On my way in I stopped at the good coffee shop. Got a large coffee and a rice-crispy chunk and brought them to the club. Upon seeing me enter, the bartender said, “Nice!” He reached up and plucked a couple of glass coffee mugs from the rack. We were set to cluck like a couple of old birds for a half hour before the jazz night starts in earnest. After a good spell, a trio walked in—a jazz-loving dad visiting from Indianapolis, his son who works in town, and the son’s girlfriend. Daddio was excited to have found a jazz club. The tables and a healthy section of the bar were full before the quintet launched into its first song. It was shaping up to be a good night. The trumpet and sax players sounded especially good tonight. They tore through Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, and Horace Silver songs. They were into a funked-up version of Miles’ All Blues when I tagged the cheapskate guy and his wife for the cover. He had danced, swerved, and tried to duck the cover, using the age-old, my-dog-ate-my-homework-style excuse: “We just want to have one drink…” I invited him in and said have a drink, listen to a couple of songs, and leave if the music doesn’t suit you. It was 45 minutes later and they were into their second drink when he reluctantly forked over two Lincolns. The night had cooled down outside when I went out to fold up the sidewalk. An older couple that had really been enjoying the music stepped outside and asked if they could sit down at the remaining table while waiting for their taxi. I said, Absolutely! – Did you enjoy yourselves? “We’re on our first date.” You’re joking right? “Nope, this is our first date,” the lady said.” Excellent, I said. Hope it’s one to be remembered I said with a wink.
Saturday, July 30, 2011
The jazz trio was all soft angles and complexity. On a warm summer night they were what the doctor would prescribe. One out-of-state visiting jazz fan had walked to the club from his downtown hotel. He loves jazz. Loves the urban life but lives in a rural part of the world in a house that’s paid up. He’s surrounded by people who hunt, fish, and listen to country music in their trucks. He’s single and works for a large company with headquarters here. “I’m at a crossroads in my life,” he said. I don’t know man, as The Doorman my advice is to turn left or right, since moving straight ahead will mean more of the same. He nodded his head while deep in thought, no doubt wrestling with the demons of uncertainty. Others arrived. A mature-ish couple were at the bar, clearly at the earlier stages of their relationship. At one point I glanced over and saw the woman’s nylon-sheathed leg stretched over his lap. They were deep in a discussion that I surmised was about the benefits of bonds vs. stocks in troubling economic times—but, I could be wrong. As the night approached closing time, the club had thinned to less than a handful. The trio continued to play their hearts out. A jazz singer walked in. He is the ultimate jazzman with beret, coolness, and swagger. He was called up to sing for one last song, which became three songs. These were the three best songs of the night. I realized that the jazzman has magic in him. He enjoys what he does and through example or sub-text encouragement gets the musicians he sings with to play harder and better. The shaman of jazz.
Friday, July 29, 2011
From my-favorite-gallery-I-have-yet-to-visit, the Red Gate Gallery in Beijing, I received notice of a new Chen Wenling exhibit that the gallery has curated. Wenling is a biggie in Chinese art. He is considered one of the top ten contemporary sculptors in China today. His Red Boys series were created to depict innocence and joy. The color red has been symbolic in China for near forever. The color is said to “express the sculptor’s negation of the pursuit of money and power, tension, anxiety, fear and cruelty in the adult world.” Two themes that are said to surface in Chen Wenling’s sculptures are extreme humanity and anti-materialism. Born in 1969 in Anxi, a small, remote village in Fujian province, China, Chen remembers being so poor that he grew up making figurines out of clay to entertain himself. Fortunately his parents encouraged his artistic talent and sent him to study at the Xiamen Academy of Art and Design, and then at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Those who know Chen may link the Red Boys with one of his unusual experience. In 1996, there was an astonishing article in the Xiamen Daily newspaper, entitled “Rare and Courageous Self-Defense.” It was reported that a young couple were robbed at the beach. The man courageously defended himself and the woman, and was stabbed dozen of times. Arteries of both his wrists were cut open. The article said his body was covered with blood. The hero was none other than Chen Wenling, who luckily survived the attack. Despite this “bloody experience,” Chen’s Red sculptures appear to have no trace of hatred in them.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
I arrived extra early at the club to give the bartender a warning. My daughter, her new husband, and 18 others would be arriving sometime tonight. She’s turning 23 and they have a rented fully-equipped party bus that will be carrying 2o young, thirsty customers. It will be a quick, kamikaze blitz and then they’ll be off to the next destination. “I’m ready,” he said with an unwavering voice of conviction. A few minutes before 9pm a long bus parked in front of the club and I became Dad-The-Doorman as they piled in and pretty much surrounded the island bar. I had forewarned a pair of early customers, who were seated at the bar, of the impending arrival. The couple had found the club in their search for live jazz, hailing from a smaller community about 30 miles south of the club. So, I greeted everyone as they came in letting them know that there’s no cover charge in honor of my cute daughter. One of her friends said, “I’ll never forget years ago I had slept over at your house and in the morning when I was leaving you said, ‘Where did you come from?’” I told her the same thing I tell the jazz-loving customers coming to the club, “Remember, I’m just The Dad (substitute ‘Doorman’ for club patrons)!” The party bus left for destinations unknown about 40-minutes after they arrived. The jazz quartet finished their first song of the night just as the last of them left. I had to reassure the band that the club didn’t virtually clear out because of them or the Dexter Gordon song they started with. I could tell they were riddled with self-doubt and teetering on the edge of the canyon of musician-angst when I said, “Hey, they were enjoying the first song and felt bad having to leave but they were on a tight schedule before the party-bus rental was up.” A few additional new customers had arrived so the band refocused on the night of music ahead. I texted my daughter, thanked her for coming, and told her to have fun—“You only turn 23 once!”
