A lazy feel to the night. The Doorman fought the urge to wear an oversize wool cardigan and Acorn walnut-brown sheepskin slippers and sip Irish coffee all night. Instead—as expected—I assumed my post and greeted jazz lovers as they entered the club while collecting their cover charges. A chatty Cathy and her boyfriend were already seated at the bar when I arrived. Unbeknownst, I seated a very special guest within chatty’s range. The lopsided exchange only lasted the length of a root canal before chatty and friend left. The club was sparse all night. The jazz band played well all night, even when the crowd dwindled to a handful. To honor their professional tenacity I imagined the club filled with jazz lovers such as wild-hair Albrecht and Lavinia, the twin Brazilian models Trina and Seraphima, Nicholas and his kept lover Jasper, the bohemian concept artists--Jannie and Tomoko, and the ever cool, quiet observer in the corner wearing polarized Pit Boss Oakley sunglasses, named Bob. The band deserved a stronger showing. I just filled in the seats with an imagined, more memorable audience.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Considering last night’s blah combined with the scammers at the door, I figured that tonight could only be great… and it was. The jazz quintet delivered Herbie Hancock, Sonnie Rollins, Les McCann, Dexter Gordon, and Grover Washington. The place was packed with gentle jazz lovers. It was a pleasant, beautiful crowd. After midnight I got a small group, followed by several more, who were all young—just barely north of 30. They were all good looking… as though a casual fashion wear catalog had spilled its models into the club. They had arrived in that final hour of music where I customarily waive the cover, which I did for them. I was still at my post and thinking it was almost time to fold up the easel-sign outside and turn in my wad of door money when one of the cute young women from the group handed me five bucks and said, “The band is playing so hard, we want to pay for at least one admission.” That simple, symbolic, single gesture smashed my humanity-is-no-better-than-pond-scum sensation I had lingering from the night before. Fortunately, I fought my spontaneous reflex to hug her and lip-smack her cheek. As one would expect, I comported myself within the limits of The Doorman and allowed an ever-so-slight-smile to form on my face and said: Thank you m’am, this unexpected generosity is greatly appreciated.
When I arrived, the jazz trio was already set up. The trio—jazz guitar, electric bass, and drums—was a different sound from what we usually hear. I know this is awful to say—and I likely will regret it at a later time—but it had a plain-vanilla, Muzak feel at times. Both the guitarist and bass player had wonderful and dynamic fingering and the drummer kept the beat moving forward, but…….. Our crowd for the night appeared to enjoy the trio, so I’m hoping my critique is way off. I had two problematic customers who I’ve encountered before that I, The Doorman, handled quite well. The first was a middle-aged couple who tried to walk through me. He said, “We don’t pay the cover; we’ll spend more than enough at the bar to cover it.” I remember them from a previous time and I had let them in, but later when I had checked with the bartender he said “They had one drink and pretty much drained their water glasses several times after that, and didn’t tip.” So this time, I insisted they pay. They paid with his condition that I never agreed to: “If we don’t like the music, you’ll refund one of the covers.” They went to a table and I watched the waitress’ face as they tried their “let’s make a deal scam” with her. Later I learned that they asked what drinks are for free tonight—insisting that they always receive a free drink because they paid the cover. The second problematic customer was the wheelchair scammer. The guy pushes a wheelchair around like it’s a walker and appears to be fully capable of walking unaided. I stopped him outside before could bang his wheelchair through the door and said firmly, five dollar cover. He fumbled in his pockets and pulled out receipts, spent tissues, scraps of paper, and one crumpled Washington. “All I’ve got is a dollar, talk to the bartender, he’ll let me in.” Alright, I said, and closed the door in his face. Went inside, waited 40 seconds, then opened it and said the bartender agrees with me that you need to pay the cover, plus he won’t let you stay unless you buy a drink…. sorry, man.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011
Sunday, October 16, 2011
I arrived early and was relaxing with the bartender when three couples arrived. They asked when the music starts and I said in 90 minutes but come in, have a drink, and you literally will have your own private club. “Capiche?” They bought it, settled in nicely, and became the anchor store to the diverse jazz mall of customers we would be adding. The music started and the quintet pulled everything together. The band was into a Freddie Hubbard tune when two attractive young women stepped outside to smoke. They were out there less than a minute and I had a bad sense, stepped outside, and was greeted by a street person with an “Excuse me sir, can I ask you something?” (always a lame intro to a request for money). As The Doorman, one would expect a snappy response, but I responded with: Sure, ask away. So, he hands me 97-cents and says that he needs $2.25 to take the bus. (O.K., someone explain why panhandlers always need money to get somewhere? They need to “get home” or to another city to “visit my sick aunt.” If a panhandler leveled with me and said, “I need money to get drunk or to buy a twist or a rock,” I’d probably say, Here’s 20 toward your goal—good luck.). I handed his change back and said I can’t help and promptly went inside. Then it dawned on me that I left two cuties out there with the I-need-bus-fare guy, so I quickly went back outside and the panhandler scruff was gone. I apologized to the damsels in potential distress who were chuckling about the whole affair. One of them formed her sweet soft lips into a sneer, blew smoke out, and said, “Don’t worry, if he’d tried to pull anything we would have kicked his ass.” I looked at both of them and could tell only a fool would ever cross either of them. I went back inside and knew that, with them out front, the club is safer than ever.
