Escorted by the horned devil himself, a female Frankenstein giggled and declared: “This isn’t it,” before pivoting and not setting one cloven toe or box foot into the club. A feather boa draped tipsy fairy wearing vintage white go-go boots and a black-habit priest, who tried to dodge the cover, did enter. Halloween weekend. Best experience of the night was a young couple that wavered at the door and left. They were hovering outside where I caught them and with embarrassment they said, “Music sounds great…” I motioned them to the door and said, “Sounds better inside… the cover’s on me.” Best comp admission in the club’s 10-year history. They walked into Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, a Cannonball Adderly song and were mesmerized by the driving beat and the soaring alto sax. Relaxing onto stools next to Fr. Cheapskate at the bar, they had found a place for that hallowed night where they truly belonged. Nice to see honest smiles of enjoyment.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Halloween weekend, so ghouls, ghosts, and goblins are out. The jazz club is a safe haven. Jazz-folk don’t dress up, although I’m in my doorman get-up—wearing a dark suit and patterned tie haunted by my corporate past with remnants of demons, demands, and dick-head bosses lurking in pockets and creases. Through the night we had three very tall guys—taller than Frankenstein (no neck-bolts, though)—with lineman girth come in. They weren’t together, which made them frightening. To counter the fear, I imagined them linking pinky fingers and dancing over the earth-green floral carpet and through the candle-lit tables in front of the one-step-up-stage where the trio sustained us with Monk, Brubeck, and Dizzy. Speaking of dizzy, our waitress looked deadly tonight—all leggy and smoky eyed. Someone teased her, asking what costume she’s wearing and she said she’s not in Halloween form, yet. “No,” I said, “tell ‘em you’re dressed to kill.” She liked that.
Friday, October 29, 2010
It requires passion and raw energy to start up a music recording label. Enter Jacob Schoberg who created and runs Keep It Together, an independent / DIY record label based in Elkhorn, WI. The music is produced in retro formats – vinyl or cassette – as well as digital downloads for those without a turntable or deck (fortunate for me, both of our 2004 autos are equipped with radio/CD/cassette). The releases all appear to be low quantity runs, which add value and uniqueness. Clearly, the label is a labor of love since the releases are $3 or $4 for cassettes and $5 or $7 for vinyl. Suggestion: Instead of buying a Hallmark (annual sales in 2007: $4.4 billion) card for your friend’s or relative’s next birthday, buy an equivalently-priced album from Keep It Together (annual sales considerably less than Hallmark). It would support an independent / DIY record label and the bands it records – plus, you’ll be giving a very cool gift.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
As jazz club doorman I am the gatekeeper, controlling who enters. Basically five bucks will get you in. But I’m learning. Our bartender knows how to read people. He’s part therapist, part PI, part psychic. Drunks are generally not appreciated. He is more accurate than a police breathalyzer at reading a customer’s BAL (blood alcohol level). I’ve let people in who just don’t belong in our crowd of music-loving, mature, but generally quirky patrons. I love the idiosyncratic, thus I let in the occasional happy drunk, weirdo, outcast, and life-is-a-stage performer. So, when the 50-something guy, with the greasy cap covering his greasy thin gray hair and a couple of soft bags carabiner clipped to his belt loop, came to the door I let him in. I suppose the wild look in his eyes coupled with his repeat-cycle tirade about being honorably discharged from the Navy Seals, and that he had to dig into one of his bags for a waterproof, aluminum stash can from which he retrieved five moist, crumpled singles should have triggered a red flag or two. As the night wore on, this guy was wearing thin. His special op mission at the club was to find others to speak to. He had bounced from two groups of customers to a couple of guys who had recently arrived and were sitting at the bar facing out to the band. Emboldened by the trumpet players flutter tonguing on a Miles tune, I transformed into Bouncer Man and waved him to me. With my arm firmly around his shoulder, I said “Listen man you really need to sit down and enjoy the music OR I gotta ask you to leave.” He complained that one of the musicians was playing off key and demanded his cover back. Like a bad parent I said: “I’ll give you five bucks, but then you have to leave.” It worked.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
It may be the full moon or the jazz siren’s sweet voice that caused the crowd to grow more beautiful as the night progressed. An early indicator was the woman with the gold bangle earings framing her angelic brown-tone face stepping out for a smoke. “Ahh, the troublemaker’s leaving,” I said with a smile. “You know it, sweetie.” The quartet, fronted by the big voice singer, was into a yearning Indigo Girls tune when I first noticed the plain-as-a-rainy-night couple at the bar transform into fashion-model attractive. Then the two old guys transfixed by a torch song began to look more square-shouldered benevolent. And it seemed to spread throughout the crowd, which uniformly evolved into friendly, beautiful people. Even the figures in the framed Romare Beardens on the moody-green walls began to appear approachable in their intense jazz-playing stances. Mellowness permeated. The door cracked open wide enough to show two faces—a drunken jack-o-lantern guy with his golden retriever, named Mike. “Music sounds great, can I come in?” I couldn’t look at Mike’s soulful brown eyes and doggie smile when I told gap-tooth that no dogs are allowed, Truth is—Mike is who could have fit seamlessly into the pleasant flow.