Saturday, July 23, 2011
The sax was so soulful on the jazz quartet’s version of Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” that it required someone with a dancer’s Serengeti-cat gait to strut by. No one with a sensuous, rippling form and delightfully clinging clothes was there to illustrate the music. I was disappointed. The walk-on part was there for the taking. Just needed the right woman or man. Instead, a small group for someone’s birthday gathered at a corner of the bar. They were a pain in the ass—drinking water, soda or air, demanding service, and leaving the bartender’s tip jar empty. They weren’t interested in listening to jazz. They talked loudly and there was a woman among them who cackled like a spotted hyena choking on a mouthful of African thorn beetles. She is one of the reasons why The Doorman will not be licensed under the conceal-and-carry law. However, there were plenty of jazz aficionados here. Two young guys had sat at the bar. The bartender signaled me for a confab: “Did you card them?” I said I hadn’t but that they comported themselves with sufficient maturity that I knew they’re of age. “One is just a few months legal and the other kid is 22.” I figured the bartender told me that as a way of complimenting me on my astute perception. When the young men left they mentioned how much they enjoyed the music and that they feel like they have old souls when it comes to their taste in music. “Next time you come,” I said, “say ‘old soul’ or ‘dead hyena’ and I’ll waive the cover.” Dead hyena, they asked? “Inside joke, but it will work!”
Sunday, July 17, 2011
When the first notes were played this evening, there were more musicians in the jazz club than customers. The seven-member band included two on congas, stand-up bass, drums, electric piano, trumpet, and sax. I was anticipating Tito Puente, Poncho Sanchez, and Joao Gilberto. There was a touch of that, but it ended up being more Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, and Ornette Coleman. As The Doorman, I was a miffed to see a young guy whiz past as I was collecting the door cover from a couple of customers. When I caught up with the grifter, I learned that he is underage and a student of the saxman in the band. I consulted with the bartender and we agreed to let him hear a few songs and then to boot his sorry ass out, knowing that the law doesn’t understand “enrichment and education” as an excuse. I had learned that the saxman has pulled this in the past, inviting students to the club but failing to make it clear they’d need to bring a parent along to make it kosher. There was a young couple sitting at the bar. I had noticed that the young woman had a music case under her feet. I asked what instrument she plays and she said, “The sax…. That’s my teacher playing.” We chatted for a bit in between my door duties. I liked her and her husband/boyfriend/friend. The band returned to the stage for their final set of the night and was happy to see that she had been invited up to play Mile Davis’ “So What.” She was nervous, but played competently. Later I introduced her to the leader of another jazz group who had dropped in. Introduced her as a fabulous sax player who sat in on an earlier song, figuring that like most people all she needs is an opportunity or two to become fabulous. The band leader collected her name and number while saying, “This is great, I always seem to struggle finding a fill-in sax player when I need them.”
