My Father Meets Oscar Peterson at the London House, Chicago, 1962
There they are, standing in the soft light at the back of the hallway where the restrooms are. OP is between sets, and my father walks up, holding his hand out and thinking, “He looks like Big Daddy Lipscomb.” Because it’s my birthday and I’m shy and he has heard “all those notes” on records spinning behind my bedroom and he wouldn’t come into the room, he is holding out to OP a pen and slip of paper, which I find 40 years later folded neatly in a wooden box in a closet. The writing is huge, florid, and shows no sign of the arthritis that will cut down his club dates and concerts but make him no less a pianist. When my father sits back down at our table, triumphant, he turns to me and says, “Ah, the guy’s a soft touch.” He is still talking during the next set when OP plays “Whisper Not.”
Sunday Matinee at The Plugged Nickel, Chicago, 1963
Between sets, they look more like accountants or lawyers than jazz musicians, a scribbled sheet laid out between them, Horace Silver and the bass player new in his group who looks nervous and confused. Will it sound different to him as it will to me? We have played all the albums over and over, waiting.
Not old enough to drive or drink, most in the audience take trains and walk to get here, the only club in the city that lets us in to hear the music live. We call the players by their first names. They’re like our friends, who are somewhere else dancing to “Our Day Will Come” by Rub and the Romantics or “Let’s Hang On” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. We don’t dance. Two musicians look bored, sparring and jabbing, looking toward the bar that stays closed.
One Sunday in this club, as he soloed on “Agitation,” Miles Davis stopped, walked to a table, grabbed the tape recorder, and kicked it, the fan choking, “It’s not mine, man, it’s not mine.” Miles walked out the front door, the band still prowling on its own.
Now Joe Henderson’s tenor solo on “The Natives Are Restless Tonight” burns in the late winter afternoon light, burns longer than the whole track on the Song for My Father album, which won’t be released for almost two years. When Horace comps, it’s like he solos too, so when his turn comes he sounds shy at first and spare, like the poems we write after school. On trumpet Woody Shaw, who will go blind from diabetes and at 44 fall to his death from a subway platform, slides through his solo on “Dimples.” Then it’s Joe’s tune “The Kicker” and short sign-off theme which means no encore. Mike, the short, huffy owner, holds the door open for us to leave, and he’s counting.
Heading home in the snow, we know nothing about pent-up aggression and inner city turmoil and don’t know that in 1954 music was “narcissistic libidinal activity” in Dr. Margolis’s Theory on the Psychology of Jazz, which I will read someday. Back in the club, alone on the stand, Gene Taylor picks up his bass, breathes deep, and plays, over and over, the bridge on “Filthy McNasty.”
Originally published in This Land, Vol. 5, Issue 20, October 15, 2014.