February 2012

Jeff Winke By

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February 3

From one of the city's ex-burbs they had traveled specifically to the jazz club... a couple celebrating the husband's 49th birthday. When I learned of the special day, I discreetly passed back his cover charge and wished him many more. A small token that will reverberate beyond this couple and their special night. There was only one other give-back this night. A man entered, reluctantly paid the cover, stood and watched the band play a couple of numbers, and then headed to the door. I caught him before he exited and gave him his five bucks, while saying... "It's only fair... hope you'll give us another try some other time." Meanwhile the band was cooking on their version of Eddie Harris' "Cold Duck Time," which was the flip side of the 1969 45 rpm single, "Compared to What" that was recorded with Les McCann. It sounded great. The club was full and the crowd was younger, making the almost half-century birthday boy an elder statesman. The band's second set kept everyone Krazy-Glued to their seats. They did an electrifying version of Freddie Hubbard's "Super Blue," followed by a bass driven version of Miles Davis' "All Blues," in which the bassist growled and scatted through his solo. The crowd kept coming, with a full 15 others filtering in during the quartet's final half-hour of play while I was off the clock and seated comfortably at the bar with a glass of Cabernet. Clearly, we could have remained in the Second Set Bubble for easily another hour with no complaints from the jazz-lovers filling every seat in the club.

February 4

Hope comes in many shapes. It may be Spring's first crocuses. An uptick in the Dow Jones. A comatose patient's flutter of eyelids. For me, The Doorman, hope came to the door in the shape of two young earnest-looking men—one white, one black—friends. They nervously asked if there was live jazz tonight while soaking in the club from top to bottom, left to right. I said the music starts in 30 minutes and there's a five-dollar cover. I then asked, "How old are you guys?" They stuttered out, "18, sir." Their honesty combined with a curiosity to hear live jazz made me want to break the law. I almost said, "See the high-top table in the back right next to the exit? Go outside, circle around the building, enter through the back door, sit at the table, and order two Cokes—Diet if you must. Any sign of a uniformed or undercover cop and I want you to bolt out the door and run like mad." Instead, I said, "I can't let you in here until you're 21." They bowed their heads in disappointment and were heading out the door, when I stopped them. "Listen," I commanded, "look me in the eyes and promise me that in three years you'll drag your sorry butts back here, because you deserve to be here." They responded, "Oh, we will... definitely!" I couldn't help but remember that when I turned 18 the drinking law had dropped a few months earlier to my age. I remember dragging friends to a jazz club I had discovered with the intent of impressing. In the process of showing off, I had unexpectedly learned to truly appreciate jazz. So, where's the hope in all of this? It gives me hope that there are at least two 18-year-old guys out there with an interest in jazz. I hope they get fake IDs that could "fool me"—they need to be here. For the future of jazz, they belong in the club.

February 10

The cool dual played tonight. The old pianist and the quirky singer. The keyboard guy has been playing jazz clubs for a good 40 years or so and always with a soulful, top-notch female vocalist. I call the singer quirky because her goofy personality comes out in full bloom between songs and sometimes when she squeezes out an extra note or two confirming her incredible range that starts from a low earthquake growl and reaches an octave or two beyond Minnie Mouse. One could get the impression that she just doesn't take life that seriously, even though her singing is seriously good. She takes full control of the club when she belts out Dr. Feel Good or God Bless the Child (the Billie Holiday song she, thankfully, sang twice—once at the bequest of a drunk patron, and the second time clearly in the flow of her regular program). At one point, she invited her husband up to join her in a duet of "Unforgettable." He has a voice that would make Al Jarreau hang it up and submit an application to work at the car wash. Together they were honey and whiskey stirred smoothly into fresh-brewed coffee—hot toddy, for sure. And all through the songs was the competent key-tingling of proper-pappa-pianist—elegantly exquisite! The performance was so engaging I almost found myself getting irritated with the patrons entering the club—fortunately my inner Doorman caught me before I blurted, "Come on buster, it's pay or pass!" As the night wound down, and I was relishing my off-the-clock cognac, I got chatting with an interesting-looking couple who were bemoaning the economic gutter that has become the new norm in America. "You must be self-employed," I said to the artsy-looking woman who is accompanied by the equally artsy-looking man. "We are," she said. "We're both artists." She then explained that they are in the process of buying a new home—a foreclosure—located on a several-block stretch of one of the most forgettable streets in the city. She was apologetic about the location, sensing that it doesn't match their artistic personas. My advice as The Doorman: "Don't fret it—you two will make it into a hidden-away oasis of cool." Just like the very cool jazz club we're all in tonight, I thought loud enough for her to hear. She nodded in agreement.

