Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saturday Musings, 31 January 2015

Good morning,

My friend Vivian and I dined at Jazz last evening,  The hostess saw two women alone and offered us what she clearly felt would be an inferior table but we grabbed it.  We sat right behind the band, listening to a splendid mixture of Motown and blues.    I went a little crazy with my order.  I got the seafood platter, a tender breaded flash-fried fillet of catfish, sweet batter-fried shrimp, and succulent bits of fried oyster.  I sprang for the up-charge to get sweet potato fries.

Then Vivian shanghaied me well past my bedtime, to the Green Lady Lounge, and the incredible keyboard work of Mark Lowrey.  I had no idea that ethereal music could flow from a person's hands without effort or thought.  The piano accompanist from the opening act stood to one side of the dusky cellar room. I could see envy and awe stamped on his face.  Mr. Lowrey wooed the scarred baby grand and the stand-up bass player, a kid not yet out of college, carried every note to the clouds.  

And then, of course: I fell into a time warp, and found myself in Eureka Springs, in the fall of 1991, when my weekend squire played bass guitar in a jazz fusion band.  He hired himself out as back-up for visiting performers at night and built houses with a crew of five using only hand-tools during the day.  His town sat on the east side of the mountains, forty-five minutes from my home in Winslow south of Fayetteville.  We saw each other on weekends but on a cloudless Thursday night in October of that year, I drove the distance to hear him play with an old blues singer from Kansas City.

I can't recall his name.  I can picture him:  a big, loose-boned man, sitting on a low stool in the evening air, on the stage of the small amphitheater.  The musicians tuned their instruments and the sound man checked the mic. The old man regarded me, the lone early attendee, with glistening brown eyes.  He shifted and his suit jacket moved across his shoulders.  I watched him rebutton his vest without paying any heed to the movement of his fingers.  I could see his starched white shirt collar rising above the knot of his skinny tie. He lifted his shoulders and sent a shudder through his body, those bony hands running down his arms.  I made no move to speak to him, to tell him I had seen him play at the Grand Emporium or somewhere east of Troost.  Or both.  I just sat, waiting, while a few people drifted down from the shop-lined street and eased into chairs around me.

The singer left for a while, before too many folks arrived.  When the sound-test finished and the back-up band took their places, somebody spoke the guest performer's name and he strolled back out, now with a hat on his head and a glass of something in his hand.  He sat back down, and set the glass on the stage and opened his mouth.

Mourning flowed from him, rolling clouds of it; and joy too, in easy pillows.  He vocalized unbidden and unchecked, briefly pausing to sip and tip his hat at the front row between numbers.  He pulled a mouth organ out from a pocket at some point and sent its music wailing above the tiny Ozark town, into the heavens, shared with the stars.  He slid it back into its spot without thought and opened his mouth again.  He did not so much sing as he preached; did not so much croon as cry.  He led the band and they followed with the valiance of youth, of lovers, of loyalists.  And after ninety minutes the stage fell silent and the man stood, adjusted his hat, and softly walked off-stage while the small crowd stood at their seats and gave him a lusty ovation.

After the little concert, Marc introduced me to the man.  I mumbled something about Kansas City and he surrounded one of my hands with both of his.  He nodded, eyes gleaming. I wondered about the glass he carried on stage. I could see the lines on his face, the pitted skin, the grey around his eyes and the grizzle of his beard.  He pulled away and moved towards his belongings, extracting a cigarette, reaching for a bottle.  I watched him walk away and closed my eyes.  His voice came back to me:  I held onto that, as Marc and I strolled down the sidewalk to another jazz bar, another act, though nothing which could compare to the lingering echoes of the blues man from Kansas City.

Here in that city, twenty-three years later, my bones creak and my knuckles protest.  The plates at Jazz  provide a modest serving, which helped but even so, I awakened at 3:00 a.m. with jangly legs, a heavy stomach, and swollen hands.  Gluten, grease, and salt:  triple whammy.  A wiser woman would feel regret.  What I thought:  But oh, so worth it.  Every savored memory of New Orleans floods back to me now, along with memories of that extraordinary, star-lit night in Eureka Springs.  What a life -- what a life I have led.  Laissez les bon temps roulez.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.