By Deborah Wilbrink
For everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth;
and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Matt: 7:8
The quiet, empty bar featured open doors at one end that revealed a spot-lit lounge. A local jazz band was swinging in full flight. Silently I made the sign of the cross, giving thanks for those who dared to demand and deliver entertainment on a small town’s Sunday.
The matriarch of the local Jazz Society sat doing the books by the lounge door as the electric guitar peaked and subsided, making room for the next soloist. She took my money and issued a nightly membership card. A small, wizened woman, dressed in an embroidered shawl, leather pants and a beret, she shone a wide smile to a chosen few. I was not one of the chosen. I dismissed her coolness as that of urban Yankee origin.
I spotted Precious and moved to join her table.
The music filled me with a longing to do more than listen. A muse began wailing inside my breast in counterpoint.
“Look, Precious, they have vocalists up during the jam. I’d like to try it.” She looked at me speculatively, probably wondering if I sounded more like a cow or a sheep. Did manatees sing?
“What songs do you know?” she asked reasonably. She obviously had not had enough martinis yet.
“Well, what are some jazz standards the band would know? I could learn some of those. I’ve heard them enough on the radio over the years to pick up the tune.” But not their names. I was bad with names.
“Come on, Mrs. Rainey will know.” She dragged me by the arm over to the matriarch.
“Mrs. Rainey,” said Precious, “this is Deborah. She’s got a question for you.”
“Hello, Mrs. Rainey,” I smiled respectfully.
“Hello, Deborah. It’s nice to meet you,” Mrs. Rainey replied. This was our fortieth introduction over the last eight years. She said the same thing every time.
Angered that I was so unmemorable, I managed to say, “I want to sit in and sing sometimes. What are some of the standards I should learn?”
“Buy a jam book,” she advised.
“Thank you,” I mouth, but she’s not listening. Someone more important, or more talented, was at her other elbow. I knew the expense of a damn jam or “fake book”—it was a luxury buy.
The pianist lingered over the last notes of a lonely sound. The trumpet called the sadness home, and the band took a break.
There’s more than one way to skin a jazz cat. Maybe that red-haired pianist would let me come over and try a few tunes with him at home. Best smile forward, I nodded to Precious and approached the pianist before he could slip away.
“That was wonderful,” I opened. The stout man beamed, then shook his rust-red hair back from his eyes. “Who was that last song by? You know, that’s the only thing about these jams that I don’t like. I don’t know that much about jazz, and no one ever tells the names of the songs. They just play.” I gave what I hoped was an engaging dumb-blonde laugh. I never know if it is for sure, since I’m a brunette.
“That one was Charles Mingus. If you noticed the different keys being played in counterpoint, that’s one of his signatures.”
With honed peripheral vision, I saw the old witch looking. She was smiling in our direction, and then rose. She couldn’t possibly want to speak to me, so I’d better make my next move fast! Musicians, egos. Egos, musicians. Plus, Southern courtesy…
“Thank you, I’ll listen for that next time. And you gave the bass solo such wonderful support! I didn’t hear the band introduced either. I’m Deborah. What’s your name?”
The average fellow lost his average look. He gained three inches and began to resemble an angry bear, growling, “Do you know I’ve met you at least forty times over the past eight years? You never remember my name. Why should I tell you again?”
The lights and smoke and noise and ambition died away. A man, a human being, not someone to be used, came into focus. I was a jerk.
“I’m sorry. You’re right. I’m not good with names, but I do remember your playing, and your face,” I stumbled through an apology.
“I’m Rusty, for the forty-first time…Hello, Mrs. Rainey! How are you?”
“Wonderful, Reggie, except for those senior moments. They come even more frequently than when I smoked. But I do remember that this young lady wants to try some vocals.”
I blushed for myself, and for the old woman who could not remember names. But her mistake didn’t seem to matter to Rusty. Mrs. Rainey was just being herself.
“She just has to get her feet wet with some lyrics. You know quite a lot of Billie Holiday. Used to play it with a trio and a vocalist, right? And she’s left town, right?” The old dinosaur actually winked at me!
Lately, I’d been praying for guidance. “Ask, and you shall receive,” and tonight I had. Rusty might not teach me any songs, but he has just taught me a lesson in respect, humility and observation. And, that my ego probably qualifies me for membership in the musician’s club. Just as soon as I learn “God Bless the Child” from that damn jam book.
Still Singing – October 3, 2018 at Betty’s in Nashville.
This is a true report of an event as I remember it. I have changed the names, except for mine.
© 2018 Deborah Wilbrink
Deborah Wilbrink is a ghostwriter and owner of Perfect Memoirs. also a singer songwriter, her music can be found at CDBaby, Amazon or iTunes. She is the author of Time to Tell Your Personal & Family History, which I reviewed on this blog in 2016.