interspersed with Dexter Gordon, Coltrane. Monk, and Horace Silver tunes. With the club packed to almost fire-code capacity, there was current coursing through the crowd and the quintet. It was electrical.