February 17

The club received a steady stream of pleasant-looking couples all night. They all looked happy and made for each other. We could have filled a casting call for attractive-looking couples to fill the background of a prime-time TV show. I don't know if any of them could dance, but if we were in Philadelphia, then Hollywood between 1952 and 1989, they could all be on American Bandstand lip-syncing the latest singles while popping dance poses. We did have a trio of celebrities, of sorts. The two women and the man fit the spiffy-looking people theme that the couples had established. I learned that they are a two news anchors and a reporter from the local CBS TV affiliate. I apologized for not recognizing them (I don't watch TV news since it became tabloid news, although I didn't tell them that). In good nature they said, "We get that response all of the time... probably explains why our ratings are so low." About that time, another trio walked in, which included the singer who had a new CD release party at the club the night before, his cute girlfriend, and a trumpet player who performed in the group backing him up. The trumpet player was called up to join the quartet in a version of Miles Davis' All Blues. A couple songs later, the singer was invited up to sing a few songs and he sounded as good, if not better, as the night before. I was enjoying the music when a man entered the club, looking a little frazzled. "Can I just come in and hear a song or two and have a quick drink? My dog is in the car recuperating from surgery he had yesterday—a tumor removed—and doesn't want to be left home." Sure, I said, he's OK out there? "Yeah, the pain killer won't wear off for another 20 minutes." I settled into my post at the door and listened to the alto in a blistering solo while the trumpet player waited his turn, and I set my internal timer at 19 minutes and counting.

February 18

Jam packed from the start. At one point, a pair of scouts from a party of 10 had paid the cover and stood surveying the club looking for seating. They made it though a Sonny Rollins song and were well into a Horace Silver tune with the quintet cooking on all burners when a second couple from the group had entered the door and they conferred and were agreeing that there just isn't room for all of them. I returned the original couples' cover—only fair. I joined them outside in the wash of neon where I learned that the jazz club is the post-celebration destination for a company party occurring at the luxury boutique hotel a couple blocks away. I suggested they wait... "The band will be breaking in the next 10 minutes or so and half of the crowd will leave—there will be plenty of room, plus the second set will be even better." (Which reminds me of a project I want to pursue—recording the regular Saturday night group's second set. "Second Set" would be the best CD, since the true magic occurs in the hour before closing when the band is loose, daring and sweaty from a night of playing. Some of the best jazz ever played has occurred in that final hour.) I reentered the club and assumed my post as The Doorman—knowing that I can see or learn more by settling into the zen... the taciturn observer sees. I saw the lone jazz-loving young woman with her goofy-looking orange-knit hat. There was the friendly couple sitting at the bar, close to the door. The cute woman would step outside to smoke. As is my custom with lone women smokers, I'd poke my head out periodically to make certain she wasn't being harassed by passing wolves. When the couple left, the man thanked me for keeping an eye on his wife—"just making sure our customers are safe, sir." And there were two interracial middle-aged couples sitting on the floor... bookends. Black man / white woman at one table and a white man / black woman at the other. The couples weren't friends, but they clearly should be. It reminded me that everyone in the jazz club has a story to tell, which I want to hear, but alas... as The Doorman, there are lines of propriety I am honor-bound to observe.

February 24


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