Saturday, July 16, 2011
The jazz club is the home for traditional jazz so this night was not typical. We had a jazz fusion group that mixed elements of free jazz, R&B, and psychedelia. The band featured electric guitar, electric bass, organ synthesizer, and drums. Their following was apparent since they were responsible for the majority of the 60-some customers filling the club. Some of the fans were borderline glaze-eyed and nearly all were white and had a deliberately hip appearance with their fashion fusion of expensive organic cotton, thrift shop finds, and odd accessories. One fan insisted on documenting the band with her long-lens Nikon. Her photos will no doubt appear in a gallery located in some hip, rathskeller bar-gallery. To the band’s credit, most of the songs were original compositions, which featured the best of fusion’s ability to display complex time signatures and surprising other-wordly sounds. Rhythms were maintained by a gifted drummer who wasn’t afraid to tap out beats on the rims and use underhand splashes of his King-Kong cymbals. Die-hard fans remained until the last notes. The Doorman had long folded up the sidewalk, shooing away two smoking blondes--one late summer age, the other spring--who clearly had found common ground in their blondeness and smoking habit for a friendly chat, and brought in the LIVE JAZZ & BLUES sandwich board sign, well before the last synthesized note was heard.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
It was a holy trinity that graced the stage. Three seasoned musicians who’ve played together since before NASA invented space… well, maybe not that long but certainly a long time. Guitar, bass, and drums hailing from an out city known for hard work ethic, F-150s, community theater, and heavy drinking. They began their set playing mellow jazz that evolved into namby-pamby smooth jazz. The George Benson shtick may fly in the supper clubs back home, but The Doorman could see they were capable of far more, which they delivered in occasional hard driving tunes. The comfort found in three guys who know each other’s musical moves can pivot either way: the comfortable, familiar flow or the launch pad for testing each others mettle. The trio playing at the jazz club reminded me of a complex, conflicted friend in high school who played lead guitar in an acid rock band. In his heart, he wanted to play intricate jazz chords which he would but in the middle of electric ladyland, when what we yearned for were those ecstatic occasions when he’d lose it—shock of his combed-back hair falling in his face, lightning fast fingering, yanking the whammy bar, and popping the wah-wah pedal. Watching my high school friend play was frustrating because we all knew trapped inside that controlled demeanor was a gifted guitar maniac shackled by his own self doubt. The jazz trio that played left me with that same mix of admiration and three-hours-after-Chinese-food-emptiness.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
As I stood in the propped-open doorway looking out at the city, I noticed them. A sparkle here, a sparkle there—fireflies! I expect to see glow worms in the country, even the leafy suburbs, but not in the urban maze. I took the sightings as prophetic… this night at the jazz club will be good. I ducked back inside to give the bartender my nature report. He was wearing a glum face. I asked..? “I don’t think the band is coming, it’s already past 8:30. I checked my antique gold filigree pocket watch (or maybe it was my iPhone 4) and it was in fact 8:33. “Don’t hack up a cow just yet.” Within 20 minutes, the jazz guitarist, who the quartet is coincidentally and conveniently named after, comes sauntering in all calm and jazz musicianish. Soon after, the alto, electric piano, and drums show up. At the 9:30pm start, everything was in place—musicians, cool-jazz-cat customers, the knickers-knotted bartender, the bored-but-cute waitress, and me, The Doorman. It was a hot summer night—both weather and music (you gotta like a jazz guitarist who slips in a little wah-wah to keep listeners alert). When the night ended and the front door had closed behind me, I looked, but the fireflies were gone. They were either snug in bed or flitting about at a different club.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
My only day at the club this weekend, since we’re closed Saturday knowing it will be dead due to the 4th. I arrived early… hoping to discuss with the bartender an epiphany I had had earlier. Bartenders, by nature, know stuff. It was a hot summer evening… capping one of those sun-blazing hot days. Earlier, walking out into the blinding humid white light, that familiar angst hit me and I understood summer. It’s the sensation that out there, somewhere… a cosmic vortex of fun is happening and I’m not cool enough to know where it is. I’m standing there in the goddamn heat with my crazy sunglasses on, white sun-block stripe on my nose, a water noodle tucked under my arm, squirt gun full, mitt & ball, frisbee, and a water-bottle full of Grape Kool-Aid carabiner-clipped to my plaid shorts belt loop with no idea where anyone is. That’s summer. When I walked into the club, it was filling up and my epiphanous discussion would wait. “What gives,” I asked (rather than, does the hot summer day fill you with despair?). I was reminded that we were getting a birthday party—expect around 40. These “private” parties are always a pain. The invited guests resent having to pay for drinks, expect premium service, never tip the bartender or waitress, don’t appreciate jazz, and are the source of inane comments and questions. “Does the band know any James Taylor songs?” “I love jazz… I listen to smooth jazz all day long at work.” In the cluster, I did meet a jazz lover named Dwayne or Darence or somesuch who is a singer and goes by the handle of D-Soul (“because I have so much soul”). I enjoyed talking with the D man, but restrained from asking him the question.