Friday, October 22, 2010
So, John Bennett writes me to say: It was on this day in 1964 that Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, which he turned down. A week earlier, Sartre had written a letter to the Nobel Committee asking to be removed from the list of nominees, and politely explaining that he would not accept the prize if it was offered to him. But no one managed to read his letter in time, and the Swedish Academy officially announced their choice, much to the embarrassment of everyone.
Sartre wrote a public letter explaining his decision, pointing out that if anyone had noticed, he had turned down every official honor offered to him during the course of his career. And he said: "This attitude is based on my conception of the writer's enterprise. A writer who adopts political, social, or literary positions must act only with the means that are his own—that is, the written word. All the honors he may receive expose his readers to a pressure I do not consider desirable. If I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre it is not the same thing as if I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prizewinner. The writer who accepts an honor of this kind involves as well as himself the association or institution, which has honored him. My sympathies for the Venezuelan revolutionists commit only myself, while if Jean-Paul Sartre the Nobel laureate champions the Venezuelan resistance, he also commits the entire Nobel Prize as an institution. The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honorable circumstances, as in the present case."
Cufflinks are passé, but cool. Most guys find them to be an unnecessary and irritating bit of fashion festooning. That’s why I couldn’t resist turning to etsy.com – the source for hand-made, uniquely crafted items, to purchase a couple of pair for my new French-cuff shirts. Sue Doctor from Haute Keys created a set for me from vintage typewriter keys, while Wm. Dean fashioned my other new pair from old Mercury dimes. Very cool…
Sunday, October 17, 2010
The club fills near capacity… starting right after I bungee the LIVE JAZZ BLUES sandwich boards to the light pole. It is less a living organism pulsing with inflow and outgo all night and more like a collecting tank steadily filling dangerously close to the spill. At one point, I tell a couple at the door…”squeeze in.” They are poster people for a jazz club. Solidly in their 40’s with style and clothes that hold creases. Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Poncho Sanchez songs—as well as the band’s originals—are exactly what they need to hear. The crowd is remarkable only for its size. Poppy red becomes the accent for the evening. First, it’s the black woman who boldly has a swath of it in her glossy relaxed hair. Then Missy, the flower-seller with her poppy-color bangs, making her rounds through the neighborhood bars with her wicker basket of long-stems hoisted high above. And then in the wee morn, at the tail-end of the final set, a young woman with hair on fire and her boyfriend with the black newsboy cap sneak in, cozily sipping sea breezes through the last note. Smugly she knows she’s a 17 percenter. In the US, the sale of red hair dye has gone up 17% since 2000.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
He tells me he turns 28 next Tuesday. We’re at closing time and I’m outside “folding up the sidewalk.” The sandwich board reads: LIVE JAZZ BLUES and the smoking table and chairs must be toted inside. He wants to talk. I want to listen. The trio inside is cooking on Horace Silver’s “Song for my Father,” a request I made earlier, being fulfilled. I should be sitting at the bar with a snifter of cognac, my latest, off-the-clock, free-drink obsession. The young guy tells me he’s a bouncer at a northside club. “Sounds raw, do you like it?” He tells me he hates it and nods his head in the direction of three sweet-as-chocolate young ladies with skirts short enough to make grown men blind. They’re cackling drunk and stepping in spike heels like the sidewalk is a tightrope. “I’ve got two daughters, 7 and 8… never would I let them dress like that.” We hear his massive round friend, who reeked of whisky when I collected their five-buck covers earlier. The big guy’s inside the sparsely-filled jazz spot yelling, “Play it man…bend that bass!!” The club will be locked-up-dark in a half hour and the band appears to have finally found its groove, thanks to the exuberance of the well-lit giant, whose serious young friend shakes his head while watching little darlings spill out into the cool air of the neon bar across the street.