An unbreakable, kryptonite-strength benefit of being The Doorman at the jazz club is that I get to meet people… well….. sort of. Mostly it's a meet-and-greet “welecome-to-the-club-there’s-a-five-dollar-cover,” but sometimes there’s more. Try as I may to maintain a hard, all-business demeanor, there are those for which I have a WELCOME-mat face. They see right through The Doorman façade and can tell I am actually a trustworthy, nice guy. In some, just looking them in the eyes and asking for the cover becomes a key that opens up an entire speed-dating-style summary of what’s on their mind and who they are. Or there is always someone in a jazz night where I think – “they’ve got a story to tell and I want to hear it.” Countless intriguing people with life stories pass through me at the door, spend time, and leave without being asked and attentively heard. Remember, I am The Doorman, so it can be seen as intrusive and inappropriate if I start doing the whole Studs Terkel interview—tempted as I am. But sometimes interactions occur organically. Tonight there was a couple with intensity in their eyes and plenty of connect-the-dot awareness that I made a point of learning who they are. From what I could glean, they've created a community space for creative ventures and entrepreneurial start-ups. Very intriguing. I was just learning about their organization and the interesting things they’re doing when just like an enjoyable dream, reality entered. “Hey, Jeff,” the jazz club owner said from behind the bar. “The door!”
Friday, October 14, 2011
I have to admit that I’m fond of industrial decay and the faded past. Growing up in the rust belt, where factories and industry were a part of life, it was understood that people worked for companies that made stuff. And having visited and toured a fair number of manufacturing plants I grew to appreciate the aesthetics of labor, machinery, and industrial spunk. That’s why seeing an old, abandoned facility deteriorating or a faded wall advertisement for a long-gone business opens up the imagination. Like many others, I’m drawn to the old factory building that had been a productive hub with people producing stuff until one day somebody locked the door for the last time and walked away. Was there any sentiment before the key clicked the bolt tight? Sadness, remorse, or relief? And what does one do with the key? Is it tossed out? Thrown into a junk drawer? Carried around on a key ring until someone, somewhere after death, while sorting through personal affects asks, “What’s this key for?”
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Sunday, October 9, 2011
It was an odd night, which doesn’t say much. Every night at the jazz club is different. An early couple balked at the cover, paid it, had a drink, then left before the music started. I offered a refund, but they refused it. Oh kaaay? The band started and was especially loud. Sharpened No. 2’s in the ears would have been preferred to some of the notes the trumpet was hitting. Several customers left. When I tactfully pointed it out to the club owner, who believes loud music creates a party atmosphere, it was blamed on someone unnecessarily fiddling with the controls. Oh kaaay? The drummer in the jazz quintet took a solo—not unusual. But what was fun is that he was playing only cymbals. Rhythmic, but furious, splish-splash sounds were filling the club. It was going on record as the first cymbal-only drum solo until the lure of the skins possessed him and he hammered away. To balance it out, he returned back to the cymbals and finished to a rousing applause. Expertly executed. Interesting customers included two different couples trying to maintain long-distance relationships—one dark-haired beauty from the Dominican Republic, the other black haired beauty from Chicago; an old guy with penny candy as his economic reference who snarled “five dol...LARS!” at the cover charge as though it should be 50¢; and a group of young folks dressed in thrift shop finery—two of which are opening an art gallery in a transitional neighborhood. All in all an odd night… oh kaaay?
