It was fancy. The upscale foreground of downtown Mizner. The romantic bistro patio sets. The fresh spring air and all the good looking people enjoying it. Back then, this was Saturday mornings at Nostalgia’s Cafe at downtown Boca Raton. Our Friday nights were spent picking out tunes to play and rehearsing in one of the university’s music rooms. We took it seriously back then, but we had tons of fun. We were amateurs. But we had gigs for sure. I was part of a now retired jazz trio. I don’t even remember what we called ourselves. We were just a weekend band. A hobby. A shared interest in playing the same type of music. I’ve been in a couple of different genre bands. Yet this one in particular was the creme de la creme, a certain favorite. It was challenging and just as exciting. The experience was almost spellbinding. It was fancy, for sure.
Bill Evans meets Monk piano, a solid tenor saxophone, and a jack-of-all-trades vocalist comprised this jazz trio. I was the fortunate vocalist. The pianist was the talent. Our saxophonist was the glue that filled in the gaps to keep us sounding intact. We were the unlikely amateur trio who somehow got gigs at random places. We played mostly jazz standards, some contemporary, and some hard bop. We did two sets of an hour each with a short break in between. We got paid a decent amount of money and got free lunch as well. We also got some good exposure as we were right in the heart of the downtown plaza. When I wasn’t singing, I sat on my Walmart-bought gig stool, played the egg shakers or the tambourine, or just hung around talking to our listeners, waving to those who curiously strolled by. We weren’t great. We were good enough. However, people received us with such genuine enthusiasm; it was addicting. It was really nice.
I remember one of the many Saturdays we did; I was to do “Good Morning Heartache” as a tone down to our otherwise energetic set. This was one of my favorite standards. I sang it to my heart’s content, finished the song, and heard the few guests who clapped their hands ardently, yelling, “Brava!” even. At that moment, I knew I had fallen in love with the music and that I was going to carry it with me forever.
Before then, jazz was just something I listened to. It was enticing to me. Complex and mature. Jazz was emotion laid out in scales and chord progressions. Being a music enthusiast, that was all I paid attention to when I listened to jazz, chord changes and solo variations and such. I never took it to heart until my “Good Morning Heartache” moment. I was always surrounded by it throughout my life. From the rag of Joplin to the cheeks of Gillespie to the twinkling in Duke’s playing, I was a fan of them all. Coltrane, Ella, Pastorius, Dinah, Corea, Billy Holiday and Sarah Vaughn, Danilo Perez, Cannonball and Marsalis, Charlie Parker, Count Basie and Brubeck, Hancock and Keith Jarrett. I can go on and on and on and on. Jazz to me was a mental departure to the norm. It was art. Beautiful in its complexity. Elegant in its various forms. Reaching deep into the core. Like miles deep. Like Miles.
It’s been some time since I sat down to soak in some jazz. Today was the first day in a while. I was looking through random online radio stations and the word “jazz” popped off the screen. I immediately looked for “Kind of Blue” online, the masterpiece of the master trumpeter. I played the whole album on YouTube, and I was immediately transported to Saturday mornings at Nostalgia’s. I even pulled up my old jazz books and picked up the guitar to play a few jazz pieces. I sang too. I definitely miss singing jazz songs. They’re so other-worldly and different from what we hear now; I sang the damn old tunes and I felt like I was teleported to a different time. My daughter kept looking at me like, “What’s wrong ma?” But eventually, she took to the trumpet and started dancing to Davis. It was a beautiful thought: to keep playing the complexity of jazz for my kids, to let them get to know the greats that so many people don’t acknowledge anymore.
Much like our jazz trio, Nostalgia’s Cafe no longer exists. I even tried to look for a photo on Google as back then, their promo pic included our trio. I should’ve downloaded it for memory’s sake. But I guess it’s something that will stick with me for a while as this type of music will never get lost or die out. Matter of fact, I still have the fake books out. And I will play again tomorrow. Time to jazz it up, so they say.
Here’s a link to the whole “Kind of Blue” album on YouTube posted by Art Magus, if interested: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhVC4H_hWhI. Enjoy!
***The photo was taken by myself a few years back. The lady was singing as a guest vocalist for the Susan Merritt Trio during one of their regular Friday open jam nights at the Fire Rock Pizza Kitchen in Downtown West Palm Beach. I, unfortunately, don’t know her name. But she was a beautiful singer.