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Two random email alerts I receive are from two art galleries – one in Beijing (see my May 7, 2010 post, Deceivingly Simple), the other in Oakland, Calif. I’m not complaining, actually I’m happy to learn about their new exhibits. Some Walls, the Oakland gallery, is a bold, brilliant, and insanely creative concept. The gallery is a couple of walls inside the private home of artist and writer Chris Ashley. A visit requires scheduling an appointment. Annually, Ashley curates six solo exhibitions in his home, which are accompanied by an essay, and documented at somewalls.com. Featured in the exhibits are small collections of recent work by established artists, sometimes made specifically for these walls. The project aims to be international in focus. Some Walls does not encourage unsolicited submissions of artist work—the project’s program and process is well-defined, and Ashley warns that inquiries may not be answered. For more information contact Chris Ashley at email@example.com or visit the site to be added to the newsletter list for Some Walls: A curatorial and writing art project.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
The collage of humanity in its entirety made its way to the jam. Now 76, he learned the blues at age 8, but his mamma told him ‘stay away from that devil’s music, it won’t do you no good.’ When he sings Hoochie Coochie Man, he means it. Then there’s the old trombone man, the only brass playing tonight. Looking like he fell off the circus wagon, he sips his beer frothily and slides notes mournfully into the gaps left open for him. He knows when to harmonize with Jimmy’s enigmatic blues harp, which holds the corners together when the heartbeat of the bass wanders down her own dark alley. With cat’s pivot, he blows the guitar man into his solo. Guitar Man’s licks echo down to the crossroads where devil’s music deals are made. A young gypsy woman with enough age lines on her round face from rough living jumps the stage to wail ‘but you know he is, everybody knows he is, oh you know he’s my hoochie coochie man.’ And the women she’s with shout “you know he is, girl…you know he is!’ It’s building…and building to the epiphany… Big O slaps his keyboard with his giant hands and nods to the guitar player for one last push from his strat. He works it, bending blue notes around the room and clear through the ceiling as the sweaty crowd converges with devil-be-gone yelps and hollers.
Friday, October 8, 2010
The anti-nuclear emblem or peace sign has become one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. In 1958, graphic designer Gerald Holtom, who was a member of Britain’s “Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND),” devised the emblem as a way of quickly telegraphing opposition to nuclear weapon development. After exploring a number of design options, Holtom settled on using the naval flag code of semaphore. He used the code letters for N and D—nuclear disarmament. In 1958, the anti-nuclear emblem had its first use in a protest demonstration against the Aldermaston facility, a British research center for the development of nuclear weapons located in Berkshire. The symbol migrated to the U.S. where it was used in civil rights marches and in anti-Vietnam-war protests (which some American soldiers referred to it as the “footprint of the great American chicken”). Deliberately never copyrighted, the symbol is still recognized in Great Britain as the logo for nuclear disarmament, but is known worldwide for peace and non-violence. No one has to pay or to seek permission before they use it. As a symbol of freedom, it is free for all. Peace-symbols are used everywhere, but I like the little one-inch, union-printed black buttons with a white symbol—the original color scheme—available HERE.