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Our scheduled group had to do some reshuffling last week. Today is Yom Kippur, perhaps the holiest and most solemn high holiday for the Jews. The band's leader and two members are Jewish and would be observing the Day of Atonement. The tenor and singer, whose voice I absolutely adore, were here, as well as fill-ins for drums and bass. And replacing the group-leader, was an incredible guitarist. When the jazz vocalist wasn’t singing the group ran wild with jagged avant-garde. The singer did an incredible slow-pace, Porgy and Bess-style version of Summertime in honor of our unseasonably warm weather. With door and windows wide open to the warm air, her smooth and controlled voice carried lazily outside the club like a do-nothing summer day. I’ve never heard the song sung more beautifully. As I was imagining myself laying on a South Carolina sand dune soaking up summer, I was happy to see BPB show up. Big Pappa Bear is the name I’ve chosen for a customer who looks like a huge brown bear. When he filled the doorway a couple of weeks ago, my initial thought was this guy could be trouble. Then I looked into his dark, big marble eyes and could see he’s a gentle spirit. He has a giant smile, huge laugh, and a timber-rattling voice. We connected. Tonight, when he showed up with his lady, he gave me a bear hug that compressed all 24 of my ribs, the sternum, costal cartilages, and the 12 thoracic vertebrae. He settled at the bar and later when the tenor who plays in the house band was called up for a number, BPB—being familiar with the musician’s talent—boomed out “THAT’S MY BOY!! HE’S SO COOL! LOOK AT HIM, HE IS SO COOL!!! The bear had spoken. And everyone in the jazz club and even those outside walking past, had heard Big Pappa Bear speak!
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Monday, October 3, 2011
The night started early. A delightful middle-age couple arrived while I was enjoying a pre-night’s coffee with the bartender. They came to the jazz club to celebrate their one-year anniversary. He’s an early 50’s city bus driver and his bride is in her mid 30’s—both jazz lovers. Then a group of seven arrived which included an attractive young couple. The young woman was wearing a dramatic royal-wedding style hat and her partner wore a Colonel Sanders style tie and a cream and brown fedora. I was asked if there was space to dance while I watched the hatted couple survey the space where the horn players stand. I said we’re not a dance club but that sometimes people will dance in back or on the side. The dramatic couple and their crew were clearly hoping to take control of some space to ply their talents. The trumpet player arrived and staked his claim, planting his music stand right in the middle of their imagined ballroom floor. The rest of the musicians showed up and the music kicked in. We were a good two or three songs into the night when the couple commenced dancing on the opposite side of the room from the horn section. The club’s cocktail tables are arranged on the floor in front of the band stage, so space is limited. The dancing couple quite sensuously engaged in their dips, grinds, and connect-releases. The young lady’s lithe form and asset became apparent through her moves. It was clear that they required a grander stage for their ballroom dancing exhibition, when a large jazz patron popped their illusion of fluid foreplay as she squeezed past them on her way to the Ladies Room. After the song had climaxed and the dance repertoire had ended, the couple politely listened to another song from the jazz quintet before leading their entourage out the door in search of a more appropriate venue for their breath-taking performance.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
The jazz quintet was on fire. The keyboard player was exceptional—tickling, pounding, and stroking the keys like he owned them… which, actually he does. But you get what I mean. He was hot! The crowd was super receptive. A couple of tables near the stage were occupied by a half-dozen young women with long flouncy hair who literally squealed when the bass player finished some complex, cat’s cradle-type fingering solo and whipped out his double-bass bow to finish the song. He could have wiped his face with a towel—ala Tom Jones—and tossed it to them and we’d have had bedlam. Close to midnight, a woman appeared at the door. I told her the cover is 5 bucks and she asked, “What do I get for it?” I said, Live jazz and my endearing friendship for life. “I doubt the later, but I’ll take the music.” It’s her last night in town and she had been looking for good jazz, which she found here. She grew up in Watts and “escaped it by using my brains.” She’s a medical auditor, traveling to various assigned hospitals to interview the staff and perform process audits. She contributed to the enthusiasm of the crowd fanning down the tenor as he wailed on his signature Grover Washington, Jr. tune. I trust her audit report on the jazz club would be positive… very positive.